The Baton Has Been Passed

August 18, 2016, Roger Bolton

I've often said, since joining the Arthur W. Page Society 20 years ago, how lucky we are that our founders are still living. They continued to be engaged as actively as their health and schedules permitted, and we benefited from their guidance and encouragement.

As of Tuesday, when Ed Block passed away, I can no longer make that statement. Now, the baton has been passed to the next generation to uphold the legacy that they have left us.

Ed was the head of AT&T communications when the Page Society was founded in 1983 after the Bell System was broken up in a consent decree with the federal government and the regional AT&T public relations VPs wanted to continue their annual meetings. They named the fledgling organization after a former AT&T VP of PR and wisely invited other company communications leaders and PR agency CEOs to join them.

Jack Koten, the Illinois Bell regional VP, who became the communications head of newly minted Ameritech, was the first president of the Page Society. Soon thereafter, Ed and Jack invited Larry Foster of Johnson & Johnson to be the first non-AT&T president of Page.

For the rest of their lives, Ed, Jack and Larry used the Page Society as the vehicle to encourage all of us to see the role of the head of corporate communications as a strategic enterprise leader, modeled after the example set at AT&T by Arthur Page. Ed often spoke of setting "policy." Today, we might more often use the word "strategy."

But we get their point: Public relations is a central role of management, not something apart. Building reputation through stakeholder engagement starts with who you are and what you do, not with what you say. Communication is intended to be a vehicle for a conversation that leads to understanding and agreement, not just a way to disseminate messages and convince unwitting audiences.

They were equally dedicated to the Page Principles, which they extracted from Page's lifetime of speaking and writing. Tell the truth. Prove it with action. Recognize that a company's true character is expressed by its people. These ideas, and the other four as well, are even more critical today than they were when Page first expressed them and our founders adopted them as our guiding lights.

Now that Ed, Jack and Larry are gone, the joyful mission of carrying forward their ideals rests with all of us who are members of the Page Society.

Public expectations of business are higher than ever and corporate misfeasance and malfeasance threaten the reputation of all businesses in society. However, I believe leading enterprises increasingly are focused on a corporate purpose that goes beyond creating just customer and shareholder value. These companies see building broader societal value as both a moral and a business imperative. Fortune's Alan Murray and Harvard's Michael Porter agree, as they explain in the new Changing the World issue just out this morning.

I am encouraged by the commitment of so many Page members to be a force within their enterprises, working at the strategic (or policy, Ed) level to build corporate character and authentic stakeholder engagement, guided by the Page Principles and a determination to encourage our enterprises to create social value and earn "public approval," to use Page's words.

I hope one day when our time has passed, those who come after us might say that we were worthy of the legacy that Ed, Jack and Larry have left us, and that the cause of encouraging business to be deserving of public trust was advanced by our actions, as it was by theirs.

Click to learn more about the incredible lives of Ed Block, Jack Koten and Larry Foster.

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