Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

P&G's New CEO Vows to Boost Product Quality After Dumping Brands

  • Taylor's task is to reignite growth at maker of Pampers, Tide
  • Company facing declining sales, impact of strong U.S. dollar

Procter & Gamble Co., which spent the past few years offloading weak-performing brands and businesses, is now focused on improving the quality of products that remain, Chief Executive Officer David Taylor said.

The company is looking to set a “much higher standard” for its brands, Taylor, 57, said in an interview. The idea is make its products noticeably better than competitors the first time consumers use them, he said. That means if customers try, say, a Gillette ProShield razor, they won’t want to go back.

“The real standard that we’re going to try to stretch to,” Taylor said, “is to have a ‘wow’ first-use difference.” 

Distinguishing its products is key at a time when P&G faces mounting competition from low-price rivals, as well as a crop of upstart brands that have built loyalty with millennials. The company also is more closely studying how its products are used in consumers’ homes. That includes “deprivation” testing -- when products are taken away and replaced with other versions.

“It’s a really powerful way to see how much they really liked it -- take it away from them,” Taylor said.

Lafley’s Legacy

Taylor has a tall order after replacing A.G. Lafley in November. Lafley, who returned for a second tenure as CEO in 2013, took dramatic steps to revive P&G, including shedding 100 brands and selling off pet food, battery and beauty businesses. Yet P&G’s growth has remained sluggish, and some analysts argue that it’s still too big, complex and risk-averse.

David Taylor
David Taylor
Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Not true, Taylor said. “When we finish the portfolio transformation, we’ll be a more focused company,” he said. “The willingness of the leaders in the broader organization at P&G to evolve, adapt and change is very high.”

P&G’s organic sales, which exclude currency effects and acquisitions and divestments, grew an average of about 2.8 percent in the last five fiscal years. That compares with 4.4 percent in the previous five-year period, which included the Great Recession.

In working to reignite growth, P&G is emphasizing four top categories -- fabric, baby, hair care and grooming -- and its two biggest markets, the U.S. and China.

China Missteps

The company has made missteps in China in the past, Taylor said this week at a conference in Florida -- his first major appearance since becoming CEO. P&G was slow to catch on to consumers’ appetite for higher-priced goods, what he calls the “premiumization’’ of the market. It’s now more attuned to that trend.

P&G also is continuing to cut expenses. After embarking on $10 billion cost-cutting program four years ago, the company is seeking to eliminate another $10 billion over the next five years. And it’s trimming $7 billion from its cost of goods sold this year, Chief Financial Officer Jon Moeller said at the conference.

The company is changing the way it develops leaders as well. P&G, long known for an insular culture, will be more open to hiring from outside. It also will give executives more time gain expertise, instead of shuffling them along, he said at the conference.

“At times, we’ve been too quick to move talent across businesses,” he said.

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