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Colgate-Palmolive chairman addresses Business school

Published: October 17, 2008
Section: News

Last Tuesday, Oct. 7, the International Business School held an inaugural symposium, featuring a talk by the Chairman and former CEO of Colgate-Palmolive, Reuben Mark, to mark the establishment of the Louis and Barbara Perlmutter Institute for Global Business Leadership. Louis ’56 and Barbara Perlmutter established the institute with a gift of $5 million. “The need to educate global business leaders is top of the list,” Barbara Perlmutter said.

According to Dean of the International Business School, Bruce Magid, the Perlmutter Institute will, among other goals, increase the number of business classes, help to bring in more speakers, and offer fellowships to top students.

“No one will leave this program without getting their hands dirty,” President Jehuda Reinharz said. “We’re here to set new standards for training business leaders.”

According to its mission statement, the institute “exposes students to real life issues through interaction with seasoned global business and policy leaders to sharpen their analytical decision-making skills.”

The first such leader was Reuben Mark, who addressed the audience to discuss how to be both an effective and socially responsible business leader. He listed skills that he believes are integral to leading a successful company: integrity, common sense, use of power, dealing with ambiguity, keeping it simple, clarity of communications, being human, and managing with respect.

“Too frequently, the question to the attorney is ‘can we do this legally,” Mark said. “[The better question is] should we really be doing this?”

Mark gave an example of a situation where his company, Colgate-Palmolive, could have bought-out a successful toothpaste brand in India, called Dabur. Mark explained, though, that research revealed that the toothpaste had nicotine, which explained the brand loyalty and success. Colgate could have purchased the company, but as Mark made clear, doing so would not be “responsible.”

Magid, who called the talk “both engaging and very substantive,” said Colgate’s example was in line with the values taught at the International Business School. “[Mark] showed a deep appreciation for creating a culture of respect for social awareness and social justice,” he said.

As a testament to the potential success of a socially responsible company, Mark explained that in 25 years, where investments in competing toothpaste companies have risen 3757% and investments in the company General Electric have risen 3381%, investments in Colgate-Palmolive have climbed by 5961%. Colgate-Palmolive is first in the world for market share of toothpaste customers.

A round table discussion featuring panelists Kenneth Jacobs, deputy chairman of Lazard Worldwide; Catherine Mann, IBS professor of economics and finance; and Lawrence Weinbach, former chairman and CEO of Unisys Corporation followed Mark’s presentation. Betty Wong, global managing editor of Reuters, moderated the discussion.

In light of the Wall Street financial crisis, the discussion turned to look at the lessons that follow from not having social responsibility in business and finance. Mann commented, “I think the lesson is that you will be found out [if you break the rules].”

“Leadership is all about trust,” Weinbach said. “It’s about giving people accountability. It’s about telling the truth. It’s the people who tell one thing to one person and another thing to another person who get into trouble.”

In keeping with the goals of the Perlmutter Institute, students had opportunities to question panelists about their views in order to learn more about how they would shape social responsibility into their own careers. As Louis Perlmutter said, “We’ve been talking about preparing people to be leaders in the global economy … and [to confront] issues that real people have to confront.”