Mark, Reuben 1939–
Chairman and chief executive officer, Colgate-Palmolive Company
Education: Middlebury College, BA, 1960; Harvard Business School, MBA, 1963.
Family: Son of Edward Mark and Libbie Berman; married Arlene Slobzian (music therapist); children: three.
Career: U.S. Army, 1961, infantry officer; Colgate-Palmolive Company, 1963–1972, advertising trainee, then various marketing and management positions; 1972–1973, president and general manager in Venezuela; 1973–1974, president and general manager in Canada; 1974–1975, vice president and general manager of Far East division; 1975–1979, vice president and general manager of household-products division; 1979–1981, group vice president of domestic operations; 1981–1983, executive vice president; 1983–1984, COO; 1983–1984, president; 1984–1986, CEO; 1986–, chairman and CEO.
■ In the transitory business climate of the 21st century, Reuben Mark was a throwback to an earlier era: he was a true "company man," working only for Colgate-Palmolive Company for more than 40 years. It would be practically impossible to overstate his contribution; in his two decades as chief executive of the $9.1 billion consumer-products giant, Colgate-Palmolive's stock bested that of GE throughout the GE CEO Jack Welch's tenure. Rather than making the talk-show circuit to tout his success, Mark could be found committing himself to extensive educational philanthropy and the improvement of corporate governance. While he set a universally positive example for his CEO peers, Mark would have been the last person to say anything about it.
A FATEFUL BEGINNING
Born in Jersey City, the industrial town that then housed Colgate's headquarters and its largest domestic plant, Mark's family moved to Long Island before his first birthday. His education took him first to Middlebury College in Vermont, where he studied economics, and later to Harvard Business School, where he earned his MBA in 1963. In 1961 he spent six months as an army officer.
Upon leaving Harvard, Mark joined Colgate-Palmolive as a trainee in its advertising department. He had other offers, including one from archrival P&G; he contended that his decision was influenced by geography—he didn't want to move to Cincinnati—but an unidentified friend offered another reason in Fortune magazine: "I think he felt he could probably move faster and higher at Colgate. It just wasn't as competitive internally as P&G" (May 11, 1987).
INTERNATIONAL WORK PREPARES HIM TO LEAD A MULTINATIONAL
Indeed, Mark rose steadily through the ranks, holding various marketing and management positions around the world until he took over control of the company's Venezuelan subsidiary in 1972. Since Colgate traditionally earned the lion's share of its profits in international markets, overseas operations, which spanned 70 countries, were the best place for Mark to gain visibility as an executive.
Historically press-shy, Mark agreed with the media's assessment that he was just as comfortable with Colgate's factory workers as he was with Wall Street analysts. During a 1991 trip to the company's facilities in Mexico City he disarmed nervous employees by joking in fluent Spanish. In one of his rare public interviews, published in Fortune, Mark reflected upon the importance of such rapport: "I remember as a young boy walking with my father, who was treasurer of a food company, through one of their plants. A worker who was stirring something in a huge vat yelled down with a big grin, 'Hi, Mr. Mark,' and my father called back, 'How you doing, George?' It meant a lot to me that my father, a management guy, had a good relationship with people in the plant" (May 11, 1987).
Mark's command of Spanish and his early focus on Latino markets served Colgate well. By the early 2000s Latinos were the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country: America's Latino population grew 61 percent, from 21.9 million to over 35 million, from 1990 to 2001. This demographic group was forecast to wield $900 billion in spending power by 2007.
CHARMING ANALYSTS AND EMPLOYEES
Mark became CEO in 1984 and, additionally, chairman in 1986. Unlike his predecessors, Mark met often with analysts and institutional investors to herald Colgate. Historically the results were bullish and the analysts enthusiastic. Emma Hill, an analyst with Wertheim Schroder & Company, noted in Fortune, "He spoke at a seminar I arranged, and by the time he got done talking, everybody wanted to run right out and buy Colgate stock. I've never seen anything like it. More than any other chairman I have seen, Reuben has Wall Street eating out of his hands" (May 11, 1987). His buoyant enthusiasm extended to his other corporate commitments. When Mark, a director on the AOL Time Warner board since 2001, purchased shares of the company, a fund manager reversed his negative position on AOL stock.
Under Mark's tenure, Colgate experienced seven straight years of double-digit earnings-per-share growth. Colgate stock outperformed GE stock from 1984, when Mark became CEO, through 2001, when the head of GE Jack Welch retired.
LONG-TERM RESULTS TRUMP SHORT-TERM GAIN
In the mid-1990s, when stocks had nowhere to go but up, Mark was one of the only major American CEOs to emphasize the effect corporate culture had on sound governance. Around the same time Enron's Ken Lay, for example, was pushing his board and top managers to devise elaborate schemes in order to defraud investors. In 2003 Colgate's board earned a top score from GovernanceMetrics International for its governance practices—an honor achieved by a mere 17 of 1,600 companies tracked. CBS MarketWatch reported that Ric Marshall, the CEO of The Corporate Library, the independent research firm, said, "After almost three years of stories of powerful leaders violating standards of ethics, Mark is an example of a CEO doing a good job" (September 18, 2003).
EDUCATION MATTERS MOST
Mark's staunch business beliefs extended to activities outside his company. While charitable commitments were part and parcel of the modern CEO's job description, Mark's investment in education went far beyond the boardroom and had deep, personal meaning for him. His wife was a music therapist, school psychologist, and full-time teacher for elementary and high-school students.
Under Mark's leadership and coordination, Colgate adopted a once-beautiful New York City school that had lost its luster. The school was a virtual war zone and in total chaos. Colgate sponsored the school's rehabilitation, dismissing the principal and senior managers and restructuring the unit into three middle schools and one high school. Colgate employees sat on the school's advisory board, offering management, budget, and technical expertise. Mark described Colgate's activities at this school extensively in the May 1994 issue of Chief Executive magazine: "We were confronted with the inadequacies of the New York City school system. I was stunned to see how kids were being treated—they were essentially warehoused until they turned 16 or dropped out. What's worse, they didn't have educational advocates. Education truly is the most crucial problem that we as a country face and everyone, every single individual, every single organization, can do something about it. The most important thing Colgate contributed was not money, but people—people who helped develop curriculum and systems, people who helped in governance, people who acted as mentors. We provided physical space for meetings and educational materials. It was not a classic adopt-a-school project in which we write a check and the school spends it. But if I as CEO had not been involved at the beginning, my people would not have felt free to spend their time or energy on the project or been allowed to take time off from work to get involved. That's why the key is getting the most senior people interested. They can rally to the cause people throughout the organization."
RESULTS, NOT RECOGNITION, COUNT
By the early 2000s Colgate-Palmolive faced increased competition from P&G. In 2001 P&G beat Colgate to the tooth-whitener market with the launch of Crest White Strips. Colgate countered with Simply White, but sales lagged, and retailers complained of excess inventory. While Mark himself was a proven winner, the company's long-term prospects were by no means certain.
Mark was up to the challenge. With retirement planned for sometime between 2006 and 2008, he remained interested only in results and continued to shun the spotlight—he even declined an interview with a publication honoring him as a finalist for CEO of the year. He believed it offensive for one person to take credit for the efforts of an entire organization. Said The Corporate Library's Marshall, "Mark stands out precisely because he does not stand out. That's what a CEO is supposed to do: quietly build value for shareholders without ostentatious show. Those are the people that keep the market going" (September 18, 2003).
See also entry on Colgate-Palmolive Company in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
"Colgate's Mark: Teaching Corporate Citizenship," CBS MarketWatch, September 18, 2003.
"Finding What Really Works in Education," Chief Executive, May 1994, p. 48.
Steinbreder, John H., "The Man Brushing Up Colgate's Image," Fortune, May 11, 1987, p. 106.