Developing Organizations – Nurturing Young Leaders

I was twice charged with leading early-stage or startup subsidiaries for P&G in emerging markets. In the case of Pakistan, I started setting up the business from a small room in a hotel in 1991. In Ukraine, I was the general manager assigned to lead and grow what had been a small, distributor-run operation. In both cases, the subsidiaries grew to become operations of several hundred million dollars.

As I look back on what drove the successes, many factors come to mind, but none more important or consequential than how we went about recruiting, training, mentoring, and nurturing the local organization.

P&G has historically followed a policy of hiring only at entry level and promoting from within. Even in startup emerging markets, we were to follow the same approach. Consequently, a large part of the job for the four expatriate managers who were transferred from the U.S. to Karachi was to hire the brightest young local talent that we could find, and to train them to excel in their work.

I was often met with incredulity when I told local company partners that we would build the business in Pakistan with an almost entirely young organization of twenty-somethings, and we did.

But this came with a heavy burden on the very few senior managers who had been sent to Pakistan from the U.S. to set up the subsidiary. Each of us had to take on the tremendous workload of training and guiding these young employees for the first several years, until the first batch of new hires were capable of coaching their young organization several years down the road.

Also, and importantly nurturing the young organization meant that we had to maintain a very flat organizational structure, not only on paper but also in practice. The youngest new hire could just walk up to the country manager or the finance manager and ask a question or seek guidance. At times this wasn’t entirely comfortable for those who were starting to see themselves as “middle management.”

While this was hard work, it served the company well. As the business approached its 10th anniversary in the market, we started to develop large numbers of highly capable managers, even beyond the needs of the local subsidiary. Consequently, many of these young managers from Pakistan and Ukraine were transferred into important regional roles outside of their respective markets.

P&G has a very well-developed and disciplined approach to training new hires and experienced managers alike. What I learned was that this worked best only with the highest level of commitment by the top leaders of the subsidiary.

Early on in market entry planning, P&G realized the significance of developing a competent network of local distributors, as well as advertising agencies to launch global company brands in this market. We approached the company’s global agencies to set up affiliates in Pakistan, which they did. However, very often these were local companies not fully versed in P&G’s preferred approaches to advertising development. So it fell to me and a marketing manager who had also transferred from the U.S. to help train local advertising agencies.

For the first six months or so we spent 4-5 hours each day, typically 5:00 to 10:00 p.m., at the advertising agency offices to train them to conduct advertising review meetings, develop and present storyboards, conduct preproduction meetings, and more. As a result of this effort, as well as help from their parent global agencies, we ended up with highly competent local advertising agencies that played a big part in the company’s success in Pakistan.

We followed a similar approach to developing local sales and distribution capability. While it was our joint venture partner in Pakistan that was responsible for setting up the distribution infrastructure, P&G brought in an experienced sales team from the Philippines to train the local sales force over a six-month period. A similar approach was followed in Ukraine, where top management of our distributors was sent to “distributor colleges” conducted by P&G to train them in the company’s approach to sales and distribution fundamentals.

These investments in local organizational development have been the most critical element over the years in the success of P&G businesses in these emerging markets.

S. Qaisar Shareef

August 14, 2017