Lessons from P&G’s new CEO: David Taylor

In case you missed the news, yours truly has been named as P&G's new CEO, taking over from A.G. Lafley. 

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Actually, it's the other David Taylor who is the real CEO in waiting :-) 

But the spoof announcement (thanks to Andrew Harrison) did get me thinking about the important lessons I learnt at P&G, where I started out as a brand assistant back in … (cue creaking of knees as I sit down with a sigh) … 1987. Over a quarter of a century later I still draw on my Procter training and experience.

My five years at Procter were probably the most important of my whole career. First and most importantly I met Mrs Taylor, who was a fellow brand assistant, fresh out of top Paris business school HEC. Second, the P&G connections I made helped me win my all important first three clients when I started the Paris office of Added Value in 1994/95 (Pepsico, Disneyland Paris and Rémy Cointreau). But most importantly, my fundamental branding beliefs and capabilities were forged during those brilliant five years. Here are some highlights.

Screen Shot 2015-08-27 at 18.42.371. Passion for marketing

I'll never forget the reaction of my first marketing director, Alfredo Gangotena, when, in my first month on the job, I asked him to approve my mock-up of a Vidal Sassoon shampoo 25% extra free. Not what your average CMO would get excited about, right? But boy, Alfredo loved my pack design. He jumped up and said, "S**t, this is really good!" He then grabbed me and took me next door to the office of the UK Managing Director, barged in and said "This is David Taylor, brand assistant on Vidal Sasson. Look at his great pack design!"

I left the bemused MD's office feeling an inch taller, infected with Alfredo's passion for marketing. 

2. Hunting for nuggets of data

P&G is of course famous for being data based, and from the start we were trained to hunt through data to find answers to issues and problems. We started out as assistants work on "Nielsen highlights", analysing the bi-monthly market share reports to figure out why our brands were up or down, drilling down deeper and deeper in the search for answers. To this day I still use this training when doing brand & business reviews on projects,  trawling through research and business data looking for nuggets of insight. 

3. Show me the money

P&G is where I quickly learnt that marketing's role is simple: "sell more stuff" or SMS for short. As brand assistants, we didn't need to be told that this was the case, we saw it from day 1 when the daily shipments report landed in our in boxes first thing in the morning. This report had the day's volume sales, and how we were tracking versus the month's sales objectives. And every recommendation we made had to be based not on judgement, but on a sound business case. 

Wind forward to today, and one of my roles on projects is often to re-focus the team on business objectives and what has the best chance of SMS.

4. Less is more

Perhaps one of the most valuable skills I learnt at P&G and still use today is simplifying communication. We were trained to write as briefly as possible, learning to write the legendary "one page memo", including three (not two or five) key selling points: cost effectiveness, fit with strategy and supporting evidence. Younger readers will find this hard to believe, but back in the mid 80's brand assistants would write these memos by hand, then give them to a secretary to type. If the memo came back even a couple of words over one page, it was back to the drawing board to make it shorter!

Simplicity ran through the whole business, including strategy documents. I can still remember the 3-part global haircare portfolio strategy, it was so bloody simple: dandruff (H&S), shine (Pantene), condition (Sassoon).

Today I still draft reports, presentations, articles and these blog posts and then go back and edit them, to try and make them shorter and sharper. And the same applies to drafting and crafting brand strategies.

5. Training on the job

P&G is the best business I have ever seen at training people on the job. We had some formal courses, but where we really learnt was through a master/apprentice type of day-to-day experience. First, in key meetings such as agency presentations, the most junior person was invited to speak first, not last. This forced you to learn quickly and build your confidence. Second, after every meeting and bit of work, my brand manager (Roisin Donnelly, now P&G's Brand Director for Northern Europe) took time to give me constructive feedback on what I did well, and what to improve. Finally, half of every manager's performance review was based on building people, with the other half on building the business. This meant there was a huge incentive to give your team members responsibility, help them succeed and then promote their success. 

P&G's culture was not perfect and I'm sure it's not today. As with every company, the culture has pros and cons. But what sets P&G apart is that the culture was clear and consistently applied throughout the whole company, everywhere in the world. If you're a leader in your business you may want to have a look at your own business: is the culture as clear as P&G's and being taught on the job every day, not just in the corporate induction?