Steve Cotler

Steve Cotler

Schweppervesence…and Malaria

Cmdr. Whitehead
Commander Whitehead
Mixers…and medicine.

In 1968, Commander Edward Whitehead came to Harvard Business School to give a talk on the continuing importance—in the face of computers and other rapidly advancing technologies—of people in industry. (A similar, and rather drier talk he gave in 1955 is here.)

Perhaps the first CEO to become his company’s advertising spokesman, Commander Whitehead¬† (1908-1978), a World War II veteran of the South Pacific campaign in His Majesty’s Navy, was the President of Schweppes (USA) and General Manager (Overseas). He was drafted into advertising service by Madison Avenue pioneer David Ogilvy who decided to personalize the company’s ad campaign and use the Commander as its focus.

“People,” Ogilvy told Whitehead, “are more interested in individual personalities than in corporations.”

Commander Whitehead spoke about his role as a public personality:

People are curious to know more about this odd Englishman who combines the offices of President and model. Who is he? What is he really like? How did all this come about? How does he keep the situation from getting out of hand? Does he retain a sense of humour about the whole thing, and is he able to laugh at himself? Can he continue to advance his Company’s affairs without taking flagrant commercial advantage of all these opportunities? How does he fill this wildly un-British role that he has been called upon to play?

After an hour at HBS, Commander Whitehead, in a manner as quintessentially British as his advertising persona, took questions from the MBA students.  All but one are lost to memory.

anopheles mosquito“Does Schweppes Tonic Water really contain quinine (KWAI-nine), and could you drink it as a cure for malaria?” asked one wag.

Commander Whitehead answered without pause, “Indeed, Schweppes Tonic Water does contain quinine (kweh-NEEN), and one could drink it as a palliative for malaria.¬† However, should one adopt such a course of treatment one would surely expire from renal collapse, for the daily dosage, I regret, would be approximately 30 cases.”

I do not know if the Commander’s math is correct.

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