John Pepper is a member of the founding board of the American Committee for East-West Accord (ACEWA), a nonpartisan organization of American citizens from different professions—business, academia, government service, science, law, and others—who are deeply concerned about the possibility of a new, potentially even more dangerous Cold War between the United States/Europe and Russia. The group’s fundamental premise is that no real or lasting US, European, or international security generally is possible without essential kinds of stable cooperation with Russia. Pepper is also former chair and CEO of the Procter & Gamble Company and former chair of the Walt Disney Company. He served as CEO and is currently honorary cochair of the National Underground Freedom Center and is the author of two books, What Really Matters and Russian Tide: Procter & Gamble’s Entry Into Russia.
Pepper’s remarks were delivered on a panel called “Beyond a New Cold War?” on February 17 in New York City, cosponsored by the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and ACEWA.
I’m here as a retired businessman. But, more importantly, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for another factor. I’m very concerned, as I’m sure many of you are, about the threats this nation and this world face right now, which, as I think we have already been hearing, are the greatest we have faced in my adult life. Those threats are very related: terrorism, failed states, civil wars that are out of control, and nuclear proliferation.
I come here absolutely convinced that these threats cannot—will not—be resolved if there is not extensive collaboration, respectful collaboration, between Russia and the United States, bringing along with it many other countries who look to those two countries for leadership.
A word on the business front, if I might. I spent about a quarter of a century, starting in 1990, one way or another in Russia, including as CEO of Procter & Gamble and seven years as member of the board of the Walt Disney Company as it navigated its entry into Russia. My first trip as part of P&G was in February of 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. We were visiting five capitals of Eastern and Central Europe—within a week. We had taken plenty of advice on where we should go. We were told, go quickly to then Czechoslovakia, we should go quickly to Hungary, get into East Germany when it unites with West Germany, go slow in Poland, and don’t even bother to go to Moscow.
Well, we went to Moscow. We decided on that visit, despite some crazy, crazy meetings, that we would create a business. We did so in partnership, the only time we ever did so as a company, with the University of Saint Petersburg, which then became a close ally.
Thanks to our Russian and some non-Russian employees, we built a great business. It became the fifth largest in the total Procter & Gamble world. Those metrics changed when the ruble goes from 35 to 80 [to the dollar]. But it remains a very successful business, with 3,000 or 4,000 employees. We’ve had no difficulties combating corruption in this business. While every country presents its own challenges, doing business in Russia for us has been very manageable.