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Business Ethics: The Crestfallen Spy

2 minute read

Procter & Gamble prides itself on knowing a promising young man when it sees one. In 1962 it took one look at Eugene Mayfield, a personable, 24-year-old graduate of Oberlin College and snapped him up. Mayfield worked for two years as a junior advertising writer for Crest, P.&G.’s top-selling fluoridated toothpaste (“My group had 34% fewer cavities with . . .”). Then, for reasons of his own, he quit P & G last July for a Chicago food flavoring firm. With him he took a memento of his work at P. &G.: a 188-page copy of the 1965 marketing plans for Crest, which P&G estimated was worth $1,000,000 to its competitors.

Last week Mayfield was named defendant in an industrial-espionage case bizarre enough to qualify for an Alec Guinness movie. He was indicted by a federal grand jury for making an illegal phone call and transporting stolen goods across state lines. As Government agents described events, Mayfield made a telephone call— that illegal call— to an acquaintance employed by Colgate-Palmolive, maker of Colgate toothpaste and Cue, strong competitors of Crest. He offered to sell the marketing plans to Colgate for $20,000.

Instead of giving him the brush Colgate called in the FBI, then led Mayneld on. He and a Colgate contact man agreed to meet in a specified men’s room at New York City’s Kennedy International Airport. There they entered adjoining cubicles and Mayfield, shrewdly calculating how to delay any possible pursuit by the Colgate man, demanded that he remove his trousers and hand them over. Mayfield then handed over the Crest plan, in return received $20,000—in marked bills. As he rushed out, he was arrested by FBI agents. If convicted, Mayfield could get up to ten years in prison.

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