Woodrow Wilson Clements, the man with the unusual nickname “Foots,” is responsible for much of the growing success of the soft drink with the unusual name “Dr. Pepper.”
He acquired the nickname in high school, he says, because, “My feet were big then and my legs were thin; they looked like two toothpicks stuck in a watermelon.” He used his nickname when he became a route salesman for Dr. Pepper in 1935 because it was a different name, and as a salesman, “you want people to remember you and in a friendly manner.” He refused to drop his nickname even after he became president of the company in 1969 and subsequently chief executive officer and chairman of the board. “I got here using the nickname Foots,” he has said, “and I’m going to continue using it.”
This kind of determination to stick to his beliefs, or “just plain stubbornness” he might call it, is one of the characteristics that contributed to his rise in the company and the company’s rise in the soft drink industry.
The youngest of the nine children of Martha (Christian) and William Houston Clements, Woodrow Wilson Clements was born in Windham Springs, Alabama, on July 30, 1914. In 1925, the family moved to Northport, Alabama (where he still visits relatives at least once a year). From his parents, he learned early the rewards of work and acquired faith and belief in the free enterprise system. By the time he was ten, he was carrying a full load of work on the family farm. His first “paying job” was trapping “possums” and selling the skins to his father.
Throughout his school years, the enterprising young man held a variety of jobs, but they didn’t keep him from being an honor student during his high school years. After graduating from Tuscaloosa County High in 1933, he attended Howard College on a football scholarship but left after one semester because of a knee injury. From 1933-1935, he attended the University of Alabama on a working scholarship. He also worked part-time as a butcher and performed almost any type of work where he could earn a dollar.
In 1935, the young man obtained what he thought would be a summer job as a route salesman for the Tuscaloosa Dr. Pepper bottling plant. He fell in love with selling, which he calls “the gentle art of letting the other person have your way.” He discovered that it was “a profession in which your rewards are based on your efforts.” After becoming a top salesman for Dr. Pepper in Alabama, he decided he wanted to work at the main office of the Dr. Pepper Co. Three times he applied and three times he was turned down. When he was twenty-seven, he tried again and was successful. He moved to the headquarters in Dallas as Dr. Pepper’s zone manager for four Eastern states.
Thus, began the out-of-the-ordinary career of this man whose business acumen is matched only by his personal attributes.
In 1944, “Foots” Clements was moved up to sales promotion manager and four years later, assistant manager of bottler services. By 1949, he was named general sales manager, and in 1951, vice president, general sales manager. He became vice president of marketing in 1957 and is credited with aggressively franchising the company, creating a network of bottlers throughout the country and a distinct identity for a distinct soft drink. This marketing technique stemmed from his early belief that Dr. Pepper had to be more accessible. “People don’t really walk a mile for a Camel,” he said, “and they won’t dig in the backroom for a Dr. Pepper.”
During this period of steady promotion, this expert marketer was somewhat frustrated because he just wasn’t making the progress that he desired. He wanted to “get ahold of the company” in order to make it a more aggressive firm. His patience and hard work were, of course, eventually rewarded. In January 1967, he was elected executive vice president and director. In March 1969, he became president and chief operating officer and in March 1970 was elevated to chief executive officer. From March 1974 to February 1980, he served as chairman of the board, president and CEO. He remained chairman and CEO until he was named chairman emeritus in August 1986.
W.W. “Foots” Clements was the catalyst for the company’s significant growth in the 1960′ s and 1970′ s. His two-pronged objective of building the industry’s strongest bottler network and a solid sales/marketing organization resulted in the firm’s rise from that of a “Texas drink” to one of significant national stature with international potential.
In 1973, Fortune called “the emergence of Dr. Pepper Co. as a glamour issue .. . among the more remarkable developments in recent years” and called this emergence a “triumph of marketing,” which began when W. W. “Foots” Clements became executive vice president and a director in 1967. Dr. Pepper Co. had been “totally unglamorous and little known above the Mason-Dixon line.” But by 1973 revenues and earnings had nearly quadrupled and Dr Pepper was sold in almost every community and in much of Canada, with plans to market overseas for the first time – in Japan. One of the principal changes that marketer Clements had made was to increase advertising. Thus, were many people who had never tasted the drink – or even heard of it – persuaded to try Dr. Pepper, “America’s Most Misunderstood Soft Drink.”
Even while concentrating most of his energy in trying to get more and more people over larger and larger areas to drink more and more Dr. Pepper, this kind, understanding, and down-toearth man found time to serve his adopted hometown Dallas. He has said, “Anything good for Dallas, I was involved with it.” He has served on the boards of scores of Dallas civic and business organizations.
He has also served The University of Alabama in various capacities-including service as a member of the College of Commerce Board of Visitors and the President’s Cabinet. He has been asked many times to speak before Congressional committees as an expert of the soft drink industry and is a member of the U.S. Senatorial Business Advisory Board.
For his many accomplishments in marketing and management he has received numerous awards from the international, national, regional, and local chapters of the Sales and Marketing Executives Club. He was also named Beverage Industry “Man of the Year” in 1976 and Financial World “Chief Executive Officer of the YearBeverage Industry” in 1977; he was inducted into Beverage World Hall of Fame in 1982. He received the Entrepreneur of the Year Award from Southern Methodist University School of Business in 1975.
In recognition of his overall accomplishments, he received: an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from The University of Alabama (1974); the George Washington Certificate Award for Dallas Citizenship presented by Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge (1975); the Horatio Alger Award (1980); and the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame, Inc. – Lone Star Chapter Distinguished American Award (1980).
“Foots” Clements, now Chairman Emeritus of Dr. Pepper Co., has said he wishes he could be forty again so he could say that he’ll live to see Dr. Pepper become the best-selling soft drink. But regardless of whether he’s around, he pledges it will happen.
Sources of biographical information: The Dallas Morning News, July 18, 1982; Dallas Times Herald, May 26, 1985; Fortune, December 1973.