How Putin Helped P&G Sell Soap

Former KGB Agent Was Deputy Mayor as Marketer Entered St. Petersburg

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Just after he retired from the KGB, but well before he was leader of Russia or involved in a tense global standoff over Ukraine, Vladimir Putin played a role in helping Procter & Gamble Co. sell soap.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin Credit:

Mr. Putin, then deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, was part of a government leadership team that helped P&G get a foothold in Russia, which has since grown into a business that Bernstein Research estimates at $3.4 billion, or 4% of the company's global sales.

In his 2012 book "Russian Tide," former P&G Chairman-CEO John Pepper recounts meetings with Mr. Putin during 1992 visits to Russia as he was working to open the market for P&G and other U.S. businesses. Mr. Pepper was part of a group sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, founded by David Abshire, who was a member of P&G's board. Mr. Pepper's son David -- then just out of Yale and now a candidate for Ohio attorney general -- was employed with CSIS at the time.

St. Petersburg was among the first cities P&G moved into as it began selling detergent in Russia in the early 1990s, in part thanks to groundwork laid by those meetings. In his book, Mr. Pepper quotes his son describing Mr. Putin as "rough, quiet, direct" and a powerful complement to the mayor's charismatic and inspirational leadership.

The elder Mr. Pepper also praises Mr. Putin for showing loyalty in his 2010 TV interview about his old boss, former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchack, after the latter lost a 1996 election and was prosecuted for "what by most accounts were minor matters," according to the book.

Contacted last week, Mr. Pepper declined to comment on Mr. Putin beyond what was in the book.

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