Cincinnati has a certain type of neighbor you won't find in Cleveland, Columbus or anywhere else.
It's that guy who volunteers to help out coaching your second-grade basketball team, and next thing you know your e-mail box is full of Excel spreadsheets analyzing snack preferences for Nacho Cheese Doritos vs. baby carrots. (Sorry, food police, it's Doritos by a landslide.)
It's that woman who takes over publicity for your Girl Scout troop and launches a multi-media marketing campaign that sells more cookies than Famous Amos and the Keebler Elf.
In Cincinnati we have a name for people like that. We call them "Proctoids," or "those P&G people." Procter & Gamble employees and former employees seem to be everywhere. Because they are.
Wherever two or three parents or citizens gather in the name of "public service" or "for the children," they are there, too — raising the bar, poking at their early-adopter PDAs and smartphones, leveraging resources, talking about digital innovation from the helicopter view and generally making the rest of us feel like Brand X.
Speaking only for myself, of course.
Compared to your average P'n'G-er, I am the best practices paradigm of a slow-track slacker. I am the low-hanging fruit who couldn't wait to leave the branch office and roll off on my own.
But let's face it. Procter people are Cincinnati's homecoming kings and queens. So the rest of us in the Bowling Club pretend they are Stepford Dilberts who are too busy squeezing Charmin and improving bold new Tide to stop and smell the Coppertone.
That's not true. Procter hires contractors to squeeze Charmin. And the buttoned-up, tight-collar Procter changed years ago during the Casual Fridays Cultural Revolution. Procter people are now allowed to have fun and family time, too. In fact, the ones I know must have extra memory chips in their Blackberries to pack 29 hours in a day.
They are Cincinnati's secret weapon.
Boston has its snobby Brahmins. Los Angeles has its Beautiful People. Washington has its political parasites. And Cincinnati has the Procter Factor: a whole class of valedictorians. They are the best and brightest, the A-students with perfect attendance, the ones who sat in the front row in chemistry. They did their homework, read the book and turned in that 18-page report on the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, with footnotes — wrecking the curve for everyone. While the rest of us were saying, "I will never use geometry in my real life," they were already using it to calculate the shortest distance to a corner office on the top floor.
And thanks to capitalism, Procter brings them to Cincinnati in busloads — like a reverse brain-drain that makes our talent cup runneth over.
"I played a role in bringing 1,500 people to Cincinnati," says Phyllis Wagner, who was with Procter for 26 years, including 17 as senior manager of recruiting and talent supply. "We recruited at the top business schools. I loved it, loved it, loved it."
Everywhere she went — University of Chicago, Duke University, the Ivy League, Wharton Business School — graduates jumped at the chance to come to Procter, even in spite of Cincinnati's reputation for being less glamorous than Davenport, Iowa.
She looked for "high potential, a great track record of success, people who excelled at academics, with leadership experience outside the classroom." And those over-overachievers were invited to apply to Procter.
After that, the assessment process described by CEO Bob MacDonald is "rigorous," and "very demanding." Behavior-based interviews. Success drivers assessment. Reasoning Tests and Figural Reasoning questions with lots of arrows, hexagons and squiggly lines that make my head feel all mushy inside.
"The talent that goes into P&G is second to none," Wagner says. "What we wanted, quite frankly, is brilliant people."
But more than that, MacDonald says on the P&G website, "We hire for leadership and character as much as for intelligence," because Procter's future "depends enormously on the caliber of people we hire today."
Scoff all you want at Procter using NASA-level science to make a sudsier shampoo and floatier soap. That relentless pursuit of improvement is reflected in the P&G people who live next door to us.
What company or community would not be envious? Procter's Paris Island recruiting is the model in the Fortune 500. Procterites who become free agents are snatched up wherever they go. And lucky for us, many choose to stay in Cincinnati.
"They help the community is so many ways," Wagner says. Real estate values, volunteering, innovation, generosity and diversity. They travel the world and bring back an antidote to provincial astigmatism. Thanks to a powerful Procter alumni network, Cincinnati can't pop a can of Pringles without spilling crumbs on companies and innovations started here by former Procter people.
I have one living next door. My neighbor, Ken Canter, left Procter to set up his own business, 3C Clinical Sciences, to do research, monitoring, auditing and management for pharmaceutical trials. He recently teamed up with another neighbor and Procter alum, chemist Stephen McClanahan. They are taking clinical research to Guatemala, to speed up testing and help the poor in Latin America.
"Modern clinical trials are always managed by highly trained physicians and nurses, and so represent a mechanism to bring more and higher quality medical care to patients," says McClanahan, a Kentucky native who spent 23 years with Procter after being recruited to Cincinnati from the University of North Carolina. "I made many trips to Central America as part of my P&G efforts there, and in the process developed a real affection for the people and culture."
They applied for a grant from Xavier University, competing against 166 applicants. The ex-Procter guys were winners. "This team knows the technical side extremely well," the judges said. Of course.
That kind of thing happens all over Cincinnati, in businesses, nonprofits, churches and schools. And Wagner sees another intangible: Procter people "seem to have a lack of pretense."
True. Maybe it's because of the humbling effect of working alongside all those other A-students and class presidents. Maybe it's a Midwestern, Cincinnati thing. But they don't have an attitude. They are some of the best neighbors and nicest people I have met in Cincinnati.
Maybe we should come up with a new name for people like that.
Cincinnati's brand managers? Tide of talent? Mr. and Mrs. Clean? The Cubical Corps?
I like Procter Power. -
Peter Bronson is a contributing editor for Cincy Magazine.