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The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of William Cooper Procter

Documents in the P&G Archives reveal some amazing stories about P&G's second President
Thursday, May 15, 2014 9:53 am EDT

William Cooper Procter (1862-1934) became the second person to bear the title of President in P&G’s history when his father, William Alexander Procter, died in 1907.

As the last member of the founding families to lead the Company, his 47-year career spanned all the way from the factory floor to the office of President. During that time, he left one of the most enduring legacies of any leader at P&G.

But how much do we know about William Cooper Procter, the grandson of P&G’s first founder, who stands among the many generations of P&G leaders? Here are some interesting facts we pieced together from the P&G Archives about his life and career.

Although he was family, William Cooper Procter started his P&G career just like anyone else—making soap on the hot, bustling factory floor—right after graduating from Princeton in 1883.

William’s first years sweating side-by-side with workers on that floor set the tone for the rest of his career. Their voices would echo in his ears, inspiring some of the most groundbreaking changes he would go on to make for employees—changes that P&G, and even the industrialized world, had yet to see.

As trivial as it may sound, one of those changes was Saturday half-days. At the time, it was common for the average employee to work six grueling 10-hour days a week.

William gave weary workers a voice, and pushed the partners hard for a shorter work week. It was an experiment that would mark the first step toward a standard 40-hour work week across industries in the coming generations.

But to William, giving workers Saturday afternoons off wasn’t enough. He wanted to do more to make employees feel like valued partners in the Company’s long-term success.

So over the next several years, he formulated and persuaded the partners to try a plan that would divide profits between the employees and the company. It was a formula, he was convinced, that would help improve productivity and instill a deeper sense of ownership in the Company. 

In response to his proposal, the partners introduced profit sharing to workers in April 1887. Despite its issues early on, it became, once again, a bold new experiment that represented a radical new way of running a business. And it was an innovation that remains as the oldest continuous plan of its kind today.

To further bring his profit sharing plan to life, William asked the factory workers to appoint one person from among them to sit on the Company’s Board of Directors. The first one they chose—Fred Steingrube, a soap maker at Ivorydale—began his term on the board on September 11, 1919.

Fred, and the factory workers who served after him, would ensure that the Company’s new policies and programs had everyone’s best interests at heart. During a time of tremendous growth (and growing pains) for the Company, their representation was invaluable in breaking down barriers between management and workers.

But more than what he did within P&G, the list of William Cooper Procter’s substantial contributions outside of P&G seems almost unending. Among them:

  • His chairmanship of the inaugural Cincinnati Community Chest in 1927, which raised $2 million and went on to become the United Way of Greater Cincinnati (photo of William [circled] helping to unveil the campaign progress wall in downtown Cincinnati's Fountain Square);

 

  • His donation of $2.5 million to build and endow the Children’s Hospital Research Foundation at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, which consistently ranks among the top five pediatric hospitals in the United States today; and
  • His large donation to Princeton University’s Graduate College in 1883, where the school’s dining hall (Procter Hall) bears his name to this day.


William Cooper Procter embodied the eight words for which he is known:

His life is a tapestry of progressive, highly imaginative steps that made things happen—things the world had never seen, which fused a sense of common identity and improved the lives of generations.

We’re so proud of—and inspired by—the meaningful difference he made in the world.

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