China warms up to P&G

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[Guangzhou, China] Laurent Philippe, 51, is one of Procter & Gamble Co.'s leading experts on developing markets, following stints in North Africa, Eastern Europe and now China.

His skills and experience are valuable as P&G expands its global business and could eventually propel this Frenchman to a top spot at P&G. Since he became president-Greater China 18 months ago, he has helped turn the mainland into one of P&G's most lucrative markets. Educated in France and the U.S., Mr. Philippe joined P&G's European engineering division in Brussels in 1977. He soon moved to brand management in Germany, then supervised Pampers for all of Europe. Morocco was next. In 1996, he was appointed VP of P&G's Russian business, then VP-Eastern Europe.

Mr. Philippe spends most of his time at P&G's China headquarters in Guangzhou or out developing ties with trade partners and consumers in the provinces. So far, he and his marketing team are on target. Within five years, he believes, the world's most populous nation will become P&G's second-largest profit center, trailing only the U.S. market.

"P&G is putting tremendous focus on big brands, big countries and big customers," he says. China is "one of our top priorities."

Although P&G's U.S. business continues to grow, Mr. Philippe expects China to overtake it in one or two generations, but "definitely within the first half of this century."

Growing the business is no easy ride, considering China's enormous size, the increasing quality and variety of cheaper local brands, the need to develop logistics and communications channels, and the diversity of P&G's trade partners, ranging from big-city foreign retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores and Carrefour to remote family-run kiosks. A few years ago, for example, there were only a handful of local shampoo brands, but P&G now competes against thousands of products.

"Working in China is humbling," he says.

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