Colgate Brushes up for Fight

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In her new job as VP-general manager, U.S. oral care for Colgate-Palmolive Co., Suzan Harrison is looking at an old foe from a new vantage.

Ms. Harrison, 41, was VP-general manager of U.S. household surface care for Colgate in the mid- to late 1990s, launching new antibacterial, heavy-duty and floral-scented products that led Palmolive and Ajax to gain about 10 share points and challenge Procter & Gamble Co.'s dominance of the $700 million liquid dish detergent category.

Then, when Jack Haber became chief Web officer in August, Ms. Harrison succeeded him atop Colgate's U.S. oral care business, including Colgate toothpaste, which in 1997 seized leadership over P&G's Crest in the $1.6 billion category.

"The challenge going forward is to widen the gap," Ms. Harrison says. "We will continue with the strategy of relevant, meaningful new products that really have science behind them."

A veteran of Colgate since 1983, after two years with Revlon out of business school, Ms. Harrison's career has spanned both U.S. and global duties in most of the company's business areas. But her new job is her biggest, in more ways than one.

Crest narrowed Colgate's lead to floss-thin proportions last year, even without a product comparable to global blockbuster Total. But then Ms. Harrison saw Colgate's dish soap shares hit record December numbers.

"Have no doubt," she says, "that we will maintain our No. 1 position for a long time."

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