Soccer mom with sights on P&G goal

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Deb Henretta is a self-described soccer mom whose unassuming first name seems better suited to her role shuttling her three kids to soccer games than to running the biggest brand at the world's biggest advertiser.

But behind that laid-back style is one of the youngest executives ever to make division president at Procter & Gamble Co.-and one with a chance of becoming the first woman to run the company.

Ms. Henretta, 42, president-global baby care at P&G, is among four senior executives company watchers consider front-runners to one day become CEO. As the youngest, by at least seven years, of the top tier of leadership put in place by Chairman-CEO A.G. Lafley, she could succeed Mr. Lafley's successor.

"I was Deb before I ever had a management style," Ms. Henretta says. "But to the degree the name is perceived as being a little more informal, that would appeal to me."

Those who know her also describe her as tough and decisive, as one would expect of someone who was marketing director over Tide in the mid-1990s on the cusp of the rapid ascent to her current post in 2001. "I think of myself as a change agent. I'm constantly challenging the status quo," she says.

Doing that helped turn around Pampers, a brand that had been struggling for more than a decade. "We had gotten a little bit focused on technology," Ms. Henretta says. "We had to get out of the factory and into the nursery again."

"Better, faster, cheaper" became her brand watchwords. "Our baby-care business," Ms. Henretta says, "is building volume, sales, share and profit simultaneously for the first time in nearly a decade."

On her way up, Ms. Henretta has taken to heart guidance she credits to former Cincinnati YWCA board member Mamie Earl Sells, that a successful woman "lifts as she climbs." Ms. Henretta ran P&G's Advancement of Women program in the 1980s, including a "mentoring up" effort where younger women taught senior managers the challenges women faced. Today, she looks for promising young managers of both genders for mentoring.

But Ms. Henretta insists she's not thinking of her own future at P&G. "I just love children, so this job right now is really very good for me," she says. "In P&G terms, I'm very new to my level. And believe me, I've got a lot still to do on the baby-care business."

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