My latest interview is with Patrice Louvet who is the Group President of Global Beauty at P&G. Patrice oversees some of the world most iconic brands such as Olay, Secret, Old Spice, Pantene, Herbal Essences, Gillette and more. I found Patrice incredibly down to earth but his professional track record shows that he is anything but laid back. He has achieved so much in his career and has always been a high performer. I've come across many global leaders but Patrice certainly stands out as one of the top with international experiences after living and working in countries like France, Switzerland, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom.
He touches on a couple of key points that really resonate with me. The first is on focus. Focus on the few things that really matter as everything else is just noise. The second is that to guarantee success, you have to make others around you successful. There is plenty of wisdom in this interview and I think you'll enjoy it.
Here are some of the key highlights:
- To pay for tuition in College, he hustled and ended up writing a book, Exporter aux États-Unis, on the challenges of importing French goods into the United States. The book ended up getting published and he used the proceeds to fund his College tuition.
- His first job was in the French Navy (which was mandatory at the time in France) where he had to manage the driver, the assistant and the cook for one of the Admirals. Funny fact was that he had to recite the menu every day in the form of rhyming poetry.
- His first job at P&G was actually not in beauty or haircare but as a brand assistant on Mr. Clean.
- The role that gave him confidence that he could one day progress to a senior leadership position at P&G was when he was sent over to help turnaround a very sick Japanese and South Korean haircare business. He initially turned down the role as he had no interest in Asia both personally and professionally. Interestingly enough, the last two CEOs at P&G, A.G. Lafley and Bob MacDonald both oversaw the Japanese business at one point in their careers as it has always been considered one of the most challenging international assignments.
- In Japan, the first six months were horrendous. He tried to do way too much early on, from upgrading the packaging, to changing personnel and to modifying the brand portfolio. Early on, he failed to connect with his team and didn't share his vision for the business. The biggest punch to the stomach came when his head of consumer research (a Japanese woman) said to him that she didn't think it was going to work out for him. At the time, it felt like utter failure. All of that combined with moving his family over to a country where he could not speak the language or even buy milk for his young daughter. It was a miserable period of time.
- The two things that he feels sets him apart. The first is that he's committed to making other people successful. The best way to be successful is to make others successful. The second thing is that he listens more than he speaks. He often cites the Chinese Proverb, "you have two years and one mouth, and there's a reason for that."
- It's essential for people to have international assignments if their aspirations are to become a key leader within the organization. The ability to decipher different behaviors through various cultural lenses is critical to being a leader of a global business.
- He actually quit P&G in his early 30s. He received an offer to join McKinsey and also was given the opportunity to be the assistant to Sergio Zyman (CMO of Coca Cola at the time). Patrice made the decision to move to Atlanta to work alongside Sergio but shortly after, P&G counter offered him with an assignment to the UK where he would move into the beauty business. He feels that it's healthy and not a betrayal to explore other career opportunities. It's a reality check on whether you really want to commit to the company that you're currently in.
- In order for his children to receive an education in a French-American school, he made the decision to live in New York. This has required an immense amount of travel as Gillette is based in Boston, P&G is based in Cincinnati and he has direct reports all over the world. He travels at least a week a month to different cities around the world, rotating regions. With the heavy travel schedule, he works very hard to protect the weekend so that he can spend time with his family. In order to stay fresh, he does a lot of sports. On weekends, he has a personal trainer that comes in and he's regularly playing tennis, golf and finds time to cycle on Sundays. Lastly, he sleeps! The quality of his sleep is highly correlated with his productivity at work.
- On advice he'd give to his 25-year old self, he has a few. The first would be to cherish the moment more. Carpe Diem is latin for "Seize the Day". Rather than always thinking about the future so much, enjoy the moment. The second advice would be to stay focused. One can get caught up in so many different activities that don't really move the needle forward. Instead, focus on the things that truly matter. The third advice would be to focus on the outside world more. Find out what's happening in other industries and in other worlds that could interest you both personally and professionally. He doesn't think that your company will necessarily give you the space and time. You have to intentionally carve out time in your own calendar to spend in the field or at conferences.
Ray Cao is the CEO of Exact Media. Exact is transforming the world of direct mail by enabling advertisers like P&G and PepsiCo to distribute product samples and coupons through a vast network of e-commerce and omnichannel retailers.
Daniel: Today on Connections.
Patrice: And this is just for any Japanese manager to go to a foreign area Gaijin and say, "My friend, you don't think you're the right guy or as we don't think this is gonna work." So I feel a big punch in the stomach. This was my first general manager job. You know, I was so eager to be successful and to do well. And here I am, someone whom I respect whose very well grounded in the local company telling me that they don't think this is gonna work out. So it showed my failure, right, and it was tough. It was really tough to digest, but to use a popular term these days, I decided to pivot.
Daniel: My name is Daniel Roddick, and I'm your host at Connections. Brought to you by Exact Media. We created this podcast because we realized that a lot of people we spent time with in our day to day work, brand managers, marketers, those who are trying to rise quickly in their careers, could benefit from hearing the stories of the leaders they look up to in their industry. In every episode, we cover the stories that you've never heard of. Where did they grow up? How did they get their first job? What were their successes and failures in their career, and how do they recover from them? My hope is that you will take away some interesting tidbits and tactics that will help you accelerate your careers.
I don't wanna spend too much time talking about us, but so you have context on how we're involved in the industry. At Exact Media, we work specifically with marketers to help them sample their products through the process of online retailers. For example, if you bought running shoes online, we might give you a sample of a healthy granola bar in that parcel. If that interests you at all, visit us at www.exactmedia.io.
Now, on to our guest. Today's guest is Patrice Louvet, group president or beauty at Proctor & Gamble. Born in France, Patrice fell in love with the US while he lived in Princeton, New Jersey in his early teenage years. What stood out to me with Patrice was his present mindedness and his ability to focus on the task at hand without worrying too much about the future. He's also secretly quite the hustler. One of my most favorite stories is how he got a book published in the first year of college to pay for his tuition. Very different than working a part time job at a cafeteria.
In particular, this episode covers topics like the importance of international assignments in advancing your career, specifically talking about a pivotal assignment of his own that he had in Japan, where he ran P&G's hair care and health care business there, as well as the importance of developing your team as a number one driver of success. So here's Exact Media's CEO Ray Chou interviewing Patrice Louvet.
RAY: Patrice, thank you so much for doing this interview. Just for our guests, you know, who are listening and hearing you for the first time, maybe you can just share a little more about your current role and what it is that you now do at P&G.
PATRICE: Sure. So happy to do this, Ray. So my current title is I am the Group President in charge of P&G's [inaudible 00:03:17] business and posed a divestiture from our [inaudible 00:03:23] business to Cody. That encompasses now four categories, hair care, skin care, personal cleansing, and deodorants. And within that is a portfolio of 12 brands ranging from Pantene, Head and Shoulders, Herbal Essences, to Olay, Secret, SK2, Old Spice, and a number of others that total about 12 brands.
RAY: Awesome. So I'm gonna take you back a few years and bring you back to childhood. So what was your childhood like? What were your parents like? Where did you grow up? What do you remember of your upbringing?
PATRICE: So I grew up in France just outside of Paris. I'd probably characterize my childhood as pretty normal. There was an exciting event that happened when I was nine, where actually my father was transferred to the US, so the whole family followed. He was working here French for a French chemical company. So we moved to Princeton, New Jersey, and I lived there for four years. And it was a pivotal moment for me because I fell in love with the US and the US culture. And you know, since that time, I've worked very hard to get reconnected to the US culture. I ended up studying for back in the US later on during the college days. And then as you know, I've now been working for an American company for a number of years.
RAY: How old were you when you moved?
PATRICE: I was nine. So I went from age 9 to 13.
RAY: So you went to...did you leave after 13 or...
PATRICE: Yes. So after 13, we came back to France. I kind of went through the normal French studies and I went to a French business school, then went to US business school, and then did my military service after that.
RAY: Got it. What were your parents like? I mean, was it a strict household or they let you do whatever you want? What do you remember of that?
PATRICE: It was a pretty strict household. You know, my father had a pretty strict upbringing himself. He was an executive in the chemical industry, which is a pretty rigorous environment. So lots of focus on sense of duty, making sure that the work was well done, lot of importance around integrity, and being trustworthy, and a lot of emphasis on humility, I'd say, from his pinpoint. My mother, a little looser, more in touch with others, so she instilled in me a sense of others, a sense of interest in others, a certain curiosity. So that's a very interesting balance between my father and my mom, and the kind of values that they represent and that they instilled in us, in their kids.
RAY: Were you the only child or did you have siblings?
PATRICE: I have siblings. Actually, I'm the eldest of four. I have two twin brothers who are three years younger than me, and then a sister who's six years younger than me.
RAY: So was the pressure sort of put on you because you were the eldest or was it all through example...
PATRICE: I think it's always...maybe I should say it depends, depending on various families, right? But I think for the first one out, there always probably higher bar to kind of jump over. But I'm sure my siblings would say they also felt, you know, in their own their pressure to perform and role model the right behaviors. But I felt it as well.
PATRICE: And you know, the sense of responsibility, I think that comes with the eldest in the family.
RAY: Right. So how did you end up deciding, I guess what did you end up studying in college, and how did you decide on that major?
PATRICE: So I studied business in college. What I like about business is the breadth of it. So you know, I don't like to specialize in any narrow field. I actually enjoy discovering a number of new areas, and being constantly challenged. And I found that the business world was going to be broad enough to kind of meet those needs. And then within business school, I frankly didn't specialize in any particular discipline, again, because I found interest in most of them. So that was the case both in my French business school, and then for my US business, I actually started as an exchange program. I mentioned to you earlier I was keen to get back to the US. And my French business school had an exchange program with the University of Illinois. So the original plan was to go there just for six months and then come back. But I actually really enjoyed it. I decided to stay on for a year. And during that time, I studied mostly business again.
And I did two things that I actually I found to be really interesting experiences. One, to pay for my first year, I wrote a business book that was focused on the challenges of importing French products into the US. [inaudible 00:09:04] got published. It's actually available on Amazon, I think what I heard a couple decades later. And then I taught my second year. I was a marketing teaching assistant, teaching marketing to new years and senior undergrads over there, which you know, frankly I found those two experiences almost as rich as the studies themselves.
RAY: What got you to think about writing a book? It seems a little abnormal for someone at that time and that age.
PATRICE: Listen you know, one of very clear need was funding for the first year. So I actually worked out a deal of my business school where they said they would publish the book. They were interested in the topic. It is true that, you know, I don't consider myself to be a natural writer, but it ended up being a fascinating experience. So I think the need to fund my first year of study was the driver for that.
RAY: That's funny. Other people were getting part time jobs maybe at a restaurant. You just decided to write a book. I guess that works.
PATRICE: There you go, yeah exactly. Exactly. And in hindsight, you know, I don't regret that decision. It was a fun experience.
RAY: So what was your first job? Was it...maybe it was writing this book, but did you have a job in marketing right away or did you do something else?
PATRICE: So it depends on what you define as first job. My first job technically was in the French Navy when I did my military service. And there were kind of two options at that time. So military service was mandatory. It was mandatory at the time in France. Option A is you go down the standard route, and you know, you'll probably end up peeling potatoes somewhere or washing the floor of the barracks for a year. Not particularly fascinating. A nice social experiment, but not necessarily fascinating. Option B was if you invested, if you came from a business school or an engineering school actually, and you invested a bit more time, so you invested at least 18 months, then you could go down the office route, which is what I did. And I ended up being the [foreign language 00:11:24] of one of the admirals in the Navy. And it was really my first job because it's the first time I managed people. So yeah, I had a small team. It was his drivers, assistants, and his cook. It was a very interested managerial experience in a very different environment than the normal business world. That said, that probably qualifies as my first job.
RAY: Interesting. So you were managing the drivers, the assistants, and the cooks. Is that the role?
PATRICE: That was part of the role. So one part of the role. Second part of the role was actually to manage his interactions with foreign leaders, his trips abroad, his interactions with the various military bases and ships that we had based out of France. And the third part of the role is always the intelligence ops at headquarters. So I oversaw the confidential and secret documents and was in charge of overseeing all that. And I had a fourth responsibility which was kind of fun, which is there's a tradition in the French Navy where the youngest officer at lunch time, and you know, food is important in the Navy. At lunchtime at the table, the admiral is expected to recite the menu as a poem that rhymes, right? So you have to make potatoes and tomatoes rhyme. And so that added a little spice to that experience.
RAY: So how did you go from this experience into the marketing industry and the packaged goods industry?
PATRICE: So the military experience was obviously short term. Then it was time to get into the business world. I was keen to get into marketing again because I thought marketing was probably gonna be the broadest space I could operate in. And I liked the range of disciplines within marketing. And I was back in Paris at that time, decided to interview with, you know, with at the time reviewed as the better company in that space, and was fortunate enough to be able to get into P&G. And so I started P&G a good 27 years ago as a brand assistant. My first job was on Mr. Clean.
RAY: Did you look at any other companies or were you set on...
PATRICE: I did. No, I did look at other companies. I had offers from other firms in that space. You know, some more direct competitors to P&G, others were more in the food industry. But based on the reputation P&G had, particularly in the area of training and people development, I thought that was gonna be the best choice for me.
RAY: So you were in France at the time, right, when you started?
PATRICE: Yes, yeah.
RAY: What do you remember of that first job?
PATRICE: It was an amazing experience. You know, a little daunting frankly because it takes a little time to adjust to the professional world. But one of the reasons I picked P&G is because I was impressed by the people I met during the interviews, and I have to say, the teams I got to work with in the first job were terrific. And I had a manager who's still at the company now, who's an amazing coach, who invested greatly in my development, and in helping me navigate the company. So I really appreciated the investment in personal development that was being put. You know, we've all had these first meetings with the advertising agency where you're supposed to comment on the storyboard and you have limited experience, and you're commenting on very executional things, which you know, in hindsight sound completely ridiculous. But as far as the learning process that you go through.
So I enjoyed it a lot. I thought it was a nice, still kind of college type atmosphere, you know, because it's a company that brings in a lot of new hires, and a lot of focus on learning, and making impact.
RAY: The P&G that you see today, I mean, when someone starts their career, whether it's in Cincinnati or an office around the world, how much of it is still similar to your first, you know, couple years at P&G, and how much, I guess, has changed?
PATRICE: So what's still similar I think is the focus we put on development and training. You know, this is a company that is dependent on the success of new hires, right, because aside from the very few exceptions, we rely on new hires to be our future leaders, so 20, 30 years down the road. So investment in talent, good degree of autonomy early on, so you get significant responsibilities relatively quickly. The approach of throwing you in the pool and with your manager on the side with kind of the stick to help you out if you need help, but there is this kind of initial push in the pool where you also need to kind of learn to swim by yourself, but you know, your manager's there by the side for support.
I think what's changed today is today's a lot more global than we were at the time. So someone who would come in today would be much more in touch with what's happening, someone coming into Paris or even our US office, much more in touch with what's happening internationally, would probably engage with someone in China or someone in Brazil much earlier. I think maybe the roles are probably a bit narrower today in terms of scope than they were when I started. But fundamentally, I'd say the general culture I find if I need to ask some of the new hires today before I can observe is pretty consistent, the expectations and the environment people operate are all pretty consistent with what we had when I started.
RAY: Got it, okay. So I've always been very curious about this. There's very, very few people ever have the opportunity to get into a, you know, position that you're in. I mean, how does one get picked, you know, to go on this track of eventually becoming group president? Like did someone tap you on the shoulder early on in your career and say, "Hey Patrice, like we've got an eye on you and, you know, want you to go down this path, and eventually you know, be one of our top, top people in the company?" Or did you proactively engage certain people to say, "Hey, one day I wanna be in this role?" I guess like how did this all happen?
PATRICE: So I was never told, you know, five years in, "Listen, we see you having the ability to go this far," right? Those conversations didn't happen, and honestly don't happen. What we do is kind of manage it step by step. So I feel like things progressed kind of step by step, the focus being one is deliver results, all right? So a lot of emphasis being placed on performance. And then the second is the trained skillsets that people view as being relevant for the next level and continuing to develop in that along those lines. So if I kind of track back my progress from role to role, things went relatively well and I think people were interested in giving me more responsibility to see how I would do and what kind of impact I would be able to make.
I did in parallel, you know, communicate my interest in continuing to progress. So I think one of the things I tell new hires that comes into P&G clear with the management what you want to achieve, what you're interested in, and then have the dialogue with them to see whether your skillsets and your performance allows you to achieve that. But I'd say if I track back, I think it's been kind of the construction brick by brick as a career versus a declaration at the very beginning that that's the level I wanted to get to, or the company signaling to me from the very beginning that's the level they thought I could get.
RAY: My guess is you've always wanted to be pretty much at the top or did that...
PATRICE: Yeah, I'm a pretty ambitious guy, but I try to keep my ego in check, all right? So I wanna go as far as my capabilities can carry me. But more view two ends of what impact can I make, and then how can I help my organization, my team progress versus a selfish, you know, let me drive my own personal career, and this is all about satisfying my personal ego. But yeah, I'm an ambitious guy. When I get into something, I get into it to win. And that's been true in the way I've managed my business, that's true in the way I engage in sports outside of work, and that's also true in the way I view my career.
RAY: Very quickly, what do you play outside sport-wise?
PATRICE: Oh, I play tennis, I used to play soccer but the [inaudible 00:21:12] decided that that's no longer an option. I play golf, and I ski.
RAY: I think you know Steve Sadoff [SP], right? He used to be at Clairol. Did you guys ever play tennis together? He's a big tennis player.
PATRICE: No, we did not. Is he a good tennis player, Steve?
RAY: Yeah, he used to play competitively, I think, going through college. And then I think he's sort of known to network over tennis.
PATRICE: Ah, okay. I knew he networked over golf. I didn't know he networked over tennis.
RAY: Yeah, he's bigger on tennis, I think, yeah. I'll connect you guys to replay tennis maybe.
PATRICE: Oh, that's a good idea. Plus I have a few off him, so maybe I'll have a competitive advantage that way.
RAY: I was gonna ask, I mean, what role do you think made it...at what point in time did you think you had a pretty good chance of being in one of the most senior roles within P&G? What part of your career did you think like, "Oh, I think I'm on to something. I've got a really good shot at this."
PATRICE: Yeah, to me it was a pivotal moment when I was sent to Japan, which is also kind of interesting failure/success moment as well. So just to chart back, I was a marketing director for Pantene North America and Global. The company changed the name, said, "Hey, we'd like you to go to Japan and become the General Manager of our hair care business in Japan and Korea." I originally turned the role down saying, "I've worked hard to get to the US. I'm really keen to stay longer in the US. And frankly Asia is not on our radar screen either professionally or personally. So thanks for the offer, but no." Which it's a pretty rare occasion for someone to turn down a promotion to General Manager, but that's what I did at the time.
Now there were a number of follow up conversations. I think the company kind of painted a picture of what success would look like if that role worked out well. And I think we also realized as a family that would be an amazing experience to go live in Asia. So I ultimately decided to accept the offer and went to Japan.
RAY: Why did you turn it down in the first time around?
PATRICE: Well you know, because we talked about the first. We were keen personally to live in the US. We finally found a way to work in the US. I've been in Cincinnati for three years, which felt like a very short time period. So I think that was the first driver. Second driver was frankly Asia wasn't on our radar screen at all, right? This was what? This was about 15 years ago. And frankly, we've never considered living in Asia. And Japan just felt so different and so remote that it just wasn't an option we'd consider. Now follow that because I don't think we [inaudible 00:24:14], which ultimately through some thinking and discussions, we saw the light. We also went there saying, "Hey you know, we'll give it a shot, and worse case it doesn't work out and we'll just move somewhere else and everything will be fine."
So it felt like a bit of a risky move professionally, a risky move personally, but we said, "Look, let's make that bet and see." And the risky move professionally because I took over hair care in Japan and Korea which has been a really stick business for many, many years. Where generally globally, P&G is market leader in hair care, and in Japan we're number five. And I really struggled to just get off the floor. And so the challenge was, "Okay Patrice, you know, turn it around, right? You kind of step change it and get this business to where it is in other markets. And if you do that, then good things will happen to you, and this will be a great learning experience."
So as I look back, I think, you know, after some initial challenges, and we talk about those, things actually played out pretty well. And I think that ended up being a pivotal moment for me professionally because few people have been able to crack businesses in Japan. A number of our senior leaders had actually gone through Japan, if you think of our former CEO was AG Astly [SP] or Bob McDonald, or some of the previous senior leaders of the company that actually worked out of Japan.
So that was viewed as an intense testing ground for senior leadership. It still is today. And so the ability to succeed there has said things about the individual's ability to succeed [inaudible 00:26:01].
RAY: You talk about some of the challenges, what was it like being in Japan? I mean, clearly you don't look Asian, right? You probably don't speak Japanese to my knowledge. Like what was it like moving your family there from a business standpoint, also personally? What were the challenges?
PATRICE: So the first six months were horrendous. I don't think there's any better way to describe it, professionally and personally. Let's start with the personal side. So I had, at the time, we had our two kids. Thomas was four, Clara was one. And P&G's actually based in Kobe, next to Osaka. P&G is not based in Tokyo. So you know, it's a very Japanese environment. There's actually very little done for the international community. So everything is in Japanese. People had, at the time, a limited mastery of the English language in the area. So I remember an incident where my wife went to go to the store to buy milk for our daughter, and she bought what she thought was milk back to the house and gave it to Clara. Clara, you know, drank it and threw everything back out. And it was clearly not milk. Not even clear whether it was a food or not or something edible.
RAY: Oh my God.
PATRICE: And you know, since then, okay sorry, if there's no cow on the pack, you know, it's probably not milk. So that's just a small illustration of the kind of challenges that we met there. And I think we underestimated then because felt like, okay, we've lived in Europe. We've traveled across Europe. We've lived in the US. We're pretty international. We're pretty open-minded. You know, we should be able to navigate this world. So yeah, sure it's an international world, that we lived in international spaces before. And Japan is really unique from a cultural standpoint. It's one of the wonderful things about that country actually.
So personally was rough, just finding out way and just feeling so foreign. And then professionally was challenging because, same thing. I assumed I could use kind of my normal US/European trained leadership skills in that environment, and I found out, you know, over the first few months that I needed to adjust pretty significantly. So you know, I came in, the business was sick, and I went after a lot of things at the same time. So upgrading the packaging, upgrading the product, changing the brand portfolio, we're overhauling the innovation program, making a number of staffing changes. So a lot to change in a relatively limited time period. And I remember my head of market research, [foreign language 00:29:10], a young Japanese woman came to see me after six months and said, "You know what, Patrice? We don't think this is gonna work out." So it was very courageous for her as a woman to speak up to her boss like that because women in Japan don't do that, right? They're generally very deferential and incredibly respectful of management. And this is true just for any Japanese manager that goes to a foreign Gaijin and say, "My friend, you don't that you're the right guy for us. We don't think this is gonna work." So I feel a big punch in the stomach. This was my first general manager job, you know, I was so eager to be successful and to do well. And here I am, someone who I respect, who's very well grounded in the local company telling me they don't think this is gonna work out.
So showing my failure, right? And it was tough. It was really tough to digest. But to use a popular term these days, I decided to pivot and actually stopped, stepped back, realized that I was adding too much change too quickly, that I had not spent enough time providing the team with the vision of where I wanted us to go as a business and as an organization, which in Japan is very important. That I had not spent enough time building connections with the members, key players on my team. What you realize in Japan is there are people, there are two personalities, which they call hunai [SP] and patami [SP]. And patami is your official personality at work, and hunai is your personality after work. And however odd that may seem to us Westerners, that's the way the culture works. And to really find out what some people's mind, you need to connect with them after work, often with a beer on the table, in a world they'll open up and they'll really say what they think and what's on their mind. So I ended up doing more of that and building stronger connections with my team. And then be much more choiceful in terms of the changes that I wanted to drive, being much more focused, and you know, one of the great learnings for me...there are a number of learning from these experience beneath it, the importance of driving a clear vision, importance of taking the time to build the connections with the team members, and then the importance of focus. And I actually realized I'm gonna be in this world for two years. I don't need to change everything the first three months. I can sequence the changes and I can then therefore be much more effective in driving the change with my new team members.
And so this pivot actually was recognized relatively quickly by the team. And you know, the same people that gave me feedback on the fact that the startup wasn't good, gave me encouragement relatively fast as they saw how I changed my approach. And we ended up writing a really nice story on the business and the organization over there for about three years I stayed there.
RAY: Did...I guess overall side, were there moments where you thought about, "Hey, I'm not gonna make this work out. Like maybe I need to pack up my bags and go back to the US?"
PATRICE: Yeah, after...certainly six months in. You know, kind of challenging personally and again, I think we underestimated the degree of change that we have to undergo. I was finding it tough professionally so we had a moment where we kind of looked at each other, Kristin and I, and said, "Gee, you know, do we run the play or we go a different way?" But we decided to stick with it because persistence is something that characterizes my wife and I. And I'm really glad we stuck with it. It was probably one of the greatest learning experiences of my career, and maybe even on the personal front. And I know we look back now with great fondness on that experience and on everything that we learned, and the gratitude that we have for the Japanese individuals that we interacted with during that time.
RAY: Got it, got it. And I wanna ask a slightly different question, but it is related to this. I mean, you talked about clearly, you know, you brought in great business results and all that. But at P&G, I mean, it's filled with some of the most talented and competitive people. What do you think it was that you did differently, and I'm sure you're gonna be very humble about this, but try to boast a little here. But what do you think you did differently that set you apart and got you to, I guess, move farther along in your career versus the others? Was it your work ethic? Was it, you know, something special that you did or...
PATRICE: You know, so in full humility, my life's purpose is to enable people I interact with, whether that's my family, my friends, or my colleagues, to leverage their full potential. And I think one of the things that's helped me throughout my career is the work that I do with my teams and with the organizations that I lead. Where my focus is on making them successful, and as they're successful, then I'm automatically successful. So probably the investment in other people, the time I spend on being in touch with the organization, being connected with the organization, and setting them up for success. I mean, I often have this conversation with my people I work with, right, and the people I coach. The best way to be successful is for the people around you to be successful. That guarantees you will be successful as their leader.
The opposite is not necessarily true. It's very difficult to be successful individually if your team around you isn't successful. So that's probably been one. The second one is you know, and probably through my upbringing, having moved around, I tend to be pretty open minded and I spent a lot of that, I put a lot of energy into listening. There's a Chinese saying that I really love and I use quite often, which is "We have two ears and one mouth, and there's a reason for that."
PATRICE: And so I think if you ask people about me, they'd probably say, "Well, Patrice you know, invests a lot in listening." And so I found that to be an effective way to get the most out of the people I interact with, and get all the voices out on the table, all the points of view out on the table, which one, gets me better options, more diverse points of views always gives better options. And two, is a better way, I think, or is an effective way to enroll people, make them parts of the problem solving exercise.
RAY: Did...maybe it evolved throughout your career, but were you the type to get into the office early and leave last, or is there something in your work ethic that was also a bit different?
PATRICE: I think we all work pretty hard at P&G, so yeah, I do get in early and I do leave late. Was that a differentiating factor, Ray? I don't know, because ultimately P&G is very focused on outcomes and results. And really doesn't measure your performance by the number of hours you put in. Built more by, you know, how many consumers did you bring in, how much value did you create, how many people did you develop? So I think it's, you know, the performance is more assessed to that line. Certainly, you know, this is a job you could do 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and still not be done. And so, but I don't think that's necessarily a differentiating factor.
RAY: How important do you think international assignments are to getting, you know, into the role that you have? Is it essential or nice to have?
PATRICE: Yeah, I think the international assignments, either for the role I'm in or for any role for that matter, is critical. All right, we live in a global world. The world is flat as the [inaudible 00:37:51] men would say, and I think having the ability to operate in different cultures, in different business context, the ability to decipher different behaviors through their cultural lens is fundamental. So I couldn't be in my role if I hadn't had the international experience that I've had. And actually very, very few leaders at P&G are in my types of roles having just stayed in one country. I think it's critical for...and you end up being much more effective, much more effective leader.
RAY: Mm-hm, mm-hm. At P&G, there's a pretty fantastic job, probably maybe the best in the industry with making their employees lifers, but was there a moment where you thought of, "Hey, maybe I should go elsewhere and try something different?"
PATRICE: Yeah, several actually. And I actually quit from P&G.
RAY: Really? I mean...
PATRICE: Yeah, I quit from P&G. It didn't last very long, but I quit from P&G about 20 years ago now. I had an offer to go work with Sergio Zyman who you may recall is the CMO of Coca-Cola at the time. And it was to be his assistant. And that just sounded like an amazing option because the guy is incredibly inspiring and a breakthrough thinker. And I got an offer, worked at McKenzie. So I went to my general management friends and tendered my resignation. And so for a few days, I actually had quit P&G. And then a little similar to my Japanese experience earlier, you know, the company asked me what I really wanted to do, gave me confidence in terms of, you know, with potential they thought I had within P&G, and came back with a counteroffer, which was to move to the UK, to move the beauty division, so a different division than the one I had been working for for about seven years. And the role sounded exciting, the location, that I was London, was appealing. And at the end of that role, they said, you know, there'd be option to go work in the US, which as I mentioned, I was keen to do. So I decided to stay.
RAY: How old were you at the time?
PATRICE: How old was I? It was 20 years ago, so 32.
RAY: Thirty-two, wow. What did Sergio say about this?
PATRICE: I don't think he was pleased, right, because we gave them the job, the house hunting in Atlanta, and so we were pretty advanced in the...
RAY: Oh boy.
PATRICE: ...in the exercise.
RAY: Oh boy, so that was the first time you thought about leaving, so you actually quit?
PATRICE: Yeah. Yeah, you know, there are always opportunities that come up like for all of us. So I actually, you know, I think it's healthy to check what's available outside because it helps you get clear on your commitment to the company you're currently working in. So you know, some people view connections with headhunters as a betrayal of your current employer, whoever that may be, I don't see it that way. I actually think it's healthy because as you work, you should be working at your current employer because you want to, not because you feel forced to. And it's always a good way to kind of check your commitment and what your motivations are with your current employer.
RAY: Right, right. Okay, so I'm gonna switch to the personal side a bit. So if you look back, and you talked a bit about this in your time in Japan, but were there moments in your career where you felt like you had to put something in your personal life on hold in order to move your career forward? Or I guess, sort of the other way around, you know, where you had to put your career on hold in order to fulfill a personal obligation?
PATRICE: So on the first point, yes there are moments where I had to put my personal life on hold to fulfill my career ambitions. The first one is, you know, as I mentioned earlier, we moved around quite a bit, right? We lived in the UK, we lived in Japan, we lived in the US, we lived in Geneva, we lived in France. With that comes pressure on relations with the family because the family gets older, my parents or my siblings or the grandparents at the time. So that's one aspect of it, you know, plus relationships you have with friends and things like that.
And then the second one is more recent, which is as we come back to the US with my family based in New York because French-American school availability for my kids, I've had to commute to my job running Gillette in Boston, and now my current job in Cincinnati running the beauty business. And so I see the commute as a bit of a personal sacrifice. I think it's well worth it, both to have the ability to continue to work for P&G and also to provide my kids with the type of education that we think is right for them. But it is a personal sacrifice.
Conversely, putting my career on hold for personal obligation, personally no, but certainly my wife has had to do that, right? So the fact that we moved around quite a bit has had an impact on her career. She had a nice career, started at P&G, then she went out to the luxury world working for Cartier. And the fact that we moved around so often has probably limited her professional possibility as well because the potential that she has.
RAY: Did she know what she was getting herself into when she met you?
PATRICE: Probably not fully aware. The good news is, you know, her father had been an expat as well, and she had lived the expat life. She knew what that entailed. And she was interested in living an expat life, but you know, some of the professional sacrifices she's had to make has not been easy. And I'm actually very grateful.
RAY: How have you managed your schedule? I mean, especially I guess more recently with being, you know, in Cincinnati but living in New York, and Boston, and all that. And you've got a global role, which brings you to all parts around the world. Like how do you manage that time with family and your wife, and what's the routine or the rules that you've set to manage it?
PATRICE: So I work hard to protect the weekends, right, and to make sure I have quality time with my family on the weekends. My daughter rides horses. She competes a lot, so we end up doing...spending a lot of time in various barns, and that time is protected. We also ensure we've got time, my wife and I, on a very regular basis, we go out to the movies quite often. So that's also kind of protected. From a personal standpoint, and then professionally, I think it's important to be in the market. So I do think part of my job, and to be effective in my job, I have to be in touch with the teams in the markets, visit the stores, meet with customers, meet with consumers. So I try to do that a week a month and rotate regions.
So I was recently in Asia where in a week, we did China for two days, Vietnam for one day, Philippines for a day, and Japan for a day. So try to maximize the productivity of those trips. And then I have set connections with my team members. I have one on ones with them on a monthly basis. And then, you know, set reviews of innovation programs, or financial forecast, or things like that. So there's a framework both in terms of the frequency of the international trips, and then what happens when at the headquarters. And then within that, you know, building in enough flex time to be able to take on whatever unexpected may come up.
RAY: Do you have any life hacks on how you manage your travel? Because flying to Beijing and China and all those places can't be good on the body. And what do you do to stay fresh?
PATRICE: So listen, I do a lot of sports. So on the weekends, and when I travel actually, on the weekends, I have a personal trainer that comes in. As we've talked earlier, I play tennis. I play golf. I cycle on Sunday mornings. So sports is very important to keep the body and the mind healthy, I would say. I also do that when I travel. And then I make sure I have enough sleep. I'm finding, at least for me, that my quality of sleep is very much correlated to my productivity at work. So you know, I get a lot of energy to interact with people. So I have to say, while the international trips are pretty intense and sometimes it feels like deep-sea diving, where you kind of pinch your nose at the beginning of the week and you hold your breath for the entire week, and then you kind of pop up Friday night. What really gets me going during the week is just interaction with our teams, which I find incredibly energizing, and just seeing the business, and being able to impact the business in the market.
I do wish I had a little more time to do some tourism, right, but currently the people in my role probably 30 years ago would have a bit more time doing those trips to get more in touch with the culture, the arts, the history of the particular places that we travel to.
PATRICE: Yeah, imagine just go in and out and don't have much time to do other things, right?
Yeah, yeah, often I get questions, you know, what's Vietnam like? Well I'm like, "Well I can tell you what the airports and the hotel is, and the trip to the hotel to..." Obviously when we do store checks, right, which is kind of something we do every time we visit a country, that gives us a bit of a feel of what the life is like, but it's a very small window.
RAY: Right. If you could give yourself advice to your 25 or early 30 year old self, whether it's work advice or personal advice, what would that be? What would you say to yourself?
PATRICE: Oh, I'd give myself a lot of advice. I'm always disappointed we don't get a second bite of the apple, right, when it comes to life. But I guess that's reality. The first advice I would give myself is the Robin Williams quote in "Dead Poets Society," which is carpe diem, which remember he whispers to one of the deans in the movie, do you remember that? Yeah, seize the day, exactly. Enjoy the moment, seize the day. I find myself probably too focused on the future and not spending enough time enjoying the moment. So I would tell myself make sure you spend enough time enjoying the moment and seizing the day.
The second piece of advice I would give myself is focus. You know, I pride myself on being pretty focused, and I actually think when you step back, you realize that it's just a few important things that make a real difference, and tend to get lost in so many details, so many activities that don't really move the needle that much. Fundamentally, I find the only way of finishing the timer, I can trace my impact to three or four things of the three year, five year assignment. But we always have this tendency to think that the more we do, the greater impact we have, and I don't think that's necessarily true. So the probably second piece of advice is really identify those critical elements, what really matters most, and then focus as much of the time and energy on that.
The third one I think would be to be even more externally focused in order to learn even more. And you know, at Proctor & Gamble, we have this reputation, partially warranted I believe, to be a bit insular. And I certainly feel like I haven't allocated to be more in touch with the outside world in unexpected places, right? So not what's going on in beauty in the outside world, because I feel like I have a pretty good sense of that, but what's happening in other industries, what's happening, you know, in other worlds that could one way or another be relevant for me professionally or personally. Those are the three pieces I guess I would give myself.
RAY: How would someone do that in their, you know, in the earlier parts of their career when they're sort of asked to really focus on delivering results. Like what are some of the tactical things that they could do to go outside of their day to day?
PATRICE: So I don't think the company will give you the space, so this is something that you have to carve out the space in your calendar to do it, right, and to say, "I'm gonna spend a day out in the field, or I'm gonna attend these conferences." And generally I find, I know it's the case for P&G, that it's, you know, you have a good rationale for this external focus, that it's actually encouraged. But I think it's being intentional, one, and two, carving out the time. And leveraging the network of friends that we have from school, friends we may have...we don't typically always have friends that only work in our industry and our specialist area, specialty to create the connections and discover what's happening the tech world, or what's happening in the fashion world, what's happening in the political world.
RAY: Right, right. All right, I've got two quick questions left for you. What do you still have left to accomplish, and what's remaining on that personal and professional bucket list?
PATRICE: It's interesting you asked me the question now. Because I don't necessarily think of it as what's next to accomplish. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about that actually. I say based on, you know, the luck at having my career, I'm focused on being as effective and successful at what I'm doing today, leaving a legacy, which is very important to me. You know, I really am keen when I come into a role to leave a legacy. I don't wanna just work through a role. I often encourage people I work with, say, "Well what's the legacy you're gonna leave in this job?"
So frankly, my focus right now is on writing the next great chapter for P&G beauty, and do the best I can do there. And then we'll see where that leads me in terms of what's in the two year, your first question.
On your second question, what I'm keen to do as things progress, you know, and retirement is not around the corner yet, but it will come up at some point, is just...I wanna spend some more time giving back, all right? So that's an area that I feel like I could do more. I find it challenging to do that with my current role, but I'm looking for time where I have more space to be able to do that. And professionally, I don't have anything particularly defined. Again, I wanna leave a legacy. So you know, I'll be looking for the next opportunity, like the opportunity to make a mark, make a real difference, impact a broad group of people, and leave a legacy.
RAY: I imagine you probably don't need to make money to pay for tuition anymore, but have you written a book since then or are you planning on writing another book?
PATRICE: I'd like to teach at some point, Ray. I mean, that's one of the things I enjoy. Sometimes that's part of my day to day job, right, is to teach the people I work with and help them grow and develop. Am I gonna write another book? That's a great question. So I wouldn't do it for funding, plus I think it's very difficult to make decent money these days unless you're JR Rowling when it comes to writing books. So if I stick to...
RAY: All right, Patrice, I know you're incredibly busy. But just wanted to thank you again for doing this interview. I love the journey and I'm excited to share this with others. Thank you very much.
PATRICE: Great, well thanks for the opportunity, Ray. I appreciate it.
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