Injecting a Spirit of Innovation Into a Home-care Line

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4 of 25 > GO TO Next 2005 Woman to Watch

Colleen Jay is so unassuming that after she utters a gem of home-care wisdom like “Clutter is the new fat,” she’s quick to add: “I didn’t make that up myself. I read it somewhere.”

Colleen Jay, vice president and general manager, North American home-care and global strategy, Procter & Gamble Co.
Turns out, the vice president and general manager of North American home care 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 home-care business has become one of the more innovative corners of the company.

A struggling division
Things weren’t so fun in March 2000 when the Canadian took over the home care 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 for years.

Executives who’ve worked with them credit Ms. Jay, 42, and her boss, the equally unassuming President for Global Homecare Jorge Mesquita, with helping inject a spirit of innovation as all brands grow share in the past five years behind products such as Mr. Clean AutoDry Carwash, Swiffer Wet Jet, 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, executive vice president and managing director of WPP Group’s Grey Global Group, New York, which handles Mr. Clean and Febreze.

Success with Swiffer Wet Jet
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.

Launch and leverage
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 vice president 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.”

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