Former P&Gers make great hires-after 'detox'

By Published on .

Procter & Gamble Co. has never been so successful. It's shaken up its stodgy culture and adapted strategies to modern realities. Its homegrown training programs, and the people in them, never fail to impress. Even some competitors grudgingly admire the force with which P&G kicks their tails.

So how come nobody wants to hire marketers out of Procter?

That's an extreme statement (at least as long as Clorox is around), but not by much. As a headhunter recently told me: "The last person you want is someone straight out of Procter. The first person you want is someone out of Procter after they've been somewhere else."

I call it the "Procter-plus" profile, and it's based on an attitude I've heard from countless headhunters and non-Procter marketers.

John Hommeyer is a classic Procter-plus story. He went from P&G to chief marketing officer of Pets.com, where the sock puppet ate his venture capital. Lesson learned, he helped build and flip Hotwire before moving on to help fix Clorox's laundry business.

"You need one job to recover from Procter," another headhunter once explained to me-this after P&G's decade of upheavals in the 1990s. He added: "Never was a company better at hiring the best people or making them feel worse about themselves."

In fairness, that's changed. One of A.G. Lafley's many talents is parenting the current crop of Gen X and Y junior managers without crushing fragile egos or tossing out the culture. This is remarkable, but not enough to make P&G marketers prized by outsiders. That's because other parts of the culture are entrenched as ever.

WHATEVER IT TAKES

P&G's formula for marketing success in the U.S. goes something like this. First, assemble more and smarter people than the competition. Then, subject their every move to excruciatingly detailed comprehensive assumption testing. Finally, just to be extra safe, outspend competitors on media and marketing by two to five times-whatever it takes.

While successful for P&G, this approach doesn't build a skill set particularly relevant to other companies. Thanks to its scale and efficiency, P&G can afford to win this way. Few others can. They have to be scrappier, faster, thriftier, more creative or more intrepid.

One marketer who's hired and worked alongside Procter and Procter-plus people for years notes that, even after a post-Procter "detox job," it can be years before the rehabilitated learn to "stop using the `P' word."

Some of P&G's less-core or far-flung outposts, such as Iams or cosmetics, are more likely to do so without needing an intermediate job, he says. Those who leave young-e.g. Steve Ballmer, Meg Whitman, Jeffrey Immelt-take less retraining, too. But note that they thrived in or built companies that dominate.

Even Mr. Lafley has recognized P&G's superiority complex, fueling his turnaround in part by advancing people trained overseas, or in Canada, where P&G is more like an underdog.

Still, who would you rather hire: Someone who defended or grew a dominant P&G brand by spending $200 million, or someone who clawed out six-plus share points in the same category spending half or a quarter as much?

Change: A.G. Lafley has made it a priority to guide P&G's up-and-comers through the ranks without pulverizing their spirits.

In this article:
Most Popular