Richard Redwood Deupree

richard deupree

Richard Redwood Deupree


It was a gathering of some 300 of the top business and professional men of Kansas City. A reporter called it the most prestigious gathering of the City's power structure he had ever seen. They were attending a dinner to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Procter & Gamble plant in that city, but primarily to hear RR Deupree, then Chairman of the Board of P & G.

A speech had been prepared for Deupree, meticulously put together by the Public Relations Department but with a maximum amount of Deupree's own words and thoughts.

Five minutes into the speech, Deupree looked up, leaned over the podium, and put the text aside. His somewhat lugubrious, dark-brooding face with its heavy black eyebrows was intense. He shook his finger at these city fathers, like a teacher addressing his pupils, or a stern father. "You must look ahead," he said. He cited things he had seen and heard in Kansas City that day; he told them the problems they faced; he admonished and scolded them. And they loved it.

This was vintage Deupree in his later years. The senior statesman, the Nestorian counselor. And it was typical that people listened.

He rose from humble beginnings. Born in Norwood, Virginia, May 7,1885, his formal education stopped with the sixth grade of grammar school, when his father became ill and, along with seven other Deuprees, had to be supponed. Young Richard got his first job as an office boy with an insurance agency for one dollar a week. He later served as an errand boy and general aide to a haberhashery, and in 1901, after the family had moved to Covington, Kentucky, he went to work for the Cincinnati and Covington Street Railway Company, 'counting nickels' as he put it later, although the Company biography lists the job as 'clerk'.

In 1905 he made what was to prove a momentous move: he joined Procter & Gamble as an office boy in the Treasurer's Department. He was soon promoted to the cashier's cage and there he is reported to have come to the attention of Thomas H. Beck, then head of what was known as the Soap Chip Department. To quote Oscar Shisgall's history ofP & G, Eyes on Tomorrow, Beck was impressed by the fact that Deupree was "the first cashier I've known who ever smiled when he gave out money." He remembered Deupree in 1909 when his department needed another salesman.

Deupree was sent out on the road selling to laundries, hotels and textile mills, and from the beginning his sales record was impressive. Reminiscing in a 1956 interview, Deupree said Beck gave him "the deadest, hardest, most miserable prospects - in Chicago first, the hardest market of all next to New York. It never occurred to me that they wouldn't buy." A feature article by James Webb Young in 1955 says Deupree's outstanding trait was his intensity. "He was so earnest in his belief in what he was selling he convinced others; not the typical kind of salesman." This was clear later in his life, when as a senior statesmen he was "selling" his views on business, the nation, ethics, and the proper conduct of leadership.

A year and a half after making his first sales call he was made head of the Department, succeeding Beck. He was on his way, and he occupied all the chairs on the way up. He often said later that his approach was to do the job at hand, do it well, and not worry about the future. One of his maxims, said often in various ways, was "Whatever I am worth I will receive; whatever position my capability or my ability fits me for, I am bound to get." The Company placed a high value on his capability: Manager of the Western Sales Division followed in 1912; General Sales Manager, 1917; member, Board of Directors, 1924; General Manager, 1927.

He became president in 1930, at a time when the depression was gaining full force. He was the first break in the linear leadership ofProcters and Gambles.

Deupree was a primary actor in one ofP & G's most memorable pioneering moves - the guarantee of annual employment. The concept belonged to Col. Wm. Cooper Procter, Deupree's distinguished predecessor as President. But the burden fell on R R Deupree, first as Sales Manager, who had to institute the program, and then as President, who saw it face its severest test.

Before the early 1920's P & G, like most similar companies, sold only to wholesalers who did most of their buying on a seasonal basis. Factories had to operate on a 'hurry up and wait' plan, concentrating all of their manufacturing into the weeks just before these periodic demands, and then laying off the great majority of workers until the next flurry of buying and manufacturing. Naturally there was a big turnover in employees.

But the public consumed soap products at a fairly even rate through the year. To provide steady jobs and steady production P & G had simply to eliminate the artificial sales factor. Manufacturing could be spread evenly through the year if sales could reflect consumer usage. The job fell on the Sales Manager, R R Deupree.

Selling direct to the retailer meant reducing the role of the wholesaler to a minor supplementary one - largely servicing those small dealers who were unable or unwilling to meet the P & G minimum order of five cases. And the wholesaler did not take this lying down. P & G was subjected to a national boycott which threatened the very survival of the Company. It took great courage to persevere; but Col. William Cooper Procter, then president, and Deupree, the two primary proponents of the program, had courage in abundance. The plan was tested first in the East; but forced by the wholesaler's national boycott, the timetable was accelerated. Sales offices were quickly set up in leading cities across the country, the sales force greatly enlarged, delivery methods established, accounting and billing systems developed - and the sales methods transformed. In 1923 the Company was able to announce the history-making guarantee of annual employment.

"The direct selling idea, pioneered by Procter & Gamble, has been adopted by most soap companies," to quote Soap and Chemical Specialties further. "Since that time all P & G employees with two or more years of service are guaranteed 48 weeks of work each year."

During the depression, skilled employees were out painting fences, cutting lawns, and making repairs, at the pay established for that work; but, at a time of massive layoffs and great unemployment, they had jobs.

Deupree called it "the greatest single factor - even greater than Profit Sharing - in producing good relationships."

His first years as president were not easy. Salaries and wages were cut, bonuses eliminated. Deupree cut his own salary in half. (A report in the N.Y. World Telegram and Sun of September, 1985, reports: "Once during the depression wages had to be cut to keep the company going. Mr. Deupree faced an employee audience. As president, he was getting $50,000 a year. 'Anybody think I'm not worth every penny of that?' he asked. The audience stood up and cheered him for minutes on end.") Every department was put under a tight budget. Long-distance phone calls and telegrams were prohibited. No one could be hired without the permission of the president himself.

The depression was followed by the war years. During World War II "prices and markets were turned topsy turvy," the Soap and Chemical Specialties article recalls. "By virtue of its production of glycerine (a by-product of soap making) P & G had become an important factor in the product of munitions. The return to 'normalcy' folloWing the end of hostilities a few years later was a similarly critical time for the entire soap industry, what with fast declines in oils and fat prices and related problems of inventory." Deupree steered the Company safely and profitably through the difficult times.

He concerned himself greatly with the Company's employees. A citation that accompanied his receiving in 1958 the Henry Laurence Gantt gold medal award "for distinguished achievement in industrial management as a service to the community" included the words ''as a man who has infused in his own company the continuing recognition that the interests of a company and its employees are inseparable; one who has proved the value of this philosophy as he has guided his company through its greatest growth period: one who has sought diligently to foster such a philosophy throughout American industry."

The Soap and Chemical Specialties article says, "He himself devoted considerable time, thought, and effort toward giving all Procter & Gamble employees a broad understanding of the problems facing the Company and the management methods used to solve them."

A P & G associate, however, comments that he was more successful in his approach to the employees generally than to his management colleagues. The strong emphasis on training of executives that later characterized the Company was not his. It was regarded as significant that when he faced the end of his service as Chief Executive Officer of P & G there was only one man deemed ready to succeed him, Neil McElroy. After McElroy's term, in which Neil insisted that one of the primary responsibilities of an executive is to train the people under him for management roles, there were four or five who were ready to be strong contenders for the top spot.

His leadership was quiet, thoughtful, persuasive. He emphasized simplicity. "I don't want anything coming across my desk," he said as President, "that I can't understand." In the 1956 interview he said, "Nothing is complicated. If it's complicated, don't do it. It must be simple to perform." The Company's major expansion overseas and into paper came in the years following his term.

He was clearly product -oriented. "You do something you think is right with a new product." he once said. "If it clicks, you give it a ride. If you hit, mortgage the farm and go to it. But you can't always hit, and when you don't, have enough sense to get out."

When he first became president, the company was enjoying a special reduced- cost arrangement with Procter & Collier advertising agency; the commission rate was set at 5% instead of the normal 15% for the industry. Deupree did not think the advertising was being well handled. "What was wrong with the advertising?" he said in his 1956 interview. "Everything. They didn't have the manpower and that was our fault a~ much as theirs. The 5% they earned didn't leave much left over." He put the operation back on the standard 15% basis.

He had a staunch belief in advertising. He said in Printers Ink, May 2, 1941, "If there is an industry that lends itself readily to advertising and yet does not advertise, I think that is a crime. But perhaps a worse criminal in my estimation is the man who advertises his business badly, wastefully."

His favorite example of the benefits of advertising was Ivory Soap. Chemical Engineering, December, 1962, gives one of many similar quotes: "With wages and taxes equivalent to forty times the wages and taxes of 65 years ago, with raw material prices three times what they were, a cake of soap that cost five cents in 1885 costs less than 10<1: today and the quality is immeasurably improved. That's a major contribution to the American standard of living." In the Printer's Ink article he ends a similar statement: "This would not have been possible if we had not advertised Ivory Soap almost continuously since 1882."

Heavy duty synthetics were developed while he was president and this led to a revealing exchange with an interviewer in the early '50's when Deupree was chairman. Fortune magazine was doing a cover-story on Procter & Gamble. Spencer Klaw, the research man and writer, had completed most of his interviews, and was chatting with the head of P & G's public relations just before the appointment with Deupree.

"There's one question I'd really like to ask him, but I won't."

"What is that?"

"In the 1945 annual report, signed by Deupree as President, he comments on the newly developed synthetic detergents and minimizes their importance. He says they'll never take the place of soap. Today they largely have. I'd be interested in his comments."

He was urged to go ahead, and, as the interview was nearing completion, he did read the annual report statement to Deupree, and asked for a comment.

R. R. tilted back in his chair, joined the tips of his fingers, and thought a moment. Then, his face heavy and solemn (the Christian Science Monitor of July 20, 1951, speaks of his "Lincolnesque face") said, "I was wrong."

Klaw was amazed and delighted. He had never heard a top executive say he was wrong. But then, he had never talked to Deupree.

But how, Klaw asked, can the president of the company believe a product is unimportant and still have the company go ahead with its development, introduction and establishment as a leader in the market?

"We are fortunate," Deupree answered," in having a company where one man can be wrong, even if he's president, and if enough others are right, the right action will be taken."

Commenting later on this misreading of detergents, he said, "you must never set your feet in cement or you can't get out of the way of the express. When you want to jump, you can't."

In the 1959 Enquirer article cited earlier he says, "Nobody can see ahead five, ten, twenty years. If there's a world, and you keep on going as you do, working, trying, researching, you'll get your share of the growth."

A Deupree memorandum dated December 26, 1929, ends with the words, "If this outline seems about right, can we use it to check. . ." About right. They were words he was still using at least thirty years later, words that characterized his approach. McElroy in speaking of him used the word "realist." He did not aspire to perfection (even Ivory Soap was only 99.44% pure). The P & G release on his death in 1974 said, "he was scrupulously straight when it came to business - 'As a company we try to do what's about right,' he often said."

"Right" was meaningful to Deupree in all its senses. A P & G booklet quotes him: "That business which is managed by people of character, men who believe in doing the right thing, is most likely to be successful in the long term. On the other hand, no business is likely to exist long-range if its management consistently ignores the rights and needs of its customers, employees and the public. Doing the right thing - dealing honestly and justly with others, respecting their rights as human beings, contributing as much as possible to the general welfare - is not incompatible with keeping a business economically healthy."

As an example of"dealing justly" with others, colleagues recall what he would do as president if someone came into his office and said, "I don't like the way so-and-so is running his operation." "Alright," Deupree would say, "let's get him in here." He would not listen to the complaint until the person involved was there to hear the criticism and have a chance to discuss it.

He had many pulpits from which to preach his philosophy, on both the local and the national scene. Among other things he was Executive-Committee Chairman of the Cincinnati Commission on Metropolitan Area Problems; president and trustee, Children's Hospital; trustee, Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts and Cincinnati Music Hall Association; chairman, Cincinnati Community Fund, 1936, '43 and '45. He was recognized in his senior years as a pillar of good, sound, straight-forward wisdom for the Cincinnati business and civic community.

On the national side, he was National Chairman for the United Community Campaigns of America for 1959, a member of the Visiting Committee of the Harvard Business School and on the board of the National Safety Council. He was a member and one-time president of the Business Advisory Council. His business affiliates included directorships of Baltimore & Ohio railroad, the Equitable Life Insurance Company, Coca Cola Company, and J. P. Morgan & Co., as well as the Cincinnati & Suburban Bell Telephone Company.

He received special appointments from three presidents. In 1937 he served at various times during the year with the National Advisory Council, the Office of Production Manager and the War Labor Board; and in 1940 President Roosevelt appointed him a member of the War Production Board as chief of the Agriculture and Forest Products Division. President Truman appointed him Executive-Chairman of the Army-Navy Munitions Board which gave him "primary authority over all procurement for the military services of the nation"; the Board was also responsible for "arranging stockpiling of strategic materials, planning industrial decentralization and underground plant construction and other matters relating to preparedness." He was decorated for exceptional civilian service by the U.S. Army for his work in that assignment. He was appointed also to President Truman's Committee on Foreign Aid. In President Eisenhower's administration he served as a member of the Citizens' Advisory Committee to the President on the Mutual Security program (the Fairless Committee).

And preach he did,

on his country: "A careful look at any period of more than ten years in the history of

the United States shows clearly that our country has always had a basic strength and a will to get things done which haven't been matched by any country on earth."

on individuality: "The greatest force for accomplishment which we have as individuals

and as a country is the right to exercise our individuality, to live by our minds, to set for ourselves goals in life and to make the fullest use of our talents to reach those goals."

on profits: "The tremendous expansion in business enterprise in the United States came

only because our people, individually or in groups, were given the incentive to risk their time and money in search of profit."

on character: "It's the kind of men and women we have which is our real strength; people

who value character and principle, people who have a sense of honor, people with a desire to keep moving forward and to help others keep moving forward."

and on living one's life: "Our job is very simple - that is, so to live and work that we set

an example in this community of sacrifice and leadership. If we follow out a plan of sacrifice, if we discipline ourselves, set the example, take the leadership, we build up a spirit amongst the community that will have far-reaching effect."

R R Deupre~ - "Red" to a few friends, including President Eisenhower - had a zest for life. His greatest passion was the race track. When his public relations people were chagrined that an article on P & G featured a picture of him at the track, he waved it off. "What's bad about that?" he asked. "I was there."

He enjoyed bridge, and played an excellent game.

While riding horseback in Arizona in 1963 his horse stepped into a puddle near a broken high-voltage wire, fell, and rolled over on Deupree. Friends pulled the horse off, found R. R. crushed internally, and with a fractured pelvic bone. "You may finally walk a little without crutches," the doctor said, "but you'll never ride another horse or quail hunt again." Charles Elliott, the outdoor columnist for the Atlanta Constitution who responded the story in December, 1963, goes on:" That was nine months ago. After ten weeks in the hospital, he set out with his characteristic doggedness and determination to keep his muscles around the broken parts stretched and workable. It was agony and he would have been justified in giving up and spending the rest of his life in a wheel chair." But on November 20 of 1963 he was back swinging on and off a horse and doing his shooting.

In his '70's he spent an hour in the saddle every morning. "Owns a two- year-old race horse. For breakfast likes to eat blue-gills he catches that same morning on his own pond." So writes the N.Y. World Telegram and Sun of September 25, 1958.

He was tall, and slender, always dressed in a gray flannel suit and white shirt, reserved with strangers but warm and jocular with friends. There was much of the old-school Virginia gentleman about him; it was easy to believe that his forefathers came to Virginia from France. His face, with its thick black eyebrows, seemed forbidding, gloomy in repose. But it lit up with warmth and friendliness when he talked.

He had an impish wit. One of his favorite ploys, when there was disagreement on a prediction, was to "bet a dime." If he lost, he'd go to the winner's office and lay a dime on the desk. But if he won, which was more often, he would expect the loser to come to his office for the same purpose.

In 1913 he married Martha Rule, and they had four children: Richard, Jr., John, James and Betty. Mrs. Deupree died in 1943, and he subsequently married Mrs. Emily Powell Allen.

He was 88 when he died. He attended a P & G board meeting on March 12, 1974, and flew to New York and back for another meeting on March 13. He was stricken that same evening at his home and taken to the hospital where he lapsed into unconsciousness from which he never recovered. He was at that point Honorary Chairman of the P & G board. He was still riding a horse every day, and in the pre~ous year he flew twice to Utah to hunt ducks.

The obituary in the Cincinnati Post summed it up: "In his work right was right and wrong was wrong and recognizing the difference wasn't difficult. Common sense taught it to you. 'Just do the job in front of you,' he would say, 'and you'll get where you ought to be.' It was a simple enough philosophy, implemented by a lifetime of hard work, self-discipline and moderation in all pursuits."