Challenge brings out best in ChevronTexaco's Samson

While working for a few companies during times of turmoil, Dave Samson learned the benefits of good communications. Now he puts that knowledge to use as public affairs GM at ChevronTexaco.

While working for a few companies during times of turmoil, Dave Samson learned the benefits of good communications. Now he puts that knowledge to use as public affairs GM at ChevronTexaco.

While Dave Samson might not necessarily be drawn to turmoil, maybe it has a way of finding him. When he joined asbestos manufacturer Manville in the late 1980s, it was facing bankruptcy because of numerous asbestos-related lawsuits. After he joined Levi Strauss in the early 1990s, sweatshops and other labor-related issues began to emerge. In the mid-1990s, he joined IBM as it struggled to regain its footing in the tech industry and the business world. And about a year after joining Oracle in 2002, the company shocked the business world with its hostile takeover bid for rival PeopleSoft. For the most part, Samson has entered situations that would make many seasoned PR pros blanch, but he seems drawn more to dynamic companies that face their share of challenges, recognizing the opportunities therein. "I've worked with industry leaders, companies that want world-class communications," says Samson, GM of public affairs at ChevronTexaco. "And world-class communications isn't defined by any one industry. If it's not driving business outcomes, it shouldn't be done. We're in the business of relationships. Nothing gets done in isolation. It all depends on your relationships with key stakeholders. And you need to be a businessperson first, one who happens to have expertise in communications." While he's worked for market-leading companies, Samson also has been drawn to leaders of another kind, mentors who helped shape the person he is today. First there's Don Ferguson, his boss at Manville, where Samson was senior manager of investor and corporate relations in the late 1980s. Samson also credits John Onoda, who was VP of global communications at Levi Strauss in the early 1990s, when Samson was head of external communications. Ferguson taught him about courage, Onoda about leadership, says Samson. Both men "[showed] me how the things that get you to where you are today are not what make you a success in the end. Being a technically great communicator will not keep you in that senior position. It's about building partnerships. It's about leadership. It's about influencing others and articulating your vision. When you get to a senior role, that's what keeps you there." And more than two decades after starting his career, Samson doesn't just offer kind words, but receives his own. "He's had a great career," says Doug Michelman, EVP of corporate relations at Visa USA, who met Samson when he was at Levi Strauss and Michelman was at Fleishman-Hillard. "He has great skills, leadership capabilities, and real integrity. It comes through in the way he deals with people. He is a genuine guy. In this business, companies look for substance over style, and he exudes that substance. He can take a new job, assess the situation, develop a vision, and enlist others to help him achieve it." And despite his vast corporate experience - learning about issues management and how to communicate with all stakeholders during the bankruptcy at Manville, developing corporate and social responsibilities at Levi Strauss that companies like The Gap and Nike would emulate, learning how to use communications to strategically transform a company at IBM - one of Samson's most rewarding and challenging jobs came from the agency world, where he learned a few things "they don't teach you in business school." "One of PR's hardest jobs is managing an agency office," says Samson. "You are constantly pulled in multiple directions. You have P&L responsibilities. You have to drive new business. You must meet all clients' needs. And you have to meet your people's needs as you mentor and coach them. It's hard, but if you want to truly [learn] the fundamentals of business, it's at an agency. Agency people have more responsibility than their corporate counterparts. Agencies teach you about business, accountability, and interaction with different kinds of people. A lot of the skills are very transferable. I know a young person from an agency will bring good consulting skills to the corporate world." Ray Kotcher, Ketchum's CEO, says that perhaps one of Samson's most important assets is that he's also "a hell of a nice guy. When he managed our San Francisco office, [it was] from the heart. He's a compassionate, caring person." Samson is now at ChevronTexaco, which is number six on the Fortune 500 list, number five in its industry. "How many $113 billion companies are number five in their industry?" he asks, noting that communications can help move the company up that list, as ChevronTexaco has not told its story as "effectively" as it could. He plans to change that. "Communications is more than a reporting function," he says. "It's about messaging, reaching out to stakeholders, driving and changing behavior, and influencing the outcome. Before, companies would largely push messages. Now it's about creating dialogue with everyone from NGOs and business partners to employees and Wall Street." But just as Samson has learned a few things about being a solid businessman and communicator, he's also picked up a thing or two about maintaining a proper life-work balance. While he enjoys being outdoors and traveling, he says his idea of good quality time is being with his wife, Josephine. "Someone once told me that their vacation is the window that they look out of at work," says Samson with a smile. "I'd like a little more than that." Dave Samson 2004 GM of public affairs, ChevronTexaco 2002-2004 VP of intl. PR/executive comms, Oracle 1998-2002 Ketchum: partner/director (2000-2002); partner/associate director (1998-2000) 1995-1998 VP of worldwide comms, Levi Strauss 1994-1995 Director of international comms, IBM 1990-1994 Senior director, external comms, Levi Strauss 1985-1990 Senior manager of investor and corporate relations, Manville 1983-1985 Media relations representative, Public Service Company of Colorado 1980-1983 Account executive, MGA Communications

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