Empathy served as the central theme Monday night as Procter & Gamble Chief Executive Officer Bob McDonald discussed his company’s dedication to both the design of useful consumer products and to its social responsibility across the globe. McDonald spoke to a crowded room of students, alumni and other attendees about P&G’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water project at Kenan-Flagler Business School as part of the Dean’s Speaker Series and in conjunction with UNC Chapel Hill’s two-year campus initiative “Water in Our World.”
In keeping with Kenan-Flagler’s focus on the bottom line and the greater good, McDonald’s lecture highlighted empathy and social responsibility as integral aspects of Procter & Gamble’s global business model. With its Children’s Safe Drinking Water project, Procter and Gamble has developed a packet that purifies 10 liters of water in just minutes. To date, the company’s project has delivered more than 5 billion liters of clean water and has saved more than 28,000 lives in 65 countries. McDonald hopes the project will save one life every hour by the year 2020. As part of this project, the company has partnered with UNC in the Clean Drinking Water Partnership, involving a number of groups and departments across campus.
McDonald says that Procter and Gamble’s dedication not only to its products but to improving the lives of people around the world stems from a strong set of core values within the company. These values translate into branding Procter & Gamble products in a way that emphasizes their efficiency and potential for significantly enhancing daily life. For example, when launching its diaper brand Pampers in Africa, McDonald says the company took into consideration the fact that many women in Africa are unable to afford disposable diapers for everyday use. However, by marketing the diapers specifically for overnight use and “12 hours of dryness,” Procter and Gamble highlighted that the diapers would help babies sleep through the night, which is better for their long-term development. The brand soon became a success in a previously closed market.
Even as Pampers has provided Procter & Gamble with the opportunity to expand its sales in the developing markets of Sub-Saharan Africa, markets McDonald says are poised for takeoff, it has also allowed the company to exercise its social responsibility in yet another arena. Through a partnership between Pampers and UNICEF, Procter & Gamble has worked to vaccinate mothers and babies against neonatal tetanus, a program that has already effectively eliminated the disease from eight countries. McDonald expects the disease will be eradicated entirely by the year 2015.
With Procter & Gamble’s presence in 180 countries around the world, McDonald also discussed his goals for the future of the company and for deepening and spreading that presence even further. In the coming years, McDonald says Procter & Gamble will look to grow its footprint in developing markets, already well underway with around 10 new factories either just opening or under construction. The CEO emphasized the importance of these markets because 95% of the predicted world population growth of almost 800 million people by the year 2020 is expected to be in developing markets.
However, in closing, McDonald came back to the idea of deep empathy for consumers. In a world that is increasingly interconnected, being attuned to different languages, religions and cultures proves crucial to both business success and honoring social responsibility, McDonald says. “Being a globally effective leader is different than being a leader in our own country,” he says. “You have to have empathy, and that has congruence with our business.”