Oral Histories

Anne Barkelew

Interview Segments on Topic: Ethical Decisionmaking/Behavior

Anne Barkelew Biography

Ann Barkelew is a senior counselor of Fleishman-Hillard Inc., and the retired senior partner/founding general manager of the agency's Minneapolis/St. Paul office. She has more than 35 years of top management experience with Fortune 100 and small - to mid - cap companies. She is the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions including "Public Relations Professional of the Year;" Fleishman-Hillard's Lifetime Achievement Award, a “Public Relations All-Star”, and in 2003 the Arthur W. Page Society’s Distinguished Service Award.


Interviewer: We know that you were probably grappling with ethical issues. Did Dayton Hudson have an ethical mission statement? Did you refer to it?

Barkelew: We had a whole book. And it was the way you passed the culture on as the company was growing. When I went to Dayton Hudson, we were about a $5 billion company. And when I left, it was at about when I retired it was about $28 billion so we were growing so rapidly, that the people that, that the senior management felt it was important to write the culture down. And so it wasn’t a one-page credo but it was very clear-cut, that we are in business to service customers and that we aim to be American’s premiere retailer. And that says a lot of things. And then it says that we will always pay attention to the communities where we do business that we will help them be healthy. And so all these things that were there, that talked about how we did business, were really the guiding principle in a lot of things.

If I can use one other example about how that credo influenced how you behaved, we were, we discovered that we had some, well, records and tapes and things like that back in the day when they made records. But tapes and that kind of piece of the business at Target is a big business. And Prince came out with an album where on the jacket cover, and if you remember, go back to that period of time in the ‘80s when you would walk into a store you would see the record jacket covers prominently displayed as you went down the aisle. Well, on this particular one he was strategically posed without any clothing on, and so the decision was, we’re a family store, we operate family stores. And so it took like five seconds to decide that we weren’t going to carry that, even though it was a big margin business and it was driven by the fact that that’s the kind of company we were, that we are.  And so it guided just your automatic reaction into a lot of things. Arthur Page would have been proud of this.

Interviewer: Okay that’s great. Let’s talk a second about PR education. You’ve had some experience. You’ve worked with college students and you seem to enjoy that from a previous conversation that we had. Do you believe that college graduates are entering today’s workforce prepared to form ethical decisionmaking?

Barkelew: If they don’t let ego get in the way. I mean, I think what we are seeing today is sort of a battle between ethics and ego. I mean, I think where people are guided by what they know is the right thing to do. I personally once, I became accredited by PRSA and this may sound sort of corny but I put up the PRSA code of ethics. I had it laminated and perma-plaqued and put it up on the wall in my office, and people would come in and they’d be looking around and they’d say “What’s this?” and I said “That’s the code of ethics of my professional association.” And it was really fun to see them respond to, oh you have a code of ethics? And I used to love to say no. Doesn’t your profession? I mean yes I do. Doesn’t your profession have one? After I became a member of the Page Society I did the same thing with the Page Principles. And I do think that sometimes you need something on the wall a little bit like Johnson & Johnson had the credo that everyone had on their desk, so that when something happens, you know what to look at. I was fortunately never asked to do something that didn’t fit one of those either, the PRSA code of ethics or the Page Principles. I was never asked to do anything that wasn’t, that wouldn’t have been considered ethical. And, but I do believe that if I had been, I would have. Now there were times when some people would say well, maybe we could postpone that. And we’d say “no, no, no, no, no.” I think you have to but you don’t’ do it by saying “No that’s not an ethical thing to do.” I mean you just do it by always keeping your eye focused on what is right. I hope that doesn’t sound too corny. But it is I think coming to meetings like this one, like the Page Society conferences, reinforces a lot of that this is what we stand for. This is what we believe in. You know when Dayton Hudson was hit with the Planned Parenthood issue, within 30 minutes of the phone call that I got from Cope Moyers I called Marilyn Laurie at AT & T and I said to her assistant, I said “This is Anne Barkelew at Dayton Hudson. I am in a seminar with Marilyn,” because at the time I wasn’t yet in the Page Society. At the time, I don’t know if the Page Society had opened up beyond the ranks of telephone company people, but at any rate, I said “Tell Marilyn that I have Planned Parenthood knocking on my door and I would really like to talk to her.” She called me back within 15 minutes. We spent half an hour on the phone and it was one of those, “Marilyn, if you if you were doing this, you know, how would you respond?” And so I think the kind of sharing and learning that we get from each other is, I mean that’s sort of what Arthur Page was talking about too, is this what can we do together is so much stronger than what we can do separately.