“Jack” Koten is a founding director and first president of the Arthur W. Page Society. During his career he worked in a variety of operating, financial and corporate communications departments for Illinois Bell, AT&T, New Jersey Bell and Ameritech Corp.
At Chicago-based Ameritech Corp., one of seven telecommunications companies divested by AT&T in 1984 as the result of a federal government antitrust lawsuit, he served as Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications. He also was president of the Ameritech Foundation, which made grants totaling $25 million annually to education, economic development and cultural institutions.
After he retried, Koten organized The Wordsworth Group, a consulting firm dedicated to assisting non-profit organizations to improve their management practices, reputation and revenues. He has received numerous awards and honors, including honorary doctoral degrees from two institutions, and was inducted into the Arthur W. Page Society’s Hall of Fame in 1995.
Interviewer: If you can give us the three-minute version of who Arthur Page was. As a man, as a professional. We know that he was AT &T’s first vice president of public relations but what was his impact, not just on AT&T, but on business.
Koten: That’s a very broad question because Arthur Page himself was a very unique individual. He was the, his father was the owner and partner at Doubleday and Page the publishing company so he had an interest right from the beginning in books and literature and that sort of thing. His father also was the ambassador to Great Britain during World War I. So Arthur Page, as a young man, was actually accustomed to having well-known or famous people in their household and staying over or coming for dinner and that sort of thing. So he early on decided on a career in writing and publishing himself and he was the editor in the early 20s of a magazine popular magazine called Worlds Worth. It was while he held that particular job, that he ran into Walter Gifford, who was then the president of AT & T. And Walter Gifford offered him a job to come to work for AT & T. Gifford Page said in effect that I’d be happy to do that but there are certain circumstances that I would like to have and namely that he would be an officer of the company. And then Gifford further offered him the opportunity to be a member of the board of directors after he was there for a while. So Page in effect in 1927 became the very first person who was not only a vice president of public relations for a major public corporation but also a member of the board of directors. He stayed with AT & T until 1946 when he retired. After that time, he became a consultant and he served as a consultant to many corporations but frequently to the Federal government itself and while he was in that role that he developed Radio Free Europe and was active with the Marshall Plan, things of that nature. Over his entire career, he had an on continuing interest in the field of education. He was a graduate of Harvard. He has supported, and his home originally was in North Carolina, supported educational projects in North Carolina that supported disadvantaged young people, minorities, and developed or help financially support a school for young Black children. He was a highly remarkable person. His genius was that people listened to him and the advice and counsel that he gave was acted upon and it was respected and it was his manner of presenting information or talking whether it was to a board of directors or to employees in a company. They had gave him a sense of credibility that very few people have had in which was part of his own ability to be persuasive. He was a superb writer himself, as his training would indicate. And he also was a frequently asked for person to speak at various company gatherings not only for AT & T but for other organizations as well. And he served on a number of boards of directors of not only corporations but on non profit organizations as well which I think is a testimonial to the man that people actually desired to have his input on important business issues at the time. I would say it’s could say an awful lot about Page. There’s a book that’s been written on him by Noel Griese which actually just begins to scratch the surface of the impact of this individual on corporate life. His legacy at the Bell System in the Bell System was that he insisted that in each of the major operating companies that there be an officer appointed to be in charge of public relations whose role it was to interpret what was going on in the public arena to top management and listen to what top management had to say that its own particular desires were to implement new programs or services or that sort of thing and how best to get that explained to the public.
Interviewer: Let me take care of some business, we’re in the Westfield Marriot in Chantilly VA and today is September 13, 2004 and we are conducting an oral history interview for the Arthur Page Society. Today’s subject is Jack Koten. And welcome Jack. You are one of the founders of the Arthur Page Society ad we’ve just been talking about Arthur W. Page, his career, his impact on the Bell System. You’ve given us a perfect summary of what Page tried to implement as far as a professional and in public relations field with Bell. Talk about his formation of these Page Principles that the Page Society espouses and teaches so proudly.
Koten: You are asking a very difficult question to answer because Arthur Page himself never specifically articulated the Page Principles. The Page Principles were created after reading the book that he wrote on the Bell System plus some 50 or 60 speeches that he gave. And there were recurring themes in each of the speeches and the book his words of wisdom as far as the employees employee behavior go. And out of that wealth of information, we tried to decide what were the recurring themes. What were the things that he talked about most frequently in, in these speeches and to employees and to outside groups.
Interviewer: By ‘we’ who do you mean?
Koten: I am talking now about the Page Society itself. We’ve created the Page Society and we’re saying the question just like you just asked. Well who was Page? What did he stand for and why was he important? And so I was the first elected president of the Page Society and it seemed to me that I had an obligation to be able to explain to outsiders in particular to people who were not brought up in the Bell System who this person was that we named this Society after and why was he important. And so that’s why we decided to say what were the things that he said that could be easily identified and remembered. And so the simple things came up. One of the things that Page talked about consistently was you must tell the truth if you want credibility and you want to be persuasive to others. Tell the Truth. If you ever found not telling the truth in anything that you say or any whether it’s advertisement, speech, or conversation or whatever where you are not being truthful and you are found out not to be truthful. You’ve ruined your credibility and once you lose your credibility, it’s almost impossible to reestablish it. Another thing that he talked about constantly was that you should Prove it with Action. That good reputations are based on action not words. He said 90 percent of a company’s reputation is based on what it does. Ten percent on what it says. So if you want to build a strong customer base or investor base or employee base, demonstrate by your actions what it is that you hope to accomplish. Another simple thing that he talked about which it’s so simple it’s almost hard to believe that this would be a basic principle. Listen to your Customers. Listen to your audience. And he used customer in a very broad sense of bases. Not just the people who are buying your services but the people that you are trying to influence whether it’s in the state legislature, whether it’s in the Federal government, whether it’s an investor someone you want to buy stock or whether it’s your employees. Listen to what they have to say. Find out early on what’s on their minds so that if there are things that are troubling your publics or your audiences, you can respond to them. Because basically your employees or your customers frequently will know more about something that’s going on in your business than you will yourself. So that was another one of his basic principles. So the fourth one would be like Manage for Tomorrow. This was long before the days when we had quarterly earnings and short-term earnings results and the demand was for constantly being updated. He said do what’s best for the long run for your business. And have your employees if they are on a job, finish the job if they can the same day. If or stay until. Don’t just leave it in the middle while you are working on it and go back and say I’ll come back tomorrow. He said think always in terms of long run. If you are investing your resources in something, build it to last not just to temporarily do something. So managing your business or your activities for the long run basic fundamental principle. Then another one theme that he articulated over and over again was that your Employees are your best ambassadors. If you want to have a favorable reputation with your various publics, your employees are your front line. And if your employees are on your side, if they are knowledgeable, if they are informed, if they know what’s going on. They will represent your company extremely well. And he said just think about businesses or other enterprises that you know and the first person that you are likely to believe about any organization is somebody who works for it. Because they are there. They should know what’s going on. So he said if you recognize that your employees are your front line, then make sure that they understand what their job is, what their expectations are and that they know what your business is all about so that they can convey that to others. So these kinds of themes kept appearing. They never appeared in bullet points or anything of that nature but they time and time again as you look through the remarks that Arthur Page made when he was out talking to employee groups or to the public. These were the kinds of things. There are dozens of other things but these were the easiest to synthesize. So in effect we developed this list of “Page Principles” because they were there and they can be found. Everything that the Page Society has ever said about Page is actually supportable in one place or another. The recurring theme time and time again the kind of overriding principle or idea that he had was and wanted management to understand and employees to understand, the general public to understand was the concept that all business in a democratic society small/big exists with the permission of the public. The public in the long run decides whether a business is going to continue to stay in business or that it’s going to have to exit the business. So if you recognize that concept and that idea you made your business being sensitive to what the external public says or even internal public then your chances are successful. At any time for any reason whether it can be legislation or it can be regulatory action. The public can put you out of business just stop buying your product is probably the simplest thing so, all along consider what the actions are that you are doing. What kind of impact they are going to have on the public. If you are good at that, chances are you’ll be successful. There’s plenty of evidence in the last years where people have ignored that advice. And you’ve seen time and time again those businesses disappearing for one reason or another.
Interviewer: It’s a great place to kind of time travel a little bit and go back to that period in 1982-1983. Obviously government had just broken up Ma Bell, ostensibly with Ma Bell’s agreement, January 8, 1982. What happens between that time and December 19, 1983? The formation of the Page Society, was it a similar time in business when perhaps you felt there was a void that the Page Society could fill? Walk me through maybe some of the steps.
Koten: Well the creation of the Page Society was done as a result of the fact that every year. The Bell System really forget what a giant enterprise it was. Over a million employees, 3 million share owners. It was by far the biggest public enterprise in the world really. And there were 23-24 companies that made up the Bell System. Separate companies. Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, Pacific companies, Southwestern Bell, Centrim. Each of these companies were organized with a president and a management team and each of these companies had a public relations vice president. The custom of each of the major departments that have annual meetings where they bring everybody in from the system. Like all the public relations vice presidents in the system would come in annually and have a meeting. Discuss what the issues were that they were confronted with and also for AT & T the staff there to advise the companies of what new things were coming down the pike and what new strategies we ought to be considering. These meetings were held annually and when it came time after we knew that Bell System was going to be broken up and that the date that it was going to be dissolved by the Federal government was January 1, 1984. The public relations vice presidents were meeting in the fall of 1983 for ostensibly the last time that they would all be together. Ed Block who was the vice president of public relations for AT & T and the senior member in this group. The talk that he gave which was kind of a band of brothers and talk how much we’d all been together and how much we’d seen. And how disappointed we all are with the result of the Federal government action to break up the system which was something that none of us wanted but the anti-trust laws being what they were and the times being what they were. That ultimately was the agreement and Ed proposed at that meeting that we as a group never forget that we’ve been together and that perhaps we could meet annually thereafter in some location as a form of a reunion if it would be legally possible for us to do that. So one of the members of the group Irv Zimmerman who was the vice president of public relations for Bell of Pennsylvania said well let’s meet next year in Pennsylvania and I’ll be the host for this group if everybody would agree that they’d like to do that. And almost unanimously everybody said definitely let’s count us in. One of the features of the public relations vice presidents conferences which was always appealing was that half a day would be devoted to playing golf or tennis and then later years we actually introduced going if we out near the ocean some place going fishing and doing a variety of things. These were all team building type things so. And lead to a high degree of camaraderie between these people. So the following year January 1 of ’84 comes along the official break up. We are now out of business and we have met in Hershey, Pennsylvania and Irv Zimmerman has been our host there and one of the charms of all of this of course was we did play golf and do things of that nature and it was more of a social event. It was at that meeting for reasons that I fully don’t comprehend and I was elected to be the first president of what was then designing or called and still is for that matter the Arthur W. Page Society. Irv had gone so far as to have the name of the group incorporated in the state of Pennsylvania with his self as being incorporator and his wife as being the first official secretary and so their names were incorporate organizations incorporated in Pennsylvania so as president, then it was left to me to decide basically well what do we do next? And we elected a series of other officers, a treasurer and a secretary and everybody really wanted to try to make this thing work. Well I was at the time vice president of public relations at Illinois Bell and so I went back and realized that it was going to be impossible for me to do this or for anything to happen unless we had some staff actually working on it. So I was fortunate to have several people in our organization. Steve Hines who agreed to take over and kind of be the administrator for the organization and John McDermott who had been a Jesuit priest and he had left the order and become an editor of a newspaper in Chicago called the Chicago Reporter. It was a crusading newspaper the kind that John felt he had a family and he needed work that produced funds for his family so he came to work for us at Illinois Bell. And he was the one I asked to take a look at these speeches of Page and see if we couldn’t find out what the common denominators were and then we had a young lady by the name of Sue Burrows who agreed after John started out to put out the first newsletter that we had because we felt that we needed some vehicle to keep informing us what was going on. So basically we started in sort of a nebulous fashion. Frank Cain had agreed to be the secretary of the organization. Bob Ehinger who was with the Western Electric Company agreed to be our chief treasurer and first financial person to take care of whatever expenses we had. One of the advantages that we had by being Bell System companies. Everybody was used to contributing to the operation of the organization. It was never any question about the dividing up the expenses so from the membership standpoint. Things we did was we agreed that we all be individual members and I think at the time we said like $100 was what each of us would pay to be a member of the Page Society. But quickly after we had our first board meeting or two and we realized that that $2,500 we weren’t’ going to be able to run the types of meeting or anything like that. So we designed a corporate rate which we allowed corporations at that time to contribute $1000 a piece so that gave us an additional $20,000 that we could start to operate with. It gave us a little cushion as far as being able to have meetings. I am kind of skipping through the highlights of this because this was a longer process. But our board which Ed Block was a member of it. Of course Frank, Bob, Jack Fallon from New York Telephone Company, Jean Handley from Southern New England Company, Gerry Blatherwick from south or from Southwestern Bell, and then Jerry Blatherwick. We realized that if in short order in taking a look at the organization what we had. That if we were literally going to try and perpetuate the Arthur Page legacy and really talk about his philosophy and see if we couldn’t spread that to other business because it had been successful in creating and helping make AT & T what it was in the customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, investor satisfaction. All of these things at that time were almost without peril up to the time that the the government came in to try to break up AT & T as a super monopoly which in one sense it really was but there was no question it was delivering the best telephone service at the lowest cost that you could do and nobody has ever actually accomplished that since that time. But that’s another another that’s another story. But we we quickly decided that if this organization was going to reach out and be influential that we needed people from other businesses to become part of our organization.
Interviewer: How did you go out and get them?
Koten: Well we start out by asking people that we knew that we felt had the same respect. Remember that or maybe you don’t remember but the fact is that a Bell System public relations vice president had a wide ranges of responsibilities. I had somewhere between 350 and 400 people in our organization. We not only did media relations and what was then would be like investor relations but we had research function, we had employee information. We did research. Advertising was a key component. We had a wide variety of activities that all of us were responsible for. We had substantial organizations and basically we were did everything that we possibly could in-house because we believed that was the best way to do it. The most efficient, economical way and also the best way to select to assure ourselves we always had the best talent available. So these groups were very, were very sophisticated in each of the departments. And the people in the organizations were. We also by our experience with other organizations knew other people. So it wasn’t long before we were asking Sam Petoc from Rockwell to join our organization. We asked Gene Stephenson who at the time was with Union Carbide to become a member of the organization. We started reaching out among the various people that we knew who, who we felt would have a similar understanding of what our business was like and what Page Society was trying to do to become members. And invariably the people that we asked joined. We felt that it was important that we have some educators who that would be members because we wanted to be influential within the education community and that wound up. We wound up asking some Steve Griser from Harvard almost one of the first members. We had the director of the Sloan School of Business at MIT, Hugh Banks was a member early on became a member. So educators are an important component. When it came to agency people, people who headed agencies, we felt that they were important but only the senior person in an agency or president of an agency would be someone who would have the full understanding of what it was that we were trying to do because they had management responsibilities. For the most part they had a profit loss statement to deal with. They had the same kind of personnel problems that we had to deal with so we felt that people from major agencies also were certainly good candidates to become members of our organization. We felt that since Page was a corporate person and that AT & T was a corporate business. We all represented corporations that the Page Society would be an organization for corporate people. And it wouldn’t be for educators who were doing public relations or public relations people who were working for educational institutions. Or people who are working for associations or non profits that their experience though excellent in the field of public relations was not the same as the kind of experience that we were bringing to the table. So the idea was we needed and wanted to have a peer group of people. People that would when they came together could talk about issues that they had in common and would have a common understanding what the business problems were that they were dealing with whether they were financial, dealings with the government, dealing with labor unions, or whatever. Our at that time we also felt that somebody representing an opinion research organization would also be the kind of person who would enrich our organization so almost instantly we asked Lou Harris to become a member and he of the Harris Polls highly influential both politically and for business reasons. And Lou became one of our most active members of the organization. We also felt that heads of advertising agencies would qualify for members because for us most of advertising agencies were like opinion research firms. They were somebody that we hired to help work on. So we started out with several heads of advertising agencies who are also members. Now both as time has gone by in the Page Society, both advertising agency personnel and people representing research organizations have for one reason or another dropped out of the organization and have not been placed. But the key thing as far as the Page Society was concerned was need to have a peer group and as long as we had a peer group they would be willing to get together. But the important thing is to distinguish the Page Society from other organizations was that we actually wanted to be influential and we wanted to help shape the role of public relations or more what actually became better terminology was corporate communications because of the baggage that the term public relations had with it and the perception in the minds of many people. And public relations people were there basically to manipulate the media and to deal with product publicity or things of that nature.
Interviewer: Very interesting question. I want to ask at the time did you have people that were opposed to the idea of a Page Society whether it was other organizations that were similar in scope or even people within the industry. Or that thought that this wasn’t necessary.
Koten: I don’t think that, at least I never experienced that sense, that people felt that the Page Society wasn’t necessary. There are people who knew about the Page Society who didn’t understand what it was or why it was functioning. At the time we were virtually an all-volunteer organization. Nobody was paid to do anything. The money that was collected was all to do a research project of some kind or put on a meeting of one kind or another. We were really bent on trying to make a difference within the profession. This distinguished us from an organization, which was somewhat similar, which is the Public Relations Seminar, which was an organization which only wanted the senior people from corporations or other organizations. But whether those people were people who were knowledgeable about public relations or corporate communication wasn’t as important as the title that they had. And so title in the Seminar was everything, and the idea for the seminar was to bring people together to provide information once a year to them that would basically help them do their job. The Page Society viewpoint was different. It was we wanted to bring people together and keep them current on what was going on but we wanted to divide means by which the Page Society could help the general field of education or the profession itself to improve itself. And that’s one of the reasons why early on we adopted the philosophy that everything that we did should be of the highest standard. That it should be the same type of thing that we would do in our corporation. If what we were doing wouldn’t meet the standards in our corporations for excellence and the quality of what was done or the types of programs it was or a printed piece or whatever it was, then the Page Society shouldn’t do that because
Interviewer: It was in the sense well, we’ll try this program and see if it works. We weren’t sure that the programs would work. A new initiative wouldn’t work probably wouldn’t have gotten past the out of the boardroom.
Koten: It wouldn’t. Early on, the board and to some extent still does really controls the activities of the Page Society. And at that time all the discussions and deliberation basically were contained within the board. The boards at that time were meeting maybe six times a year when I was president because we were trying to get established and set up and going. And the type of thing that we wanted to do was not only put out a newsletter that was a high quality newsletter. But we came upon the idea. I think Ed Block was the first chairman of our awards committee, which we said we wanted to create a “Hall of Fame.” Why did we want to have a Hall of Fame? Because we wanted to hold up people or individuals who had done something that we felt was representative of what Page would have himself would have done and the type of standard that we would help would set an example for others to follow. And so that’s why the Hall of Fame was initially created. Our awards program for corporation to give an award to a corporation was for a program that they had done which in effect would be representative of Page Principles of work somehow or other. We wanted to say that this isn’t pie in the sky. What we’re talking about isn’t all a figment of somebody’s imagination. That there are people and organizations today that are actually capable of producing material and setting standards that others can follow. That was the concept that we really felt was important that we be able to deliver that that sort of thing. We believed in the fact that the Page Society and a member of the Page Society and the CEO of that corporation were linked. And that there was a relationship a direct relationship between people the original aspiration was for people who became members to actually reported to CEOs that were running company to reinforce that idea that that’s the level that we were talking about. We’re not we’re nothing wrong middle management or lower management or anything. A lot of talented skillful people in that area and many of them hopefully will continue to grow in their jobs and their business. But what we wanted to get across was that there was this link at the top. So we insisted that at every meeting we had that there be this CEO on the program speak to us about what was on their mind in effect. And so every time we had a meeting originally there always was a well known CEO that led it. And I think in our very first meeting that Walter Riston who was at that time chairman of Citibank was like our first speaker like that. Well once we were successful in having Walter Riston others was not difficult to get other CEOs because we established what the benchmark was or what the parameter was. But these seem like simple basic ideas but in a young organization that is sort of feeling its way along, it took a while before the concept of all of this began to began to jell. And we began to also become aware that the fact was that Bell System people with the break up where we had 23 companies that were all individually. January 1, 1984 those, that number of companies was reduced to 7. So there weren’t 23 companies anymore. Now some of the companies like the company I worked for Ameritech we had five companies that were all still organized with a vice president and some of the others were that way but many of them the numbers that were available for membership in the Page Society all of a sudden were reduced which meant all the more reason that we had to go out and recruit other people. The second person followed me as president was Jean Hanley who was an outstanding public relations person. She was vice president at Southern New England Telephone Company in New Haven and she was president for two years and she had an associate that worked for her that was also performed the same staff functions that Steve Hines had done for me. And following Jean’s role, Jerry Blatherwick from Southwestern Bell was president for two years. Then after that, Larry Foster from Johnson & Johnson became the first non-Bell president of the Page Society. We had three presidents in the early days that had definite roots in the old Bell System. And then it wasn’t really until Marilyn Laurie was senior vice president years later executive vice president at AT & T. When she was the president of the Page Society it wasn’t and that would have been like in the mid 90s that we had another Bell System person in the presidency and there hasn’t been one since. So that this organization that started out sort of as an alumni group. We were at the Tavern on the Green in Central Park when Ed gave his ‘Band of Brothers’ speech and you know we all thought that we were going to be there forever but time changes. And it changes incredibly fast. So all of a sudden the number of Bell System people that were involved in the Page Society began to drop and drop precipitously. Now we had a few people who left right on because early on after about the second year we stopped featuring golf and tennis as part of the meeting. And there are people who say hey if there’s no golf as part of thing why should I be traveling to go to your meeting. You know and not long after that going a day early to go fishing or something like that dropped off and the meeting became much more serious and businesslike.
Interviewer: Walk us through those early years of the Page Society, kind of like you said, an alumni organization and expanded the scope of membership and the scope of the programs and purpose perhaps. Was there a moment when you felt like we made it. The Page Society has become whether it is self-sustaining or having influence that I hoped, or we hoped it had. Is there a moment or anything like that board meeting?
Koten: Well I’d say to be honest, that I stayed onboard at the Page Society for 20 years. I went off last year for the first time. Twentieth anniversary so I am no longer on the board but I’d been involved, closely involved, with the Page Society from day one. And a lot of the early architecture of the Page Society I feel personally responsible for. But I would say even to this day that the Page Society get to realize the promise that it has to be influential. I have never felt that we arrived. Now we’ve gotten better and each of the presidents have come on has added incredibly a lot to the organization through their leadership and their influence and the people they brought in have gotten involved in the organization. The organization has steadily improved over the time. But when you say has there been a time to set back and say have you really accomplished what you set out to do? And I’d say that the vision is still there. But the reality of doing what was potentially possible still remains and there will be others I am sure that will help achieve that over time. But what we’re talking about is being influential in American business and the behavior of how American business interacts with its customers, with its employees, with the government and not only what it can do in this country in the United States but what it can do worldwide through the multinational, the opportunities for American business to be the true ambassadors of what democracy is all about and ethical business behavior is absolutely incredible. And the last five years we’ve had this blip through all of the disappointments that we’ve read about created by the unethical behavior of certain individuals which has really been unfortunate because business itself following the basic Page Principles. Those are really simple and they are understandable in any language is yet to really achieve that place in our society where people are comfortable with business and they are not worried about being overly greedy, employees being insolent or impolite, not responsive, all these things that happen to us and we say that’s terrible and we can’t believe it.
Interviewer: We’re changing the tape.
Koten: I am just rattling along here. I don’t know if this is any…
Interviewer: No I’d love to read this stuff, and I am ticking off questions. You are answering my questions. Would you like to finish your thought as you had started
Koten: I forgot where
Interviewer: You haven’t quite reached that potential...
Koten: Oh well, let me, I was thinking that maybe we would ultimately come back to it but well let me, I can finish whatever it was I was trying to say.
Interviewer: Talk about some of the milestones and the Page Society. You mentioned currently research effort funded or driven by Page dollars.
Koten: Okay well one of the very first things that we did, and this was done by Bob Ehinger who was head of our research committee. He arranged to have Glenn Broom and Dave Dosher, two professors, write a book on using research and public relations. Both of them had been involved with Scott Cutlip’s book, which is the standard book on public relations that is used in virtually in every classroom.
Interviewer: A legendary public relations educator.
Koten: Scott Cutlip was the dean of all public relations educators and we were able to commission Dave Dosher and Glenn Broom to write this book. And it was really the first really significant thing at the Page Society undertook to do. It funded the cost associated with them working on the book in getting prepared for publication. And after several years work, the book was published. And even today, it is still a standard text that’s been translated into half a dozen different languages, and I saw Glenn Broom not too long ago. He’s just come back from the Far East where the book was being introduced in colleges in Malaysia and Thailand and as a standard textbook and in it there’s acknowledgement of the Page Society’s influence and help to print that. For me that helped establish what it was that we were doing. What it was that we hoped to do in the future and made us a real organization because it was something actually tangible that had been produced? Right after that in that period of time a lot was being done we held two seminars at Northwestern University which, was conducted jointly by the business school and the journalism school the McGill School of Journalism. The seminars were held at the Allen Center. One was on the subject of mergers and acquisitions. What the public relations implications were and we had an all star group of people come in lawyers from New York and people that had written books about the subject. All participated in a two day seminar and the other seminar which is about a year later was on the subject of quality when quality was a big issue in Six Sigma if introduced at Motorola and both of those seminars resulted also in publications which included the remarks and discussion of what went on in those two seminars and they were actually produced the books by Clarke Caywood and who was on the faculty at McGill and Ray Ewing who had been at State Farm Insurance and was working in as an adjunct professor I believe, at Northwestern at the time. So in a period maybe of four or five years, we had three basic publications that came out which, if anybody wanted to know if we were for real if we were capable of drawing the best minds in the country together to discuss important issues, here was the proof of it. And I think that this helped attract others to the Page Society because it said we’re not just talking about doing things. We’re actually delivering on our promise.
Interviewer: Page Society, you hear these early publications and it’s obviously sort of for and by the public relations industry. Is there any thought given to having more of a public face or was it always the intention and ongoing, to keep the influence & the work you do within the industry?
Koten: Well, you are asking a question where you can get a variety of answers for and I’ll just give you my take on it. For better or worse. We never intended to be a society. We said that our meetings are open. We have no closed meetings, that members of the press are welcome to attend the meetings that we have. However, consistently and though almost always I can’t really think of a period of time in our history that we didn’t have “a public relations committee marketing committee” depending on what the popular term at the time was that we didn’t have a committee whose role it was was to get external publicity for the work of the Page Society. All I can say about that is that we have to be like the shoemaker’s children is that we have never ever until the last year or two been successful in doing it. We’ve had all kinds of offers of volunteer help from individuals from various agencies. None of it has ever been produced a consistent degree of any kind of publicity for the organization and basically our reputation has been word of mouth up until the past two years when we finally got around not only to hiring a full-time executive director but also hiring somebody to do publicity for the organization. And as a result of that, we’re starting to get external publicity. It seems incredible that we could go this long 20 years and be virtually an unknown organization except by those who are involved with it and who may want to be involved. This has been a frustration of mine from the word go and say why haven’t you done something about it. And it always seemed to me there’s only so much any one individual can do. And that your time and energy should be spent on doing the things that you think you can do to help the most. I think now that the interest of the current board and the current leaders is to gain more external publicity and recognition. I think and if we follow through with both the ambassadors program and the fellowship program which the board has approved a couple of years ago. I think that the notoriety that we’re capable of achieving is about ready to happen.
Interviewer: What are those two programs?
Koten: Well the ambassadors program basically a program where an existing member of the Page Society is willing to go out and talk to classes whether they be in business schools, undergraduate or graduate schools, or civic groups or professional organizations about not only what they do but also about Arthur Page and the Page Principles. And consequently volunteering you are an ambassador. You go out and talk about this. This is one way of getting more knowledge and word out about what this organization does and what it is about and what the value is. The fellowship program is a program designed to get students who are in college at either the undergraduate or the graduate level involved in doing in effect internships relating to doing some work on the Page one or more of the Page Principles in which they’ve studied. They develop case histories about this. They ultimately would write a paper on this that would be suitable for publication for which there would be monetary rewards for their involvement. And that program has been under the leadership now of Maria Russell actually both of these have been under Maria Russell from Syracuse University with important help from people like Jack Felton at the Institute for Public Relations at the University of Florida at Gainesville. And I believe that these programs are now on the launch pad relative to or soon something will be happening. The fact is that these programs both of which were visualized in the very first years of the Page Society but with any volunteer organization, it’s very difficult to get things organized and done in such a way that these happen. And I think that’s one of the things that led to our ultimately deciding that we needed full-time staff which we now have. We went through a period of time when we had we had office help. We had superior office help for a long period of time in the form of Maureen Schaeffer who was involved with the organization. Then we went through a time when we had part-time help from one of our members with Bruce Harrison who did a really excellent job within the limits of the time he had in a dual office arrangement that we had at the time. But now as people are beginning more and more to see what the potential is they see the value of having people doing. Now the Page Society is a small organization. 325 members so it doesn’t have the resources to run a major thing. And in reality and this is you know a problem in one sense and not another problem. That as long which I hope it will be forever this remains an organization of peers. People who hold similar jobs in corporations. As long as that’s the primary guideline, there never are going to be a thousand people. I mean I wish there were. It’s not likely that there are going to be a thousand people who will hold this job. Maybe there won’t even be 500 people so that the pool of potential members is relatively small and so of those people all of whom are already very busy and they are all in corporations find the time and the energy and the way to carry these programs further and to make the Page Society you know realize the potential it has is you know. That’s a tough. That’s tough. It will happen and I’m confident it will happen particularly if American business begins to see the value that people hold in these jobs can add to their organization. They’ll have more resources. They’ll have more people. And they’ll have more acceptance at a higher level. It isn’t what we’re about is not about getting a story in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post. Too many people believe that’s the beginning and end of public relations type work. Arthur Page saw that only a tiny fraction of what one does when they are holding a job and sitting as an officer in a company. And what we’re seeking is the same kind of recognition that a chief operating officer has, a chief financial officer, a corporate. We have people who do have are capable of sitting side by side with these people offering the same kind of value for the corporation. We just don’t have enough of them.
Interviewer: Describe the Page Society’s role then in the modern business climate. You started to elude to that earlier, especially in the wake of financial scandals, corporate governance scandals or just increased corporate governance regulations, Sarbanes-Oxley. What is Page Society’s role?
Koten: Well, I think Page Society’s role, and is probably the best manifested by the publication of the book Building Trust, which is to first off is say, here is a certain set of guidelines that business can operate with that will help it operate in an ethical manner and it will gain respect for the organization and will enhance its reputation. We’re now on record of saying this is what it is. The companies that subscribe to this and learn more you hear about they are talking about going back to the fundamentals of business and the fundamentals of success, the fact that we don’t need to reinvent something. What we need to do is to what it was we and if we’re going to perform well. I think the Page Society is the role is to hold businesses feet to the fire to constantly set these are the standards to make others aware of when these standards are being met and examples. And I think that we should do a lot more of that. The other part of that is helping prepare people for roles where they can be influential and persuasive within their organizations. And this takes a person who isn’t necessarily learned how to operate a power book of one kind or another. Or how to necessarily write or what we really need people who are able to think, plan, strategize, look to the future, connect the dots between what the public is thinking and what the business is capable of delivering. To the extent that we can help people be better prepared to fulfill those roles and recognize the people who have the potential of doing that. I think that’s a big that’s a big role that we have. There are unfortunately in my opinion too many people that are holding jobs that are narrow specialists and they are very good at doing one function or another but when it comes time to seeing the big picture and being able to see where a company where it could go where what it could realize for itself is . I really don’t see a lot of those kinds of people. I think there are going to be more and more. But part of it. It’s like in the field of education which I am deeply involved in other areas. But it kills me. We have teachers who get degrees in education but don’t have a subject that they have a degree in that they can teach. And that you could be a teacher in a high school or even college an elementary school and the requirement is that you know how to teach. But you don’t have to know your subject at all. You can be teaching history and never have taken a history course in your life. And yet that’s the way public education is gone to be. What bothers me and the same thing can happen in our discipline. Where you may be a superior taught how to write the greatest news story in the world and know what the 5 Ws and HR and that sort of thing but when it comes time to knowing what to write about and what’s going to be valuable and what isn’t. And where the public’s mind is and where the Corporates are and how you can bring those together. That’s people can synthesize that sort of information to do something with it are really going to be the people that make the difference. The tools are speaking, writing, being familiar, whether it was with a typewriter or with a keyboard that’s on a computer, with a Blackberry, cell phone, all kinds of tools. But they are worthless if, you know if you don’t have the input. I mean Shakespeare knew more than just how to hold a quill pen in his hand and put ink on paper. I mean we need. That’s what we need.
Interviewer: Much of the Page Society’s scope involves continuing education, you would call it, and refining and updating the skills as an executive, but it’s that your point being made is that the case of the Page Society to continue to reach out to business students or public relations students or communication students?
Koten: Well it’s a it’s an interesting question and I may not be the right person to ask that question. Here’s the thing. We need, we see the potential for the people that we want to reach being people who are in, let’s say communications course, journalism course or TV course, magazine course or whether it’s a writing course or whether you are in a business course and you are learning finance or human resource related material or even if you’re in the legal discipline. We you know there’s a huge market there for us to out there that what we are interested in and talking about could be very helpful to these people. And what we want I believe and again this is probably I am speaking for myself is I’m not caring whether the person’s grammar is perfect while I personally do care whether it is or isn’t. But what I want us to show then is what the potential of different forms of behavior are and be able to recognize it. To be able to look out at the outer perimeter about what’s going on in the world. And saying how does it impact me, and how does that impact what I do, and how is it going to help the company and how can we make a difference by using that information and I think it’s really important. It’s like being a football coach probably football is a good example as any, where you are studying game films what other teams are doing and you are laying out your own strategic plan for how you are going to play against this. Match up your people together so you develop a game plan for the next football game. It’s kind of the role that we’re in is coaching. Take the information about the other people and other things that are going on. Take a look and synthesize and say now what do we have or what do I have that I can use to counter this or exploit this type of thing. It’s a highly sophisticated type thing. But mainly it comes out of of ability of an individual to process information. And then to say what are the implications of it and what should we do about it. The General on the battlefield. I was over at yesterday day before I went to Manassas Battlefield Bull Run and saw the first game plan for the first battle of Bull Run first battle at Manassas July 21, 1861. Thirty-six hundred people killed in one day. Amazing. Today we worry about you know one person being killed. And yet here in this one battle in one day only a few hours 3600 people killed. Only a fraction would ultimately, but anyway here’s Stonewall Jackson what with the Confederate forces up there. He moves his artillery and exactly in exactly the right spot and you got another group over on his left flank there. The Union Army comes down engages them and almost pushes them back. But he’s held off his artillery until the crucial moment. Then he’s got bombs in his bag. He’s got reinforcements behind. Sends them down there. He defeats the Union Army right on the thing. They flee the thing. If the Union Army had won that day the Civil War would never have occurred. But Stonewall Jackson is there because one of the other generals said “He’s got a stonewall back there with his cannons.” That became his nickname through the war. Had a strategy and a plan, which was decisive. That’s what we do. Figure out how to do this. That’s crazy.
Interviewer: I am going to jump around just a little bit.
Koten: I am not a Civil War buff but I spent a lot of time in this. But the fact is they have a map over there with lights on it that show the battlefield map that shows the whole war. In truth one of the most effective displays that I’ve seen done at any of these battlefields any place and they tell the story about the war or the battle. And absolutely incredible that the Union forces and there’s a whole bunch of people that came out from Washington to watch the war. It’s like a game Sunday afternoon. Nothing else to do on Sunday afternoon so they are out there looking at it. And all of a sudden the Union is down there. Everybody is cheering and all that sort of thing and boom. They took off. And they cleared the area and there was Stonewall Jackson with his troops. Won. Crazy.
Interviewer: Let me jump from this, see if I can sedge way. The Civil War to the Internet revolution. And since I don’t have sedge way for it. Public relations itself was clearly it and it has been acknowledged by many, revolutionized the Internet and digital age computers in general. Take me through a little bit how the Page Society worked to keep up with basically through the 90s especially. How was it able to keep up with the digital age? The interesting thing to me is you have many things, PR executives who grew up without necessarily working on PCs really without the Internet and yet now they had to quickly educate themselves on the Internet and these applications. How was the Page Society able to do this?
Koten: Well you are talking about an area which I have little expertise because I retired ten years ago. And so much has happened in the field of technology since that time that I am hanging on by my fingernails myself as far as that goes. And yet I don’t know how I’d get along without my computers. And but they were not they were not as in widespread use as they are today. The Internet and having bloggers and that sort of thing. That is beyond my comprehension. My concern here is that it’s a generational thing that I think that many of the people of my generation which make up a portion of the Page Society really are not computer literate. They are uncomfortable with using it. They are trying to. But they can’t take full advantage of what a computer offers. Now if they are retired that sort of as I see it kind of harmless because they are just out there [inaudible] problem but I don’t see how anybody working for any corporation today with any kind of responsibility can’t function without being a master of the keyboard. And it appears to me that there are many of our younger members that are really pretty good at that and I find that every encouraging. I don’t believe that we know just my personal opinion how to maximize this communication vehicle in order to get the most out of it. It’s there. It does some wonderful things for us as far as sending emails, broadcast mail, put things on that people can access on your web page and things like that. All of which is good but I am not convinced yet that we know how to make it actually change people’s mind or persuade people whether we can actually target audiences like we should as far as delivery goes. I think that we’d be capable of doing this at some point in time but I don’t see that we’re there. Now I say that I am only speaking from a really limited bestiality. What I am concerned about in that connection is there are people young people that are enamored with what the capabilities are of computer and use of the Internet. And the great deal of communication is carried forth and even some two-way communication back and forth. But what I see in that communication. I am guilty of it myself is a lot of it is pretty sloppy. Lot of it are whether it’s incomplete sentences or words that are misused or whatever, and that I am concerned that the communications that people are getting full sense of meaning it is good for yes, no type things. But they actually explain an issue. It doesn’t to me take the place of a face-to-face conversation where you can sit down and talk about something and have a dialogue or actually a written communication which has been worked over to make sure that it says the right thing. Now people say well that’s a lack of productivity. It’s not efficient to do things that way. But I worry about the quality of the message that you have. I also worry about the fact that there are people that believe that we don’t need print anymore. And it’s just like when computers first came out. We were all lead to believe that we are going into a paperless society. I am going to tell you right now. That I am buying more paper for my printers than I ever bought when I was before the computer revolution came along. And I see other people doing the same thing. I have more paper sitting around than I ever had with stuff on it and things I am sending this that and the other person. And what bothers me is that people who put a publication on the Internet and believe that it’s the same as delivering that message on paper. I think they are kidding themselves. Now I read the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times and Journal every day on the computer. I go through it like that. But it never has the same impact as when I am picking that paper up myself and going through it page by page and reading the story. I don’t know the answer to where that’s going to come out. But somehow or other I really do believe that we need to figure it out. Because our job is to communicate and persuade people and to listen and I don’t see yet the Internet doing that job very well. I am sure it will.
Interviewer: But the Page Society certainly always been concerned with it in some ways I guess the Internet kind of circumvents the, the paper printing, the publication process, which actually earns you some degree of authority or credibility where anyone can publish something on the Internet. And just by virtue of it being on a page. It grants you some sort of authority so you know or people who believe and generally more so what’s on the Internet and I know that the Page Society has actually issued standards for the Internet to try and I guess reign in the cart before it gets away or runs off too far. So the Page Society has certainly been concerned with it.
Koten: I think the Page Society’s concern with making sure that information that’s put on is accurate. It’s honest. It has integrity, which I think, that’s certainly important particularly for corporations. I mean the same should be true for individuals. How you enforce that or develop some kind of discipline and make sure it happens is still a mystery to me. I also am not sure whether young people today starting out in first, second, and third grade and using computers for their main source of information and teachers who teach now almost solely by using the computer from the classroom and the home etc. How that’s going to develop the thinking skills that are necessary. I am concerned about the enormous amount of cheating that’s going on now which the internet makes easy to do and how that ultimately affects the way people think, what they believe, what they know. Where the creativity goes. It’s like in the field of education where we are concerned now about the No Child Left Behind Act about worrying about young people who aren’t left behind in the opportunities to learn so you want first, second, and third graders to learn how to read. Enormous amounts of money are being spent to do that. What’s being neglected are the skilled students who are the overachievers who all of a sudden are finding the funding for the programs to stimulate extraordinary students being diverted to help bring up students because that’s the national norm and that’s what testing is all about. Something is backwards there. As a country, we need politically and economically we need the brightest people that we can have who are capable of thinking up ways that we can be competitive and maintain our leadership role in a world society. And if we can concentrate on worrying about all the people and this is the heresy of this certain kind who can’t read and that sort of thing and we didn’t put our resources important say it is. If we allow, whether it’s the Chinese or the Indians or Japanese or the Russians or Germans. I don’t care who it is to surpass us in creative ability and being ingenious type people. We’ve got a problem. And I mean, this is where you say what are American values? What are we known for? We’re a can do innovative creative society. If we give that up to just have everybody be all the same, then we’ve changed the dynamics of it, of a great country.
Interviewer: That brings us to another point, I guess for a long time all business has been global business more or less. How do you see how have you seen the Page Society since you were there since its founding days before its founding days. How it is reflected say maybe increasingly global feature.
Koten: Well I am not sure I would agree with your premise that all business has been global. I tell you a lot of business has, but I think that the, I am more attuned to the notion that all business is local than it is global and that that’s where the deal is made. Now I believe that business is becoming increasingly global and the role of the multinationals is growing. But it’s not just multinational companies in this country. It’s multinationals that are based in Germany or Japan increasingly in China, in India, England and elsewhere. And these are our competitors in the future. Now if our businesses if let’s say the scandals whether it’s the Enron Tyco, World COM, Arthur Anderson, you name all those. If those scandals tarnish the reputation of American business so on a global scale American business is perceived as being dishonest that you can’t trust them. They are not good businesses to do business with then that gives the opportunities whether it’s for the Nestles or the Totals or the [inaudible] or Fiats or the Toyotas or all these other companies around the world that take market share away from American companies. Now to me it’s disastrous. Because we need to be able to sell our products to other companies in order to maintain our standard of living. We can’t continue forever to just keep buying cheaper and cheaper goods in this country if we can’t sell. Here’s the Page Society in our very first meetings talk about this whole problem of being international and global and what was going on. But the situation wasn’t nearly as bad as it is today from a competitive standpoint. And the fact is that the Page Society has got to continue to call attention to American businesses. A reputation is key to being able to sell in in an international market. Toyota surpassed Ford last year as the second largest automobile manufacturer in the world. We used to have the Big Three. We got, I mean just to start out with. General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. Chrysler goes to Germany, Daimler Chrysler. Now we have Toyota replacing Ford as the second largest world market share. Toyota in ten years target is to be number one to replace General Motors. Americans don’t believe that. That that can happen, but it’s happening. And it depends on our ability to produce products that are worthwhile, that are economical, that are competitive, and the Page Society, that’s what our members should be doing. I mean it is within their business. You might say well there’s a chief ethics officer or reputation management. There’s a whole bunch of things they might be called, but corporate conscience, role of corporate conscience. Somebody has to keep telling the CEO that in order to be successful, invest for the long run. Don’t worry about the next quarter results if we’re investing in something that is going to pay off in the longer period of time. We have to be able to convince American workers that it’s in our long-term advantage and this is again the communications role. It’s in our long-term advantage to have competitive wages as long as people in India, Malaysia, China, all produced products if we are making all the computer parts over in Taiwan and China that says something right there. I mean here’s the latest technology and our companies whether it’s Intel or Apple or whatever producing the stuff overseas. We its, its perceptions we are dealing with perceptions and we have to be able to help the people understand what the impli