P&G's Irwin Lee: 'My job is to serve from the bottom, not direct from the top'

Procter & Gamble UK and Ireland vice-president and managing director Irwin Lee shares what he has learned about business and life.

We are more similar than different. In general, the fundamental aspirations of people everywhere are similar - better quality of life, upward mobility, better future for their children, value and convenience. Even business challenges across developed versus emerging markets are analogous. For example, the value equation challenge versus private-label brands in Europe is essentially the same as for local, low-cost brands in China. Take lessons from anywhere and everywhere.

It's easy to play the extremes, harder to achieve perfect balance. Top-line versus bottom-line growth; discipline versus agility; data versus creativity; short-term price promotions versus long-term brand-building; global scale and standardisation versus local differentiation. Leaders find the sweet spot and make tough calls on how to play across the spectrum of choices.

Branding in a value-challenged world. In recessionary times, it's even more important to invest in brand-building, since it is a time when trade-down and commoditisation gain momentum. Brands have to sharpen their value propositions (performance/price) and have to be relentless, with continuous innovation and creative ideas.

Believe in the power of ideas. Ideas remain the energy of our industry. They fuel innovation and spark creativity. Our job is to combine human insight with creativity - and "the big idea" holds all this together. The media may vary, the technology may change and the platforms may proliferate - but the big idea remains indispensable.

Fragmentation versus integration. We live and operate in an increasingly multichannel and multimedia world - in-store/online/mobile/TV/radio/outdoor/print/digital/social.

It's not as much about shifting among fragmented choices; the trick is how to best integrate across multiple platforms.

Servant leadership. To be of best service to my organisation, I strive to provide clarity of strategic direction, help find systemic sustainable solutions and simplify the complexities that crop up all around us. My job is to serve from the bottom, not direct from the top.

Empower and engage. We can get mired in so many things. Empower decisions to be taken at the lowest effective level. Engage the boss on matters that are big, breakthrough or broken.

Demand excellence. "If you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it." (W Somerset Maugham)

No one has a monopoly on excellence. Whatever talents we have been blessed with, others have in different forms and amounts. Be humble in victories, for there will always be things to learn and people to learn from.

Developing the next generation. We tell aspiring brand managers to "leave a brand stronger than when you got it". It's the same philosophy with organisations - find people better than you, and leave an organisation that is stronger than when you got it.


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