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P&G Alumni Go Back to the Future

Posted by: Fred Burt on Friday, May 31 2013 11:00 AM

Last week, Interbrand sponsored the P&G Global Alumni event in Geneva and I had the great pleasure of attending and meeting a wide range of executives.

Before the conference started, there was breaking news: It was announced that P&G CEO, Bob MacDonald, was retiring and A.G. Lafley, P&G’s former CEO, was stepping back in. While this turn of events could have easily cast a big shadow over the conference, the participants kept their focus on the issues at hand.

My Interbrand colleagues and I could not help but to notice how connected the former P&G employees still were to the P&G business. Young and old P&G alums were consistent in their praise of the professionalism and integrity that P&G had instilled in them when they worked there. This was a real testament to the strong values that P&G has upheld throughout its history.

Since social science, behavioural economics and neuroscience were a few of the conference’s larger themes, my Interbrand colleagues and I decided to run a behavioural economics experiment with conference delegates. Our experiment illustrated the point that how all of us make choices is far from rational. Some interesting insights were uncovered around the degree to which mood can be “primed” by context and can influence our decisions.

P&G Alumni Conference

Jez Frampton, Interbrand’s Global CEO, struck a chord with conference delegates when he described how brands are created in today’s global marketplace. There was a flurry of camera phone snaps when Jez presented Interbrand’s B&C model—that it’s not business-to-consumer but business and consumers—and explained how decision-making and strategy have radically changed in today’s post-digital landscape.

Dimitri Panayotopoulos, Vice Chairman of P&G Global Business Units, outlined his priorities: pushing through innovation, delivering more speedily and enhancing P&G’s premium position with more value-driven options for developing markets.

Dimitri was asked to comment on the war on talent and the challenge of recruiting tomorrow’s leaders. Since many alumni members spent 10,15 and even 20+ years working at the company, a number of the younger alumni members openly discussed the challenge P&G will face as Millennials no longer subscribe to the “job for life” mindset. It was noted that, undoubtedly, the role of the P&G Alumni network will need to evolve as a result.

Another interesting conversation I had at the conference revolved around innovation. Is there a need to foster greater risk-taking in order to produce more successful innovation? The “up or out” culture at P&G breeds winners, but it doesn't have much tolerance for failure. In this “constant beta” world we live in, it seems appropriate to ask whether this “up or out” culture should remain intact. Google, a company mentioned repeatedly during the conference, clearly has a knack for attracting (and retaining) young talent – but, interestingly, it also tolerates failure. Eric Schmidt, Google’s Executive Chairman, noted, “This is a company where it’s absolutely okay to try something that’s very hard, have it not be successful, and take the learning from that.” It will be interesting to see whether P&G adopts a similar approach under Lafley’s leadership as part of its push for innovation.

It was a tremendous privilege—and hugely energising—to spend time surrounded by so many intelligent business leaders at the P&G Alumni event. My colleagues and I look forward to keeping the conversations going—and seeing what changes come about as a result of this new era in P&G leadership.

Please visit our Facebook page to view photos from this event.

Fred Burt is the Managing Director of Global Accounts at Interbrand. He is based in London.

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