Oral Histories

Ron Rhody

Interview Segments on Topic: Ethical Decisionmaking/Behavior

Ron Rhody Biography

Ron Rhody's long career in public relations includes serving as executive vice president and director-corporate communications and external affairs at BankAmerica and corporate vice president and director of public relations and advertising for Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp. 

He became CEO of his own Consultancy and is the author of “The CEO’s Playbook” and “Wordsmithing: The Art and Craft of Writing for Public Relations.”  He has worked with and advised CEOs and senior executives in the business, academic and not-for-profit sectors on a variety of communication and public relations issues.  He has received numerous awards and honors from professional groups and organizations.


Interviewer: Let’s move into general discussion on corporate arrogance, image, reputation and behavior. How the PR person deals with all of this. now over the years you’ve had quite a few organizations that have been labeled as arrogant corporations. They no longer take responsibility for their actions or their community. Can you talk a little bit about arrogance and corporate social responsibility and shed some light on how PR practitioners can protect the interests of their organizations.

Rhody: I have to say that I am embarrassed by the performance of many of our best corporations over the past five or ten years. Very embarrassed by the apparent greed, greed of the most senor officers and the amount of amount of recompense that they seem to attract regardless of whether or not they’ve done the job well. I think one of the things that drives the arrogance is greed. And I think that is a very, very bad circumstance. There was a time in this country and we may get back to it because we keep changing mangers a lot. Early on in my career we had managers like [inaudible] Shapiro, Rich Jones a couple of people that I worked for [inaudible] for one and others who felt that the corporation had responsibilities that went beyond the bottom line. That you had a responsibility to try to provide jobs for people so that you can have healthy communities, schools. That you had a responsibility to protest the quality of life in the communities in which you operated in. That you didn’t need to drive every last possible dollar of profit to the bottom line as rapidly as possible. And that’s changed. I think that general management attitude now is drive every last possible dollar of profit to the bottom line as rapidly as we can. now we’ll get ours and the next 10 15 to 20 years that’s something for somebody else to worry about. That disturbs me a lot. And I would like to see a different approach to that. Of course the rewards are tremendous as we all read and know and I have not to that extent but I've benefitted from that maybe a little bit disingenuous that I am making this point. But that embarrasses me. Now the arrogance. Where does the arrogance come from? I think the arrogance comes from the fact that most senior corporate executives are insulated. They travel in a circle. They circulate in a circle where all right thinking people think the way they do. Their mantra is we work for the shareholder which means our job is to get all the money that we can or all the profit that we can get. I guess that’s okay. Stocks. Stock prices have been the way they have been but they are insulated. They don’t understand. They’ve lost touch with what it’s like to to go to work every day and have to make care payments or worry about whether or not you can get your kid through college. Or whether or not you are going to have enough medical insurance to take care of your family. They lost touch with that and they have almost no contact with it. Which is where in my opinion CPR or public relations officer comes in. It’s part of his job. Very large part of his job. Ought to be the reality check for the CEO. And the senior management. He ought to be the guy in there telling them what’s going on. What the effect of their actions will have on people in general. You may remember the story about the Roman emperors when they would. The custom was as the emperor would return to Rome after he had conquered most of the known world or whatever it was he had conquered that particular year. As he rode in his chariot and the crowds were on the sides throwing flowers and yelling grandly. This little guy riding in the chariot would be whispering in his ear. You are mortal. And I think our CEOs. Many of our CEOs many of our senior managers lose that understanding that they are mortal. One of our senior guys, I like the guy a lot. He said this very jokingly but only halfway joking. Kept referring to people on the 22nd floor as we God like creatures. There’s some of that feeling that the role of PR in my opinion the role of the PR person is to bring some reality into that mix. Now that takes a certain amount of courage. It takes a certain amount of courage and it also takes a certain amount of intelligence. You can’t go rattling in knocking on the door saying hey buddy that’s dumb. Stop it. You got to exercise your skills as a communicator to get those points made. But I think it’s a very strong response of a public relations managers.