UNC Kenan-Flagler Sustainability Blog

Taking the Long View – Lessons from Procter and Gamble

February 18, 2013 By Tracy Triggs-Matthews

By Matt Crook, CSE Leadership Fellow (MBA ’14)

View the video of P&G CEO Bob McDonald’s talk.

Matt Crook (MBA '14)

Matt Crook (MBA ’14)

As business leaders, we must consider the long-term strategy of our organizations and the impact our decisions have on other people. Having a deep knowledge of and empathy for other cultures will be critical in doing business in the future, and Procter and Gamble can serve as an example to other businesses, regardless of size or mission.

On January 14, Bob McDonald, the CEO of P&G (number 26 on the Fortune 500 list) came to UNC Kenan-Flagler as a part of the Dean’s Speaker Series. His talk focused on the growth prospects of P&G and their Global Water Project in Africa and UNC’s involvement with those efforts. McDonald, who served as a US Army Captain before joining P&G in 1980, spoke to a packed Koury Auditorium that housed a mixed crowd of students, faculty, and community members.

I left his event with three main takeaways: 1) Companies like P&G (which is older than most governments) have to think very long term when it comes to company strategy, 2) P&G is setting it’s sights on Africa for future growth, and 3) marketing in Africa is very different from marketing in other communities.

For a company like P&G, charting corporate strategy and steering the ship can be like parking a cruise liner in the harbor. Doing so takes a lot of foresight and a lot of momentum to create change. It’s evident that when charting P&G’s direction, management does so thinking about the next 50 years, and what can be done today to achieve those goals.

That is why when a company like P&G states that Africa is next growth opportunity, everyone should sit up and listen. Too often Africa is dismissed as too risky for businesses looking to expand. P&G’s decision should indicate that Africa is not only a viable option for expansion, but also one that should be considered for long-term growth opportunities.

Left to right: MBA Associate Dean Sridhar Balasubramanian, P & G CEO, Bob McDonald, Dean James W. Dean, Jr.

Left to right: MBA Associate Dean Sridhar Balasubramanian, P & G CEO Bob McDonald, Dean James W. Dean, Jr.

Other firms can also learn from P&G’s marketing efforts when entering new geographies. One of McDonald’s driving points throughout his presentation was the need to approach people in new markets with a sense of empathy. If you truly realize people’s culture, lifestyle, and needs, you’ll make a more impactful connection, which will help firms align their business to their customers. This connection has led P&G to not only expand it’s core businesses in Africa, but to also establish social and wellness programs that help them develop ties with the communities that they operate in.

Whether or not we agree with all of P&G’s business practices, we should be able to learn from the company’s current strategies and apply specific methods to how we make decisions moving forward. Thinking about long term opportunities instead of short term gains, exploring markets that may be conventionally thought of as risky, and creating a connection with our stakeholders to align our businesses with the needs of people are all fine examples of things we can start doing today that will make lasting positive impacts in the future.

View the video of P&G CEO Bob McDonald’s talk.