Oral Histories

Roger Bolton

Full Interview

Roger Bolton Biography

Bolton, senior counselor to APCO Worldwide, a leading global public affairs and corporate communications consultancy, began his career as a journalist before serving as a press secretary for a member of Congress.  Bolton became director of speechwriting for the Reagan/Bush re-election campaign, and was eventually confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be assistant secretary of the Treasury for public affairs and public liaison under President Bush in 1989.

As senior vice president of communications for Aetna, Bolton led a group of senior Aetna executives to think about culture and organizational effectiveness, which resulted in the creation of the Aetna Way, with integrity as its first fundamental value.  Roger Bolton is past president of the Arthur W. Page Society and current chair of the Arthur W. Page Center Advisory Board.


Interviewer: Let’s talk for a little bit about your relationship with the Page Society and the vantage point that you have as President. One of the hallmarks of the Page Society is its so called Page principles. Can you describe for you personally how meaningful Page Principles are and what their value is now and to the society itself but to business and public relations in general.

Bolton: I think that we are incredibly fortunate in the Page Society to have Arthur W. Page as a rallying point. We could be you know named the you know the senior corporate public relations officer forum or something like that. But if we did, we wouldn’t’ have a person who stands for a set of principles as our kind of founding anchor. And it’s critically important to us as a group to be able to rally around an agreed upon set of principles that are enduring and unassailable and give us an anchor a center a reason for being that is meaningful.

Interviewer: One of the things that the (Page) Society takes upon itself to do in recent years is to help corporations improve their reputations by putting an emphasis on building trust within corporations. What other things can the Page Society do from your standpoint that helps elevate the reputation of corporations nationwide or even worldwide?

Bolton: Well that’s a great question and we’re thinking hard about that right now in fact. The book project that you were instrumental in bringing forward Jack is just a wonderful contribution not only to the Page Society but more broadly. And under my tenure what I’ve asked our senior leadership group to do is to think about how we can create programs with other C suite organizations possibly including the business roundtable or CEO organization but also perhaps including organizations involving HR, legal, and finance professionals around the issue of corporate trust. Because I think that is his a shared issue and a shared problem and I think there is an opportunity for us in communications or in public relations to work with the other members of the C suite on this issue of corporate trust.

Interviewer: You mentioned your experience at Aetna with the creation of yet a way which has obviously been a very effective thing for that corporation. I was wondering if there are other things that have occurred to you as you’ve seen it work effectively at the Page Society or other groups could be instrumental in helping to establish like a training in ethics per se or other things that you have helped corporations function better particularly American corporations known throughout the world not only for their innovativeness but their productivity being but for being just great ethical operating companies you want to do business with. You are in sort of [inaudible] you know far better than I do. But you know the current situation is that. Are there things you think you could do to help American businesses to improve their “ethical reputations” besides the building trust activity. It’s a kind of rooted question.

Bolton: Well you know again I think that’s what we’re searching for and I appreciate your reference to the Aetna Way. Because I think that the Aetna Way, the J & J credo others like it really are something that can distinguish corporations and make them become more trustworthy. Not because they have them and they put them up on the wall and that should somehow be admired. But because if they’re done correctly, they can actually change the way you operate. And if they do that, and leave you to be institutions that are not only dedicated to ethics and integrity but also dedicated to understanding the needs and relating to the needs of public constituencies. Then that’s it’s sort of who you really are as opposed to what you say that is critically important and if a credo or a set of values can make you fundamentally operate that way, then that’s how you earn trust. It’s day by day in the marketplace in the way you conduct your business with a compass and set of ethics.

Interviewer: I want to pick up on a phrase that you used in the answer which was and I’ve heard you talk about this recently. When you said they can be effective if they are done correctly. What is that?

Bolton: Well it means just that that they more than just up on the wall. I think Enron had a sort of widely known that they had a set of ethics or corporate principles in one sort or another that weren’t really part of the fabric of the way the company operates. It has to be something that is truly embraced by senior leadership. Not only talked about by senior leadership but lived by senior leadership. And it also has to be something that is embraced up and down the company. And if I may let me just tell you a little bit about our experience at Aetna when we introduced the Aetna Way there was such a hunger for it. People wanted it so badly that without us even mounting a campaign. We did put up some graphics on the internet site that this is what it looks like so people can. People were printing those out and putting them up in their cubicles. People were having posters made and putting them up in the service centers. People had mouse pads made. And it became just something that became a rallying point for us up and down the company. Jack Rowe and Ron Williams are two senior executives haven’t given us internal speech in the last five years where they didn’t show it on a slide and talk about it. And we’ve woven it into our training so that we give people training courses on how what the Aetna values and the Aetna Way really means. How to incorporate the understanding of it into your daily operations so that you are actually thinking about it. And I’ve been really gratified to see us in the middle of very difficult business meetings someone will make reference to it. And say the problem here is we don’t have a focus on the people who use our services who we put at the center of everything we do. And so the references to it come out in the course of doing our business. It’s become part of the fabric of who we are. And it really requires that kind of dedication to it and belief in it and I think J & J has a long much longer history than we do of having that kind of focus on it that makes it makes it real.

Interviewer: That’s a good answer. You’ve been president for the Arthur Page Society for a while now. What do you see as the Page Society’s future?

Bolton: The Page Society is and has been for some time now, a place where the leading professionals in corporate public relations can come together with a few leading people from agencies and academe to engage in ongoing learning, continuous learning environment, and networking. In the context of a set of principles which we all embrace, And I think it can and should continue to be that rallying point for the appropriate practice of public relations. It also I think has the potential to make a broader contribution even to engendering corporate trust and I think that’s what we’re looking for today is how can we work with CEOs and other C-suite organizations to advance corporate trust by helping corporations operate more in the public interest in in a way that’s consistent with the Page principles.

Interviewer: You’ll be interested to know that we’re getting into the final stage of these questions. I know but you are familiar with the work going on here at Penn State in conjunction with the Arthur Page Center.

Bolton: Yes.

Interviewer: How do you see these two organizations: The Page Society and the Page Center working together. What do you think the Center can do to make a big contribution for its furthering fiscal or trying to improve it’s integrity on public communications. How can these two big entities come together and do something really constructive.

Bolton: Well I'm about to attend my first Page Center Board meeting, so I hope to learn more about the Page Center and what it does and how we can work cooperatively together. I think that the research that the Page center is beginning to fund has the potential to significantly advance the knowledge in the profession of how to operate ethically and operate consistent with the public interest. And I think that what I would hate to see is for this research to not be exposed to the people who can really benefit from it who are in the practice of public relations and so what I would like to see is a connection between the Page Center and the Page Society so that the academic work around ethics and PR that is being sponsored by the Page Center can be brought to the senior professionals in the Page Society who are operating today and can become a conduit for bringing that research and that learning to the floor and bring it to the attention of the people who are practicing.

Interviewer: What are some of the most important issues or enduring truths if you will you have learned during your career?

Bolton: To tell the truth. Curb it with action. Keep a sense of humor.

Interviewer: I will let you think about that. I’m going to these are just some quickies to wrap this up with. Who are some of the people that have been the greatest influence on your career or your life?

Bolton: Well I’d like to say Arthur Page. And actually although I don’t know him I would have to say he has had an influence by virtue of the group of professionals who have come together. Secondly I would say a group of people including yourself who have been mentors within the Page Society and have helped me learn. I can’t imagine how lonely the job I’ve had for the last decade or so would have been had I not had the opportunity to have this networking environment that the Page Society has provided me.

Interviewer: That winds up this particular session. I want you to know that we’ve been recording your thoughts and questions May 15, 2006. And your answers will be used by the Page Center as we see fit.  You will receive no direct remuneration for this particular effort. So from my standpoint it’s worth an awful lot to hear your absolutions and we appreciate your taking the time to do this. I know the Page Society does and particular the folks here at the Page Center who will make great use of the tape that we’ve made. They’ll appreciate it for years to come. So thank you.

Bolton: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you Jack.