Magazine article Marketing

Open Governor

Magazine article Marketing

Open Governor

Article excerpt

Procter & Gamble's UK chiet is focusing on improving fundamentals.

Chris de Lapuente has a split personality. As a person he is relaxed, open, quick to smile and down to earth. As a 'Proctoid' of 18 years, however, he has a tendency to stick rigidly to the corporate script. It's an internal struggle for the man and the company alike, but both are trying hard.

Procter & Gamble's reputation is unequivocal. It is a marketing institution; in the Ivy League of marketing training; secretive to the verge of paranoia; defiantly non-committal with the press; fiercely protective of its own employees; and capable of wielding enormous power among retailers, agencies and suppliers alike.

Reality check number one comes on the approach to P&G UK's Surrey headquarters. Instead of a Gotham City-like dark faceless block, it's an ultra-modern glass and steel structure. Inside the huge central atrium, young, casually dressed staff mill around tables, sipping coffee as they discuss work projects and plans. None would look out of place in a Soho cafe.

A further preconception is shattered when the UK vice-president and managing director himself approaches. Young, fresh-faced and smiling, de Lapuente introduces himself and asks what I'd like to drink. Other staff chat and joke with him, without a hint of reverence and no one sees fit to let him push in the queue for coffee just because he runs the company. Where's the dutiful PA, the huge desk in the corner office?

Dynamic focus

As it turns out, the desk is the final P&G myth-busting episode. He does sit in a corner, along with his PA, but there are no walls separating him from the rest of the floor. "I'm trying to move away from the old-fashioned, staid general manager image - stuck in the corner office where people don't see him," he says.

De Lapuente is all too aware of P&G's reputation. But despite being a P&G lifer, he wants it to change.

"A lot of people have an image of P&G as a secretive company that never tells people outside what's going on. We're trying to be a bit more dynamic, more externally focused."

He admits this interview is part of the new focus. Despite running a [pound] 1.5bn company controlling some of the most famous consumer goods brands in the UK, de Lapuente has an incredibly low profile. He's done remarkably few interviews and is clearly uncomfortable with the process.

P&G's policy of promoting from within - something de Lapuente admits makes it harder to instil new ideas - is one of the reasons he has risen to such heady heights so quickly. At just 38, he has held some challenging marketing and management roles at P&G and was handed the UK operation to run in 1998.

And maybe it is this variety of roles, and indeed de Lapuente's personal background, that has spurred him to make P&G more outward looking.

With a Spanish father and English mother, de Lapuente spent his first 11 years in Portugal, the country his family made home when his Republican grandfather was forced to flee Spain during the Civil War. Stints in Spain and

Brazil followed when the Portuguese revolution forced the family to move again.

European roles at P&G have since taken him to Turkey and Germany. This nomadic existence has left de Lapuente with an accent that is hard to place, the ability to speak six languages, and a deep-rooted love of change.

At first glance, the Surrey lifestyle is tame in comparison, but in fact it's far from dull. A look at Marketing's Biggest Brands gives a good indication of the challenges facing P&G. In the top 50 grocery brands (by value for the year to April 2001) P&G has five products: Pampers, Ariel, Pringles, Bold and Sunny Delight. In every case sales are declining, albeit to varying degrees:-5.3 % in Pringles' case to-34.6% for Sunny Delight. At the same time it has two paper products in the fastest growers table: Charmin (up 373. …

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