Oral Histories

Bob Ehinger

Interview Segments on Topic: Code of Ethics/Mission Statement/Credo

Bob Ehinger Biography

Though born in Saco, Maine, Ehinger spent most of his early years in Dover, Delaware.  From there he attended Dartmouth College and graduated in 1943 with a degree in economics.  After graduation, he joined the Navy as an Ensign in the Supply Corps and served as supply officer on a destroyer in the Pacific.

After the war, Ehinger was hired by Western Electric as a buyer's clerk in the Purchasing Department in New York City.  (Western Electric was the purchasing agent for the Bell Telephone companies).  After advancing to senior buyer, he transferred to an operating job at a large service center in Los Angeles, and eventually became the manager.  With about 1,100 employees, he thought Western Electric should be better known in the Southern California area, so he hired the first-ever public relations professional.  Eventually, the P.R. Vice President in New York transferred him to New York as Director of Community Relations and Public Affairs.  This job was followed by assignments in personnel, defense activities, and finally Ehinger became Secretary and Treasurer of the company (Western had an outside board of directors).  From this assignment, he became Vice President of Public Relations in 1973.  In 1982 Ed Block, AT&T P.R. Vice President, asked him to come to AT&T on January 1, 1984.  With Ed, Ehinger established the AT&T Foundation and the Arthur W. Page Society.  The first annual conference was held at the Hershey Inn in Hershey, Pa.  At that time, the Society's membership came primarily from the telephone companies that were being divested from AT&T.  Ehinger comments that it has been a source of pride to see how the Page Society has grown and become the leader in the profession.

Transcript

INTERVIEWER:  Tell us a little bit, at Western Electric; let’s just go back there for a minute.  Do you remember, at that point, if the company had any kinds of ethics codes or mission statement where they talked about ethical behavior and social responsibility?

EHINGER:  I don’t remember anything.  I always felt Western Electric, and I think this for the whole Bell System, was an ethical kind of operation and we didn’t have problems that some of these—like the financial business have today.  I always mentioned to my wife, many times I said, you know there aren’t a lot of people grasping for the next rung.  You don’t feel it’s highly competitive, it seems to be a meritocracy and if you do your job, you just might get promoted and that happened to me.  But I never did anything obvious and I don’t remember…  In the purchasing department we had to be careful of certain laws.  In other words, you could not get a lower price for something by squeezing the supplier or you’d be in trouble by the law, so we did know a little bit about ethics in the purchasing department.  We did the Bell System purchasing.  I helped set up telephone directory contracts and printing contracts for the Bell company switch, Western Electric used to do.