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Kenan Institute 2022 Annual Theme: Stakeholder Capitalism
Market-Based Solutions to Vital Economic Issues
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Oct 9, 2019

Dean’s Speaker David Taylor: Lessons from a Lifetime of Learning

For some, a 39-year career with the same company might seem like a long, slow slog to a dead end. For David Taylor, it’s been a lifelong learning experience that has led to personal and professional success.

Taylor, president, CEO and board chair of Procter & Gamble, shared the enduring lessons he’s learned over his long tenure at the company with a standing-room only crowd at the Kenan Center in Chapel Hill on Wednesday, Oct. 9. The fireside chat, conducted by UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School professor Valarie Zeithaml, was part of the 2019 Dean’s Speaker Series hosted by Dean Doug Shackelford and the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise.

Taylor, who took on P&G’s top leadership role in 2015, shared his vision for transforming the venerable personal products giant into a leaner and more responsive company. “P&G has been around for 183 years,” said Taylor. “If we want to be around for 183 more, we have to make sure we meet the broader society’s needs.”

Taylor’s rise to the top of P&G began with a stint as a plant manager. He said the early experience taught him how to deal with people and solve problems, both of which served him well when he transitioned into a branding role. He also learned that what was important to management wasn’t his personal success, but rather what he did to ensure the success of the company. “I learned that you don’t always have to be right,” said Taylor. “You just have to get the right thing done.”

Taylor’s career with P&G took him to China and other locations around the world. From his experiences abroad, he learned the importance of diversity and inclusion. As CEO, he’s made a conscious effort to make the company, particularly its management team, more inclusive. For example, 46% of P&G global managers are now women. The goal of these types of initiatives, said Taylor, is to make the company reflective of the customers it serves.

To showcase P&G’s inclusion efforts, Taylor showed a short video called “The Look,” chronicling a day in the life of an African American man and his son as they encounter subtle and not-so-subtle bias. The company has developed a series of similar videos, said Taylor, all designed to spark discussion around uncomfortable topics that are important to its customers. When asked why P&G is so intent on creating an inclusive environment, Taylor said that more and more, consumers are choosing brands based on a company’s values. He added, “We don’t see difference as a threat; we see it as a competitive advantage.”

Another area of focus for the company is the environment, something that Taylor is personally passionate about. He said P&G is working toward 100% zero waste at its manufacturing facilities, and has partnered with 41 companies to date in the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, a $1.5 billion worldwide effort to eliminate plastic waste pollution in the ocean and elsewhere.

Not all of P&G’s efforts are outward-facing, however. Under Taylor’s leadership, the company has taken steps to disrupt industry value chain standards and its own internal processes. The management structure has been pared down, lean innovation and small teams are the norm, and some outsourced functions, such as advertising, have been partially pulled back in house.

Taylor’s tinkering has certainly made the company more profitable, with 2018 as the most profitable of the last 10 years. But Taylor sees his efforts as more fundamental to the company’s success than mere profitability. Calling the company’s push to innovate “constructive disruption,” he added, “If we don’t disrupt our business, other companies will.”

To learn more about the Dean’s Speaker Series, click here.

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