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Industry heroes: Alan George Lafley of Procter & Gamble – one of the ‘most lauded CEOs in history’

A. G. Lafley turned P&G into one of the most valuable companies in the world during two stints as CEO and that’s the reason he won so many industry awards and still gets so much recognition – says Dr Mansur Khamitov of the Nanyang Business School in Singapore

Alan George Lafley is arguably one of the most – if not the most – successful chief executive officers in the rich and illustrious history of Procter & Gamble.

As a former P&Ger turned academic, I can’t help but admire his far-reaching legacy. Although I never got a chance to interact with A. G. in person, as my brand management assignment back in the days took place in international markets, working for P&G one always gets exposed to incredibly inspiring stories regarding him and his tenure in the company.

I was not an exception. From personal stories regarding his perseverance and grit to professional stories regarding Lafley’s legendary dedication toward understanding ordinary consumers, A. G. would always inspire the confidence of investors, officials, employees and consumers alike.

Steering one of the leading fast-moving-consumer-goods companies with such a history cannot be an easy task, but he was clearly up to the challenge. Born and raised in Keene, New Hampshire, A. G. went on to graduate from Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Illinois and subsequently from Hamilton College in 1969.

After a commission with the United States Navy and an MBA from Harvard Business School, Lafley joined P&G in 1977. Starting off as a business and marketing executive in this inherently marketing-driven company, Lafley’s early roles in the company (1977-1988) focused on brand, advertising, and sales management across Joy, Tide, Dawn, Ivory Snow, and Cheer brands among others.

It did not take too long before he was entrusted with a general management role, first as GM of laundry products in the PS & D Division back in 1988 and afterwards as vice-president of laundry and cleaning products at P&G USA in 1991.

His efforts in this and others roles culminated in his promotion to executive VP and president of Asia between 1995 and 1998. Subsequently, he was executive VP and then president, of global beauty care North America up to the year 2000.

Eventually he got the big job and appointed chief executive officer and president of Procter & Gamble, a role he first occupied between 2000 and 2009. Over the years, Lafley has been credited with a series of stellar accomplishments including but not limited to prioritising and growing P&G’s largest, billion-dollar brands like Tide detergent, Crest toothpaste and Pampers diapers.

He was effectively reshuffling and optimising the portfolio of brands, refocusing the company efforts on effective brand management and consumer-driven/inspired innovation – as well as more than doubling company sales which at the time allowed Procter & Gamble to enter the list of the 10 most valuable companies in the world.   

In today’s volatile and sometimes rather fickle marketplace, it is very hard to find a person who rose through the ranks and devoted virtually all their career to a single company. A. G. Lafley is one of the few. They say that two years at P&G is like a one-year MBA program. Extending this logic, he can be considered to have done about 17.5 years of graduate school. That’s one heck of a graduate programme.   

Although one could argue that A. G. might not have done enough to ensure a smooth transition/succession upon his departure from the company in 2009, the fact that he was asked back to the CEO ‘hot’ seat in 2013 (the first Procter & Gamble CEO ever to do that) during a rather turbulent time period for P&G speaks volumes.

Faced with a series of tough decisions upon his return – such as severe cost reductions, marketing spend optimisation and divestiture – he took the challenge head on and prevailed before ultimately stepping down in 2015 and assuming the role of executive chairman (until his eventual retirement in 2016).

Time will tell whether his contributions will indeed have a truly lasting impact in the decades to come. However, it is clear that A. G.’s sustained achievements over the years have already resulted in countless accolades and impressive recognition.

He is one of the most lauded CEOs in history – as evidenced by the name-checks in Fortune Chief Executive magazines. He was also awarded the ‘Greatest Contributor to Marketing’ prize by The Marketing Society and inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Fame. What a guy.

Former P&Ger Dr Khamitov

Dr Mansur Khamitov is a professor of marketing and consumer behaviour at the Nanyang Business School in Singapore

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