Bob McDonald is often described by what he is not.

"He's not stuffy," people say.

"Not arrogant or aloof like some CEOs "” just easygoing, very likeable, easy to talk to."

"You'd never know he runs one of the world's biggest global companies."

It turns out there's a lot you'd never know about McDonald if you only read the stock listings to follow his performance as president, chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble.

You'd never know he was a precocious kid in Arlington Heights, Ill., a northwest suburb of Chicago. In 1964, at age 11, when most boys his age were trying to decide between spending their lawn-mowing money on baseball cards or Incredible Hulk comics, he made up his mind that he would go to West Point.


So he wrote to his congressman, future Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

"It would have been very easy for him to blow me off," McDonald says. Instead, Rep. Rumsfeld urged him to take the West Point test as many times as he wanted. He did. Six times. He passed and was admitted to America's most prestigious military academy at the youngest possible age of 17.

"The first time I took the test, everyone was older than me," McDonald remembers, smiling. Most were 18, ready to graduate from high school, old enough to drive, vote and go to war. And here was a 12-year-old kid.

He made the most of his opportunity. "Hard work pays off," he likes to say. He graduated in 1975 in the top 2 percent of his class.

And he stays in touch with Rumsfeld. "Every time I get a chance to see him I thank him," McDonald says.

Maybe there's a metaphor in that story to illustrate his dedicated, hard-charging climb up the ranks at P&G.

He started in Cincinnati in 1980, then served from Canada to the Philippines and Asia. He worked his way through the obstacle course of sales and brand management, past Dawn, through Cascade, over Tide and hair products, all the way back to Cincinnati and the top office at P&G headquarters in 2009.


But there's still more you'd never know about McDonald and plenty of material for metaphors. Such as: He could do his own stunts in an action-hero movie. Doing battle with Colgate probably won't require hand-to-hand combat in the toothpaste trenches, but if it does, put your money on McDonald.

He served as a captain in the 82nd Airborne and trained in jungle, arctic and desert warfare as an Army Ranger.

During routine parachute training (if jumping out of a perfectly good airplane can ever be called "routine"), he once had his air stolen and had to free-fall onto another parachutist, then slide down the other paratrooper's risers and hang onto his harness to avoid a fatal fall.

From a 1998 study of parachuting injuries:

"If a parachutist drifts over the top of another parachutist's canopy a phenomenon known as an 'air steal' can occur. In this case, the bottom canopy 'steals' air from the top canopy which collapses."

As the jump instructors say about parachute malfunction, "It doesn't hurt until you hit the ground."

The air-stealer who nearly took McDonald's life was a higher-ranking colonel. "Someone we called a five-jump commando," McDonald says, cupping one hand over the other to show how a parachute collapses when its air is stolen by one directly below it.

The colonel didn't have enough experience to steer his chute properly, and McDonald let him know about it when they got to the ground. "I was quite upset at the time, but I threw in a few 'sirs.'"

Making a split-second decision to abandon his own parachute and free-fall to catch a ride on the colonel's back was automatic, he says.

"The training kicks in. It's what we were trained to do," he says.

And giving someone who outranks you the hard truth is also good training for P&G management, he says "” something he has learned to encourage among the people who work there. "I want to make sure every Procter & Gamble employee is comfortable telling me what's on their mind," he says.
You also would never know that McDonald is the same disciple of detergents who used to hitch rides in canoes to find out what laundry soaps were most popular on remote islands in the Philippines.
He's the same hometown star athlete who played guard and defensive end on the Arlington Heights Cardinals high school football team that went 8-0. And he played third base on the Cardinals baseball team that became district champions.
Even among Procter people, where the typical resume looks like an unabridged edition of Overachievers Anonymous, McDonald stands out like an Army Ranger among park rangers.
"I think it started with my belief that when you do something in life, do it. Not halfway," he says.
He applies the same formula to Procter. His mission: "Our purpose is to touch and improve lives."
Procter already reaches more people worldwide than the fabled British Empire at high noon.
Revenues for the 2009-2010 fiscal year were $78.9 billion. About 12,000 people in Cincinnati work for Procter, and 127,000 worldwide. They make, market and research 250 different products, including 50 top brands that deliver 90 percent of sales and profits.
The colorful flags that fly in front of the Cincinnati headquarters represent some of the 80 nations where Procter has operations and 180 countries where Procter sells its consumer products.
But McDonald wants more. "I want to get to all of the world's people."
When he took over in 2009, he set a goal of one billion new customers in five years, which adds up to a half-million new customers every day.
During an interview with Ad Age in 2009, McDonald joked that the reporter was not doing his part. "We've got 25 product categories in the U.S., and you're not using all 25," McDonald said.
"That's true, though I did buy diapers this week," the reporter replied.
"You could shave a little more," McDonald quipped. "In fact, you could shave your head. You use more blades that way."
Convincing 1 billion people to use more razor blades, diapers and soap is lots of work. It requires constant travel all over the world. But these days McDonald gets there in a corporate jet, not a dugout canoe. He is gone six out of 10 days.
Extending Procter's reach and share also means lots of video conferences with executives around the globe, including Singapore, Dubai and Mumbai, often conducted from a well-lit board room right off his own spacious and open office.
And it means long hours. McDonald rises at 4:30 a.m., works out, hits the shower, then gets to his office from his Indian Hill home by 7:15. He's seldom home in time to watch most of the TV shows P&G sponsors. On the rare occasions when he has free time, he is more likely to use it reading biographies or exploring the universe of theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking.
He's optimistic that 2011 will continue an economic recovery, but he knows the competition never sleeps.
"Information is power, and now everyone gets the same information at the same time," he says.
So Procter continually researches and experiments to improve products and bring them to market. "No consumer will ever tell us, "I need this kind of product that's not available yet."
But when Procter hits the sweet spot, the response is clear. For example, he mentions the new Fusion ProGlide razor by Gillette, a company that McDonald was instrumental in bringing to P&G. It's typical of product improvements "driven by consumer insight," he says, with better blade spacing, sharper edges, a smoother coating and ergonomic handle. "It's such a segment winner, we ran out for a while."
From the age of 11, McDonald has known what he wanted and how to work hard enough to get it.
He can tell you the exact date he met his wife "” June 30, 1977.
He walked into the home of his best friend's fianceé, while on a brief leave from the Army, and met her best friend.
He calls his wife, Diane, "the girl of my dreams."
After nine dates, they were married the following Dec. 31. As he says, "If you're going to do something in life, do it. Not halfway."
And that takes him back to West Point. "I learned on the first day the importance of character. There are only four answers you can give: 'yes sir,' 'no sir,' 'no excuse, sir' and 'I don't understand, sir.'
"When you say there is no excuse, you are defining your circle of influence pretty broadly. It's all about learning to take personal responsibility."
McDonald says he has no single hero, but "I get something out of every biography I read."