Feature

John Smale, 1927–2011

The executive who led P&G to growth

The American Dental Association had never approved any toothpaste until John Smale, a young executive at Procter & Gamble, convinced it, in 1961, to bless the company’s new fluoride toothpaste, Crest. That pioneering marketing agreement rocketed Crest from 12 percent market share to 38 percent by the end of the decade. It also raised Smale’s stock at P&G, where he went on to become a highly regarded chief executive from 1981 to 1990 before serving as chairman of General Motors.

Born in Listowel, Ontario, and raised in Elmhurst, Ill., Smale showed a nose for business early, said The New York Times. He paid for college largely by writing two how-to books for fraternities and sororities, called Party ’Em Up and Party ’Em Up Some More. Three years after graduating, he joined P&G and spent the next 30 years climbing the company ranks before being appointed CEO. Over his nine-year tenure, the company’s revenue doubled, to $24 billion. Smale oversaw aggressive expansions into Eastern Europe and Asia and bought a number of major consumer brands, including Vicks cold medicine and Olay skin-care products.

In 1992, Smale was made chairman of GM in a boardroom coup, said Bloomberg.com. Then on the verge of bankruptcy, under Smale’s direction the automaker “stabilized its finances and returned to profitability” the following year. “John brought together wisdom and courage, concern for people, and commitment to the long term,” former P&G CEO John E. Pepper told the Associated Press. “He was quite simply the most effective executive I’ve ever known.”

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