Oral Histories

Bob Ehinger

Interview Segments on Topic: PR Education/Training

Bob Ehinger Biography

Though born in Saco, Maine, Ehinger spent most of his early years in Dover, Delaware.  From there he attended Dartmouth College and graduated in 1943 with a degree in economics.  After graduation, he joined the Navy as an Ensign in the Supply Corps and served as supply officer on a destroyer in the Pacific.

After the war, Ehinger was hired by Western Electric as a buyer's clerk in the Purchasing Department in New York City.  (Western Electric was the purchasing agent for the Bell Telephone companies).  After advancing to senior buyer, he transferred to an operating job at a large service center in Los Angeles, and eventually became the manager.  With about 1,100 employees, he thought Western Electric should be better known in the Southern California area, so he hired the first-ever public relations professional.  Eventually, the P.R. Vice President in New York transferred him to New York as Director of Community Relations and Public Affairs.  This job was followed by assignments in personnel, defense activities, and finally Ehinger became Secretary and Treasurer of the company (Western had an outside board of directors).  From this assignment, he became Vice President of Public Relations in 1973.  In 1982 Ed Block, AT&T P.R. Vice President, asked him to come to AT&T on January 1, 1984.  With Ed, Ehinger established the AT&T Foundation and the Arthur W. Page Society.  The first annual conference was held at the Hershey Inn in Hershey, Pa.  At that time, the Society's membership came primarily from the telephone companies that were being divested from AT&T.  Ehinger comments that it has been a source of pride to see how the Page Society has grown and become the leader in the profession.

Transcript

INTERVIEWER:  What education and/or previous professional experience best prepared you or do you think anybody, for the rigors of ethical decision-making?  I mean, where does this knowledge come from?

EHINGER:  Well I think ethical decision-making comes from your whole background from your family.  If your parents were ethical people and I’d say, helped others, I was raised during the depression and my folks were very active in helping to take care of people like that.  In fact, my dad was in social work anyhow so perhaps that kind of thing rubbed off.  And I was raised in Dover, Delaware which is a small town, from the second grade on.  It was a great place to grow up and I had three brothers so we had a good family.  And the interesting thing, you know their all still around and none of them…went so far as none of us smoked til this day, and my dad didn’t, my mother didn’t.  So there’s certain things that are built in and I think that was just part of it.

INTERVIEWER:  So it’s a family value?

EHINGER:  Family values and you can take all the ethics courses you want in college and it won’t do much except, you’ll fill out the form and pass the exam but it won’t change too much.  I do think probably on this whole ethics thing, maybe case studies may be the best way to go and I don’t know how much of that goes on right now.

INTERVIEWER:  Actually, that is an important pedagogy, at least in…

EHINGER:  For that kind of thing.

INTERVIEWER:  Well in college in general.  Well there are various organizations that have case study competitions and yeah, they’re valuable because they allow discussion.

EHINGER:  Well you want people that got into trouble because of the way they handled and people that avoided trouble because of the way they handled.  Larry Foster of course being a perfect example of how to do it right.  Now a lot of the financial firms don’t know how to do it right, they’re not used to that and, too bad.  But I don’t think an ethics course changes a basic philosophy too much.  I mean if you give that person two choices and one says this looks like we might get away with it, they just might do it.  The problem lawyers have, the lawyers have the problem, they gotta defend people that are guilty.  I don’t know how you do that.

INTERVIEWER:  They know how to do it.

EHINGER:  But they know how to do it and you have the right to have that kind of thing to create a reasonable doubt.

INTERVIEWER:  Is there anything else that I haven’t asked you that you want to talk about for a little bit.

EHINGER:  No, I think the fact that Arthur Page Society has grown and is going in the direction it seems to be going is certainly a…says it was well worthwhile and I think as public relations people are going to find bigger problems as time goes on, having a place like this to go and a network of people you can talk to is great.  You couldn’t have done it in any other operation that was going, that I know of.  I’ve retired so I don’t have any opinions on some things anymore.