John Smale, an ex CEO of Procter & Gamble, passed away last week. He was a remarkable leader and made some very significant contributions to P&G. He also took leadership positions from the Board at General Motors, where he turned the company around and revamped it. He was active in his community, restructuring the City of Cincinnati and then working for youth education among other activities.
During my 23 years at P&G and in the subsequent 18, there have been 8 CEO’s at the company. In addition to John Smale, the most memorable ones for me are John Pepper, Howard Morgans, Ed Harness, Ed Artzt and A.G. Lafley. They all made substantial contributions to the company. While some have written books, the important learnings from each have been captured in internal memos and have been shared broadly across the company. All are different and have varied skills, but there are some commonalities. This is not surprising, given Procter & Gamble’s policy of promotion from within and the fact that all of these men had years of training, learning from each other, as well as from many others who helped shape their careers.
They all exhibited strengths in the following:
They all were committed to trying to do the right thing in all they did. Doing the right thing is much more than a cliché, since who would attempt to do the wrong thing per se. In this case, it is seeking to do what is right instead of what is most profitable or most expedient or most popular. The clearest example of this is the removal of Rely tampons from the market when there was an initial suggestion that extended use of the product might be associated with toxic shock syndrome. The company took the product off the shelves immediately until there could be absolute, conclusive proof that it had no impact. The cost was in the millions of dollars and took P&G out of the feminine protection business for several years, but it was the right thing to do and drove home that message and value to all employees.
Focus on the consumer
P&G has maintained a relentless focus on the consumer throughout its years as the global leader in Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG). A.G. Lafley wrote “Everything begins and ends with the consumer. If you focus on the consumer and what your brand is doing to serve the consumer, you will win most of the time". P&G was the first company to conduct deliberate, database driven,, consumer market research. This forward-thinking approach enables the company to improve consumer understanding, anticipate needs and respond with products that improve their everyday life. P&G also was one of the first companies to formally respond to consumers by establishing a Consumer Relations department. Several years ago, P&G realized that though it talked to a lot of people, it wasn’t really hearing them. It has overcome this barrier by taking one of the industry’s more traditional market research organizations and turning it into a consumer-understanding powerhouse and consumer-insight generator. By investing more than a billion dollars in consumer-understanding research between 2002 and 2007 and conducting research with more than 4 million consumers a year, P&G has moved away from traditional, behind-the-mirror focus groups to more immersive research techniques. This leads to richer consumer insights, which helps identify innovation opportunities that are often missed by traditional research.
Dedication to product superiority and to superior products
The CEO’s are dedicated to leading the company with a product philosophy of “We will provide branded products and services of superior quality and value that improve the lives of the world's consumers. As a result, consumers will reward us with leadership sales, profit, and value creation, allowing our people, our shareholders, and the communities in which we live and work to prosper.” It is not enough just to have product superiority. The company must have products that are superior. Hence, the development and sale of the first shortening for baking and cooking. The first detergent. The first workable disposable diaper. The first two in one shampoo/conditioner. Despite the pressures to deliver above average quarterly earnings, the CEOs have consistently over invested in R&D, compared to most companies.
Commitment to people
The “people” philosophy of these men in simple terms is “Recruit the best. Train and develop all. Promote from within. Treat each fairly.” As a result, P&G has had some outstanding long term employees and many others have left the company to lead other significant operations. The company believes in its people, even in departure. Having been part of the first worldwide global initiative of reductions in force, I was treated extremely fairly and with great respect by my Cincinnati management. As a former CEO, Richard R. Dupree said in 1947, "If you leave us our money, our buildings, and our brands, but take away our people, the Company will fail. But if you take away our money, our buildings, and our brands, but leave us our people, we can rebuild the whole thing in a decade."
Worldwide view and globalization
P&G has long had an international business. In fact, I was part of it in the Canadian operation, several times. The company really got serious when it appointed Ed Artzt as President of P&G International and then promoted him to become CEO of the entire company. Today P&G has 24 billion dollar brands, most with a global sales base. As current CEO Bob McDonald says, “Our objective is to touch and improve lives. Why would we stop with operating in only some countries? Our business is driven by demographics and economics--you have to go where the babies are born, where the households form, where the incomes are rising--and they’re growing a lot faster outside of the U.S.” P&G has product usage with 4 Billion customers and the majority of their products are made outside of the USA. They have established a worldwide research and development network, with research hubs in the United States, Europe, Japan and Latin America.
There have been many tributes to John Smale, deservedly. John Pepper, himself a favorite CEO of the employees, said, "John brought together wisdom and courage, concern for people, and commitment to the long term in a manner I've never seen exceeded." "The man's character was defined by all the things character is defined by: his wisdom, his courage, his persistent commitment to doing what's right for the longer term -- absolutely right down the line. Never compromising.”
Procter & Gamble has had superb leaders. The impact that they have had on the company pales by the impact that they have had on the employees.
Maver Management Group