Women to Watch

Colleen Jay

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Colleen Jay is so unassuming that after she utters a gem of homecare wisdom like "Clutter is the new fat," she's quick to add: "I didn't make that up myself. I read it somewhere."

Turns out, the VP-general manager of North American homecare and global strategy for Procter & Gamble Co. is right. It came from a report last year by the Toronto office of Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett Worldwide. Chances are they wouldn't have called Ms. Jay on it. But her ready ownership of non-authorship is far from automatic in the corporate world, and may point to one reason the once-maligned P&G homecare business has become one of the more innovative corners of the company.

Things weren't so fun in March 2000 when the Canadian took over the homecare post at P&G's Cincinnati headquarters after a brief stop in U.S. beauty care and, before that, 14 years in the Canadian business. The new Swiffer and Febreze brands weren't entirely meeting lofty expectations, while such established brands as Dawn, Cascade and Mr. Clean had been losing share for years.

Executives who've worked with them credit Ms. Jay, 42, and her boss, the equally unassuming President-Global Homecare Jorge Mesquita, with helping inject a spirit of innovation as all brands grew share in the past five years behind such products as Mr. Clean AutoDry, Swiffer Wet Jet, and Febreze Air Effects and Scentstories.

"She has that unique combination of understanding marketing and all the numbers but also having a wonderful sense of the creative," says Neil Kreisberg, exec VP-managing director of WPP Group's Grey Worldwide, New York, which handles Mr. Clean and Febreze.

Among these brands, Wet Jet's success may be the most remarkable given how bleak its future seemed at one point. Launched in fall 2001, the $50 bucketless mop was buried by news of Sept. 11, reluctance of retailers to stock such a pricey product and a fast-following entry from Clorox ReadyMop, at half the price, that quickly gained a substantial lead.

Rather than give up, Ms. Jay and company cut Swiffer's price in half and tried direct-response TV, regaining clear leadership within 18 months.

Ms. Jay credits better design with Wet Jet's ultimate victory and says the key is to keep supporting a new concept as long as it needs to take hold, what P&G calls "launch and leverage."

She may be one of P&G's most successful female executives at the VP level in recent years, but Ms. Jay is characteristically unassuming about her next step. "Whether I go internationally is one question," she says. "I could see either staying here or moving again, but for right now I'm just happy where I am."