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Master Class: P&G Powerhouse Gina Drosos

An avid basketball player and fierce competitor on and off the court, Gina Drosos’ drive to win has served her well in her rise to the top.

Gina Drosos may have one of the most engaging manners in the beauty business, but make no mistake—this is a woman who plays to win. As group president, global female beauty, of P&G Beauty & Grooming, she oversees a brand portfolio of almost $20 billion. Here, Drosos reveals her strategic vision for the beauty business, and how she fires up her team to consistently deliver a peak performance.

How do you see the beauty industry evolving in the next two to five years? Which opportunities excite you the most?

One big trend has to do with the aging of the population, particularly combined with the blurring of health and beauty. Antiaging medicine. Biomedical gerontology. Scientists trying to biologically slow down aging. It’s a hugely interesting area because it ranges all the way from really synthetic interventions that stimulate nerves or new body parts or new organs to how we can leverage topical products through genomics and gain a better understanding of high and low responders to different active ingredients.

Take Olay Pro-X. Our scientists did rocket science kind of research to identify biochemical pathways that are active in younger skin, and then which ingredients we can put into it that cause older skin to behave in the same way. The advances that we’re already beginning to bring are really exciting, but it can go quite far. Stem cell research. Therapeutic cloning as a way to regenerate cells or even body parts. Some of the new approaches our scientists are using with free radicals and looking at how antioxidants, insulin, oxytocin, even minerals can reverse the effects of damage.

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Another area is consumers wanting more. There is a lasting impact from the global recession, and that is that consumers are now in the habit of scrutinizing their purchases and the value embedded in those products and services more than ever before. Over the next several years, it’s going to be incumbent on us to bring high value–added products that provide professional quality benefits at home and that provide not only physically but also emotionally uplifting benefits. Products that last longer are another. We’re seeing more multiday products, longer lasting, 24-hour or 48-hour protection for deodorant, where historically, eight hours might have been enough. We all need to be pushing the limits for newer, better benefits.

What does the industry need to pay attention to in the year ahead?
Being leaders in sustainability and social responsibility. I’m encouraging my brands to step up as leaders. We are big supporters of safe drinking water for children, for example. This is a women’s issue—on average, women walk six kilometers a day to get clean water for their family. We’re also working on our packaging. People are very conscious of waste. We look end to end across the whole supply system and design products that are high performance and use renewable and recycled materials with zero waste to landfills. For consumers, especially younger, it’s about the total end-to-end social responsibility.

You often say that change is the key to growth. What needs changing?
The beauty industry does a great job delighting women with beautiful experiences and consistent innovation, but we’ve made our industry very complex, and that’s probably most true at the shelf, when she is trying to make purchase decisions. We have research that indicates reducing the number of stockkeeping units 20 to 30 percent actually helps shoppers think there is more availability. The environment is so cluttered it’s hard for her to deselect products that aren’t relevant.

It’s true with innovation, as well. If you look at the number of new products that come to market, it’s overwhelming and up significantly from a decade ago. We could all make bigger advances and help simplify by focusing on fewer but bigger breakthrough innovations.

How do you implement change in a culture that can be resistant?
We have to communicate a compelling reason why change is needed, but what we sometimes miss is that culture is really the key to making the change stick. You also have to identify the sacred cows. They never get debated because people just assume them as facts. As a leader, you have to uncover those and call them out. We call it putting the moose on the table.

Can you give me an example of a moose on a table?
One dramatic change is changing our focus to the consumer as boss and looking at women’s and men’s regimens holistically. That is a very big change from how we operated in the past, where we were organized by category and we thought of cosmetics as separate from skin care as separate from hair. So one person was thinking about shaving her legs and another was thinking about moisturizing them, but for the consumer, it’s all about smooth legs.

What shifting consumer patterns are you seeing globally?
We’re continuing to see geographic shifts to developing markets. The BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India, China] markets are still growing rapidly, but we are also seeing the emergence of a new set of developing markets, like Indonesia, Vietnam, the Pan-Arab-speaking world and Sub-Sahara Africa. These new consumers have many attributes similar to consumers in developed markets, but also differences.

You’ve got global oversight of a $20 billion business. How do you decide where to spend your time?
I am very consumer centric. I was in Nigeria and Kenya a few months ago. I was in the Middle East. I travel every month of the year pretty much and I’m always trying to get to a variety of different environments. When I was in India last, I went into rural India to see that emerging growth space; when I was in Brazil last, I was in the cities. I vary it, and I think a lot about where the emerging beauty needs are.

How would you describe your leadership style, and how has it evolved?

My style is rooted in collaboration, support and listening. I try to effectively communicate my vision. I work to listen to my organization and to study the industry and the market and to leverage creativity to come up with what I think is a very exciting vision for the business, and then I try to enroll the organization. It’s their vision in the end because I’ve created it with their help, and I try to give it back and encourage and enable and energize them to deliver it. I like to see things early in the development cycle so I can share a lot of ideas, and I let my organization pick and choose. They’re closer to the details than I am so I let them leverage that input. I try to ask questions that help people think different—bigger—than they might have otherwise. I love to engage people in dialogue. I love to challenge the status quo, but in a positive way. I love to cut through the junk, get rid of unnecessary complexity, and you can only do that if you can roll up your sleeves and work with a team as opposed to having them bring you some beautiful signed, sealed and delivered project. It involves trust so that my team wants to bring me in. They see me as a builder, not just an approver.

You are an avid basketball player and fan. How is basketball like beauty?
Both are incredibly fast paced and require versatility and agility. In basketball, you have to be versatile and agile and adjust to the competitive situation you’re in. The beauty industry is very much the same way.

What do you look for when you’re hiring?
A demonstrated track record of leadership. A leader is a leader is a leader, be it through school organizations or philanthropy or the community or in other jobs. Strategic analytical thinking. People who are smart and creative and intuitive and feel comfortable leveraging all of those skills. And curiosity. We all have to be continual learners, always open to what’s new and what’s different. I really believe change is key to success. We can not sit still. People who are curious and value differences and respect different ways of doing things are more apt to lead change.

Do you believe in mentors?
Absolutely. They have a tremendous role to play by being great advisers and by helping you to navigate a corporate environment so you can find a way to use your skills to the fullest. They always have your best interests at heart.

Who is your mentor?
I’ve had a number of great ones. Right now I’ve developed a great mentoring relationship with Ed Shirley [vice chair of global beauty and grooming]. He is fantastic because he is willing to engage at the very early stages of my thinking and help me build my ideas and is also very helpful in helping me navigate my career in thinking about what collection of skills I need to grow and develop.

How did you rise to the top of P&G? What advice do you have for someone who hopes to follow in your footsteps?

Identify and lead change. It is the key to personal growth and to driving a business ahead. People who seek out change see opportunities that other people don’t see. You have to be open to possibilities. Sometimes it fiseems like every hour of every day is planned, but some of the most wonderful opportunities present themselves unexpectedly. You have to be open to embracing those opportunities.

Make a difference in everything you do. Sometimes it makes people feel important to be part of everything, but I would give the opposite point of view. Know where you add unique value and focus on that and excuse yourself from the things you don’t need to be part of. For example, I’ve never volunteered to be the room mother at my kids’ school because I’m terrible at finding the time to call people, but for six years, I volunteered to be the basketball coach.

How was your record as a coach? As successful as your beauty record?
I went to the city championship twice. That’s pretty good! [Laughs.] Not quite as good as growing Olay from $200 million [in sales] to $2.5 billion, but pretty good!


In Brief


While earning her M.B.A. at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Gina Drosos was a summer intern at P&G’s Spic and Span business, joining the brand full time in 1987. Her first foray into beauty came in 1992, when she started working on the Olay skin care business, which at that point had global sales of $200 million. Since then, Drosos worked her way up the ranks to her current position of group president of global female beauty, beauty and grooming—and Olay, under her aegis, has had a similarly successful trajectory, skyrocketing to almost $2.5 billion in global sales.