In Memory of Jack Koten (January 6, 2014)
Dear Fellow Members,
Jack was the first chairman (then called president) of the Page Society and one of its founders. He was inducted into the Page Hall of Fame in 1995. He had been one of the regional communications vice presidents for AT&T before it was broken up in 1984 in a consent decree with the federal government. The regional VPs wanted to keep meeting together and so formed the Page Society, named in honor of the former AT&T corporate VP of PR.
Ed Block, who was the head of AT&T communications at the time, remembers, “After the first meeting, Jack said, ‘This doesn’t have any shelf life as a Bell PR alumni association.’ Jack had the vision that Page could be a centerpiece for a public relations community and he was dead right and alone, not only in thinking, but in insisting, as only he could.”
After his term as chairman ended, Jack remained on the Board of Trustees for 20 years, holding a number of key positions. When I joined the board, no one was more knowledgeable about or dedicated to the history, processes and people that made Page great than Jack Koten. I had the privilege of working with him on several committees and projects. Jack was thoughtful, generous, dedicated and diligent. I found him to be among the most principled and committed people I ever had the privilege to know.
Jack’s vision for Page was big and bold. He was an optimist who saw the opportunity for the Page Society to be the “pole star for the profession,” as he said in his Hall of Fame acceptance speech. “We know we live in an imperfect world, but why not accept the responsibility of illuminating our noble calling, by being good, visible role models, by recounting our successes and failures, by continuing to demand the highest ethical standards for corporate behavior — not only in this country but worldwide?”
This focus on integrity, principles and bringing out the best in business was a constant in Jack’s life and work. On the occasion of the Page Society’s 20th Anniversary, 10 years ago, Jack chaired the committee planning the celebration. He decided that the centerpiece of that effort would be a book comprised of essays from CEOs. Appalled by the corporate malfeasance of the Enron/WorldCom era, Jack wanted to show how dedication to ethical practices and principles could make business a force for good in the world. In the introduction to the book, entitled “Building Trust,” Jack wrote:
Corporations are truly one of the greatest inventions of human beings. They are the tools that enable people to do great, constructive things. They organize human resources productively and empower people to achieve noble objectives and find fulfillment in doing so. …
But if corporations are seen as abusing the privileges given to them by the public, sanctions can be imposed by government that severely hamper their effectiveness and efficiency. …
The key to building trust lies not only in operating with unquestionable integrity, but also by following easily understood fundamental principles in a focused manner. …
By taking the high ground, business not only will regain the public’s confidence, but, with a minimum of sanctions, it will be permitted to continue to raise the standard of living and serve as a role model of ethical behavior for people everywhere on this earth.
Jack always took the high ground in his own life and he inspired so many of us to do the same.
Bill Nielsen, also a former chairman of Page and a member of the Hall of Fame, remembers Jack as “truly an iconic figure in the creation and advancement of the Arthur W. Page Society. He played a significant role in the interpretation of Arthur Page’s life of work and the subsequent articulation of the Page Principles. As much as anyone else, Jack Koten formed the foundation on which our Society now thrives. His passing is a great loss but we have much to remember and celebrate over what he gave us.”
Page Hall of Fame inductee Harold Burson said, “Jack Koten had a central role in the formation and success of the Arthur W. Page Society. It would serve the Society well for present and future leadership to factor ‘What would Jack Koten think of doing this?’ into their thinking as new goals and policies are set.”
Tom Martin, another former chairman and Distinguished Service Award winner, said, “We all owe Jack a great deal. He was a good man and a true believer in all that the Page Society represented. Integrity, authenticity, trust. He will be missed.”
Jim Murphy, a former chairman of Page and a member of the Hall of Fame, remembers Jack as “a true professional, with an uncluttered set of values for every part of his life, from his family to his corporate career to his deep involvement in our profession through his dedication to the Arthur W. Page Society. Simply stated, he was a great human being.”
Upon the celebration of the Page Society’s 30th Anniversary in September, Jack sent us this message:
I am proud to be a founding member of the Arthur W. Page Society. It is one of the greatest achievements of my lifetime. It has been a privilege to work with so many outstanding leaders and watch our vision grow worldwide. Thank you for your continued hard work and dedication to these ideals. The future looks bright and full of promise.
Jack was the senior vice president of corporate communications for Ameritech, which was divested from AT&T in 1984 as one of the seven “Baby Bells.” He headed the team that successfully created a new independent identity and reputation for what became overnight one of the 30 largest corporations in the U.S. He also served as president of the Ameritech Foundation.
After he retired, Jack organized The Wordsworth Group, a consulting firm dedicated to helping non-profit organizations improve their management practices, reputation and revenues. He is a lifetime member of the boards of trustees of the Great Books Foundation, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and North Central College.
Arthur W. Page Society