P&G: best business school?

PgConsultants know this truth: we can’t be better than our clients. 

Clients create the eco-system in which our contributions develop, mature, and flourish.  Bad clients diminish the world, scaling it back to match their own limitations.  It doesn’t matter how good we are, their limitations become our limitations.  Good clients are good to work for because they oxygenate the world with their own intelligence and creativity.  We can do our best work and then some. 

The present clients have been a special pleasure.  I didn’t ever have to grit my teeth and worry whether an idea was too difficult or strange.  I could work with the confidence that they were up for my best efforts, and the knowledge that my best efforts would be made better. 

What I didn’t suspect that there is a hidden explanation here…not until the last hour of the last presentation (today).  It turns out that several of my clients are ex-P&G.  Hmm, I thought to myself, is it possible that all of my best clients have been ex-P&G?  (I’ll have to go back and check.)

More generally, is it possible that P&G is the best marketing program for people interested in the intersection of anthropology and economics, in a cultural approach to marketing? 

There was a time that Northwestern’s bschool was best.  On the heritage created by Chicago advertising, strategy and research in general, and the particular accomplishments of Philip Kotler and Syd Levy in particular, the Kellogg ranked first in the BusinessWeek ratings for good reason.  A knowledge of culture mattered here and it was built into the curriculum.  But with the departure of Rob Kozinets and John Sherry, the school effectively turned its back on anything like an anthropological point of view.  Canvassing the other top schools, there’s a person here and there.  No program has made a thorough going commitment. 

Is this event, the world of marketing should have been turning away from a cultural approach for some time now…and perhaps it has.  But there are still lots of cultural sophisticated marketers out there…and now, I am beginning to wonder whether this might not be because P&G is a defacto marketing program that has produced many (hundreds? thousands?) of graduates who make up the deficit that business school programs now systematically create. 

This is in fact a nice book opportunity here.  Call it the P&G diaspora.  We would want to capture what marketing is like at P&G now, and over the years, how it works as a bschool, how it improves on a bschool, how it embraces a culturally sophisticated point of view, how it kept the flame alive even as so many bschools have systematically sought to extinguish it.   

But there is a more immediate benefit to this revelation (if it’s true): when students write us to ask which business school is best for marketing, we can say, "there’s a really good program in Cincinnati."

6 thoughts on “P&G: best business school?”

  1. In yesterday’s (6.13) WSJ there was a review of a new book
    titled What Really Matters , by John Peppers, ex- Chairman
    and CEO of P&G and was with P&G from 1963 – 2002.
    The review seems to point to a book that goes a long way
    toward being what you are talking about.
    I’ve ordered a copy.

  2. ditto, Claran. Based on P&G’s approach to R&D (e.g., see Wikinomics), it would seem that their entire culture is a model for contemporary business.

  3. Not only is P&G’s in Cincy, but isn’t it supposed to be the most corporate, buttoned-up and constipated of all the marketing firms out there? Like working for Disney, only worse. A lot worse.

  4. Interesting post, Grant.

    As you probably know from my past comments, I believe western culture has, for the last 350 years, been dominated by tropes which favour formalism, abstraction, universal generalization, permanance and text over the alternatives. Not all human activities score well on these dimensions. Yet, in the main, our universities — even their professional schools — still favour these tropes and generally do a very poor job of educating people in other activities. I would not attend a university to learn to play the piano, to write good software, to speak in public, or to forecast market demand. It was not always thus — for the 600 or so years until 1800, you could rely on a university education to teach you to to orate well, for example. You can still learn this skill at some non-western universities, such as the religious universities in the Islamic world or in seminaries.

    Because of the failings of our western universities, our society relies on places like P&G to educate and train the skilled people it (society) needs to function.

  5. Hi Grant. (Too) long time I haven’t visited here and now I feel overwhelmed by the amount of thorough and interesting posts I have to catch up with ! 🙂

    Well, I actually have a candidate for the best marketing school, or rather “consumption studies school” of the kind you describe : as far as i can judge (I have not been on tour around the world to visit them all) I would say with no hesitation Southern Denmark Univesity in Odense.
    When one considers the number of great professors, former students and visiting scholars who teach there, I believe it can stand the comparison with any of the universally known campuses we usually hear and read about in global rankings. Actually I take the fact that they don’t appear in FT, BusinessWeek and so on as a rather re-insuring symbol as for the depth and originality of the research and teaching found there.
    I have read a coupe of PhD dissertation coming from there and got each time brilliant insights from them at both conceptual and empirical levels.

    Personally, I have studied at the Copenhagen Business School with the department of Intercultural Communication and Management (IKL) and have been very impressed by the opened mindedness of the curricular by contrast with the much more conservative, corporate centered teaching I had previously grown accustomed to in France’s Grandes Ecoles. So given my background, that was quite a shock for me to come to Copenhaegn and hear I would have an anthropologist (Brian Moeran) as a professor and that compulsory readings included Derrida among others. 😉

  6. To advance culture or environment, change must be either adapted to or adjusted. The organizational climate it important as it is fuel for structure, but structure without fuel is like an empty gas tank in a car. Where you going? When one has a culture that is fuel of top talent, and operates in the bubble, they will perform great, align to form standards and projects that are of successful and sophisticated realms, equaling out to revenue building practices. I propose that to build our culture in today’s volatile climate, one needs to be counterculture, yet operate in the bubble for security and standards. I am not proposing anarchy and chaos inside structures or ‘bubbles’, but merely a different way of moving around it with the buzz word of the millennium for business, “Innovation”.

    Western culture has become so consumed with the rash and rampant focus on ‘financial bottom line’ that it has become the only compelling story vs. ‘what really matters’ (see John Peppers book and voice) which is an integration of Eastern focus on collaboration (not too much so to detriment), capacity building, and quality (without compromising quality for cost), WITH synergizing the financial bottom line picture. It’s interesting to compare Marketing and Business to different subjects such as Physics, Anatomy, or Anthropology. The products different, but philosophies on people, laws, rules, and metaphors all the same. One cannot argue with the success of the “Cincinnati Marketing School”, top talent it develops and or weeds out, alumni, products, quality, and other well known attributes, but the nostalgia of the profoundly successful business cannot outweigh the fact that all people and organizations much change, have things to improve upon, and will have supporters or naysayer’s.

    The essence is, what are you doing to stay ahead of the trend, be the trend, how are you listening AND building from it, and are you even asking the right questions in the first place? One thing is for certain, proof is in the pudding, and it’s residing in “the Towers”. To maintain sustainability as Brand leaders, it will be interesting to see what evolves in the culture, how they analyze behavior and consumer knowledge, develop their internal ‘knowledge economy’, and are catalysts for the coveted 2010 goals. I hope all companies alike don’t compromise bottom line for people, and it will be interesting to see how the brands, organization, and people evolve.

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