John G. Smale enjoyed his work at Procter & Gamble, throwing himself into it through late nights and weekends as he rose from the toilet goods division to the top of the consumer products giant. Decades later, the company is still reaping the benefits of those long hours and the ideas and plans they helped produce.
The former CEO and chairman, also a former General Motors Co. chairman, died Saturday in Cincinnati, a P&G spokesman said. He was 84. The Cincinnati-based company didn't immediately give details about how he died.
"Life would be awful long if you were working at something you didn't like to do," Smale, a graduate of Miami University in Ohio, reflected in a 2009 interview with the university's magazine. He said he spent years working until 10 or 11 p.m., and on weekends, "totally immersed in what I was doing" and "having a really good time."
Smale led P&G from 1981 to 1990 and was the seventh chief executive of the 174-year-old company. He also was chairman of General Motors Co. from 1992 to 1995 and was a board member of the automaker for more than two decades, beginning in 1982.
The Canadian with German ancestry graduated from Miami University in 1949. He joined P&G in 1952, working for what was then called the toilet goods division. He rose through the company, becoming president in charge of all U.S. operations in 1974 and chief executive in 1981. He added the chairmanship in 1986.
During his tenure, Smale moved P&G businesses into new markets in huge developing countries such as China, setting the stage for P&G's rapid growth in Asia in recent years. P&G also acquired Richardson-Vicks, which broadened the P&G portfolio to include Pantene shampoo, Olay skin cream and Vicks cough medicines, which are major brands today. In a smaller acquisition, P&G obtained the CoverGirl makeup brand that also is still growing.
As CEO, Smale also restructured P&G to become more efficient, speeding up development of new products and getting them to market. He accomplished this with new "category managers" who were assigned to oversee everything from innovation to promotion. The company revamped its marketing and began working more closely with retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to improve store inventories and promotions of P&G products.
When announcing his plans in 1989 to step down, Smale said, "We've made watershed changes at P&G. ... They will bear fruit well into the next decade."
P&G had fallen behind rivals such as Colgate-Palmolive and Unilever in developing new markets abroad before Smale got the company thinking more globally. Today, P&G reaps the majority of its sales and most of its growth from overseas markets, company leaders say.
Smale also is credited with boosting the P&G Crest toothpaste brand, successfully gaining American Dental Association approval for the toothpaste and launching a campaign that became an advertising classic: "Look Mom, no cavities!"
"John brought together wisdom and courage, concern for people and commitment to the long term in a manner I've never seen exceeded," said John E. Pepper, who served as CEO from 1995 to 1999. "He was quite simply the most effective executive I've ever known."
Smale sent the company's current CEO, Bob McDonald, to Canada in 1989 for his first P&G assignment outside the United States. McDonald said Smale was "caring, yet demanding, principled and humble. .... He represented the soul of the company."
Smale served on the boards of several other companies, including Eastman Kodak and J.P. Morgan & Co. He received honorary doctorates from Miami and several other schools, and had kept up his ties with Miami.
The Listowel, Ontario, native spent much of his retirement in Marathon, Fla., where he enjoyed fly-fishing. He said he had been fishing since he was a child and even went fishing on his honeymoon.
Smale married in 1950, and he and his late wife, Phyllis, had four children. He courted his wife when he attended Miami and she attended the Western College for women, both in Oxford, Ohio. Smale credited his wife's support with enabling him to immerse himself into work he enjoyed, often staying on the job late at night and on weekends.
"I was so comfortable in my relationship with Phyllis, and so at ease there was no tension," he said in a 2009 interview for his alma mater's "Miamian" magazine. "The home life was totally supportive. I don't know what life would have been had I not had her."
He added: "I never really envisioned that I was going to end up as chief executive of Procter & Gamble. That's probably a good thing because it seems to me that if you're focused on making a success out of what you're doing, then, certainly at a company like P&G, you could assume that your personal success is going to take care of itself."