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Recognize & Celebrate businesses & people

Great Living Cincinnatians: Honorees

Celebrating the leadership, vision, tenacity, and love of community shared by the recipients of the Great Living Cincinnatian Award, presented annually by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber since 1967.

John E. Pepper

Awarded In 2006

1939 –


John Pepper is a true rarity. As a local newspaper has described him, he’s a genuinely nice guy – who has finished first. And in doing so, over his 42-year career, he has helped countless others aspire to achieve the same dream.

Pepper retired from The Procter & Gamble Co. as chairman of its board and CEO in 2002, where he had devoted 39 years in helping to create and lead one of the world’s largest consumer products companies. He retired as chairman of the executive committee of the board in 2003.

While at P&G, Pepper became revered for his commitment to the company’s PVP book – “purpose, values, principles.” According to many, Pepper personified the company’s culture of respect and was the reason why he consistently earned standing ovations at company functions.

Pepper transitioned from his role of vice president for Finance and Administration at Yale University to CEO of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in 2006.

“My goal is to work with staff and volunteers to see the Freedom Center continue to develop as a powerful institution carrying out its mission to the benefit of hundreds of thousands, indeed ultimately millions of visitors here in Cincinnati and those we will reach via the Web and schoolrooms across the country,” Pepper said, echoing his commitment to education that he fostered earlier in his career.

During his tenure as president and CEO, P&G was regularly cited as one of America’s “Most Admired Companies” by Fortune Magazine. Pepper began his career at Procter & Gamble in 1963, becoming general manager of Procter & Gamble Italia in 1974 and group vice president in 1980. In 1984 he was elected to the company’s board of directors and in 1986 became president. He helped lead P&G’s expansion into Eastern and Central Europe and Greater China in the first half of the 1990s. Pepper was named chairman and chief executive in July of 1995.

“I’m proud of the fact that we have been able to serve billions of additional consumers with leadership brands, create new businesses, and develop leadership positions in developing markets of the world, most recently Eastern and Central Europe, China and parts of Latin America and Southeast Asia,” Pepper said. “I’m proud of the way so many strong leaders have developed at Procter & Gamble, some of whom I believe I have touched along the way. And I’m proud of the way we’ve pursued diversity and living the values that makes P&G what it is.”

In addition to his leadership of P&G, Pepper was a key force in the creation of the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative, a nationally recognized program established in 1987 that provides youth employment, mentoring and tutoring, and college scholarships for those in need. He was the CYC’s vice chair.

Pepper also served as a hands-on leader for school reform, pushing schools across the socio-economic spectrum to set higher standards. He has helped convince policy-makers in Washington, D.C. and Columbus to focus resources on the earliest years of learning – and the results can be seen in Ohio’s extraordinary commitment to Head Start and the recent legislative actions aimed at improving the quality of instruction in grades K-4.

Education helped shape Pepper growing up. “There were the teachers whose expectations and powerful example and whose trust made me a different person than I otherwise would have been – Father Andrew Jenks at Portsmouth Priory and Howard Roberts LeMar at Yale,” Pepper said. “There were others – the captain of my first Navy ship and, most importantly, countless mentors and influencers at Procter & Gamble, especially Ed Harness, Ed Artzt and John Smale.”

In 1994 he chaired the Greater Cincinnati United Way campaign and has served on numerous other local and national non-profit boards, including being instrumental in the creation of the Freedom Center as co-chair of the development committee. Pepper was a board member of the American Society of Corporate Executives, the Partnership for a Drug Free America, the Partnership for Public Service and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Other non-profit boards have included the National Alliance of Business, Xavier University, the American Chamber of Commerce in Brussels, the Cincinnati Symphony and the Cincinnati Art Museum.

In the corporate sector, he was on the boards of Boston Scientific Corp. and the Disney Corp.

A native of Pottsville, PA, he graduated from Yale University in 1960 and served in the U.S. Navy from 1960-63. He held honorary doctoral degrees from Xavier University, the College of Mount St. Joseph and St. Petersburg University in Russia.

Pepper and his wife, Francie, had four children – John, David, Douglas and Susan – and lived in the Cincinnati suburb of Wyoming.

“I have been influenced – positively – by my four children and a handful of very special friends, and, above all, for the last 38 years, by my wife Francie,” Pepper said. “I’m particularly pleased to be named a Great Living Cincinnatian in the company of the three other inductees this year: Neil Bortz, Bishop Thompson and Myrtis Powell. I have enjoyed working with them extensively over the years.”

Nominate a Great Living Cincinnatian

Recipients are selected from candidates by the Cincinnati Chamber’s senior council based on the following criteria: – Community service – Business and civic attainment on a local, state and national or international level – Leadership – Awareness of the needs of others – Distinctive accomplishments that have brought favorable attention to their community, institution or organization