P&G CEO Defended Using Harsh Criticism of Workers

Deirdre McCloskey frequently says we should use more “sweet talk.” Edwin Artzt defended using harsh talk. Is there room for both?

(p. A8) Edwin Artzt, who expanded Procter & Gamble Co.’s global reach in the 1980s and then, as chief executive officer in the early 1990s, rattled the company’s managers with cost-cutting drives and harsh criticism of their work, died at the age of 92, the Cincinnati-based company said.

As CEO from 1990 until 1995, Mr. Artzt was known for berating managers and using words including “stupid” and “imbecilic” to describe some of their proposals, as recounted in “Soap Opera: The Inside Story of Procter & Gamble,” a 1993 book by Alecia Swasy, a former Wall Street Journal reporter. He didn’t sugarcoat his desire to eliminate weak brands and underperforming employees.

Mr. Artzt, who died on April 6, was sometimes called “The Prince of Darkness.” Some colleagues said the nickname reflected a hot temper. He said it came from his habit of working late.

“I certainly don’t want to have a short trigger with people and not give them a chance,” he told The Wall Street Journal in 1991. “But sure I’ve cleared out deadwood. Probably some of it was still breathing when it was cleared out.”

Two years later, he said: “Terrifying people is not my intention…People come to me years later and say, ‘Remember that meeting 10 years ago? You laid it on me, but I sure remember that lesson.’”

For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. “P&G CEO’s Harsh Talk Rattled a Bureaucracy.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 15, 2023): A10.

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated April 12, 2023, and has the title “Edwin L. Artzt, P&G CEO Known for His Tough Talk, Dies at 92.”)

The book on Proctor & Gamble mentioned above is:

Swasy, Alecia. Soap Opera: The Inside Story of Proctor & Gamble. New York: Crown Publishing, 1993.

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