Deb Henretta has 30 years of CPG experience in her past. So what does she think about the industry’s future?



Deb Henretta is joined by Charlie Schilling, GM of General Assembly’s Enterprise business, at a Q&A event on October 12.

On Wednesday, October 12, the General Assembly enterprise team hosted Deb Henretta, the former Group President of Procter & Gamble, for breakfast and Q&A at GA’s New York campus. Deb is a 30-year veteran of P&G (ret. 2015) and ran various businesses–including the Global e-Business, Global Beauty, and Asia, among others–during her time there. During breakfast, she mentioned having 20,000 people under her.

Here are 5 tactics we learned from Deb about how CPG marketers and HR leaders can prepare their businesses for the future.

1. Focus on the “massive middle”

Big corporations, like P&G, have thrived for decades using traditional business models. So what’s the best way to teach a billion dollar brand new tricks? Focus on “the massive middle,” Deb says.

In most cases, the c-suite and senior executives “get it”–experimentation, data acumen and customer-centricity are critical to their future success as leaders. The millennial workforce grew up with digital; they also get it.

But then there’s the “massive middle” group, that doesn’t want to move. These marketers have experienced success in their career by mastering traditional marketing practices and over-indexing on perfection as opposed to speed. It’s very, very hard to change behavior that has led to past promotions. Companies need to laser focus on developing these people: understand their capabilities gaps with assessments and provide in-person training to shift mindsets.

2. Pinpoint the business problem using data in real-time

A "war room" at P&G.

A “war room” at P&G.

In order to illustrate the power of using data real-time in decision making, Deb told a story from her days running P&G in Asia. She and her team were faced with what initially appeared to be a huge problem with their shipments–retailers all over India were not receiving a variety of different P&G products they needed to stock their shelves.

Luckily, P&G had just installed a data “war room”–a room covered in screens and staffed with data scientists. With the right technology and staff, Deb’s leadership team was able to quickly see that they were actually facing an issue with the delivery of laundry products to one retailer in one city, not a large-scale logistics failure. What would have taken them several weeks to understand using our old legacy data systems, had been identified in a matter of minutes.

Key to this success story, Deb said, was a young data scientist whom she had promoted to her leadership team. Having him in the room at the hour of crisis was a game changer in understanding the enhancers and inhibitors of her business. Now, at leadership meetings, the team was able to quickly diagnose issues by getting to the root cause. This level of insight enabled more traditional leaders with the tools to make smart decisions and pivot quickly.

3. Be prescriptive using unstructured data

Structured vs. unstructured consumer data is an unfamiliar concept to many. Simply put, structured consumer data is organized and easy to use and manipulate, while unstructured consumer data is messy and collected from sources like videos, texts, and tweets.

Most companies use structured data only, which limits their view of their customers. Incorporating data from digital channels, even if they are unstructured and take more effort to manipulate, will bring you closer to the end customer and inform new business models to test. But data only turns into dollars if you know how to use it — see tactic #2!

4. Watch E- Commerce trends in Asia

The Alibaba homepage on desktop.

The Alibaba homepage on desktop.

Alibaba is the most popular destination for online shopping, in the world’s fastest growing e-commerce market. Transactions on its online sites totaled $248 billion last year, more than those of eBay and combined.

What is the secret behind Alibaba’s success? Deb contends that mobile e-commerce has especially taken off in Asia because the continent was never “wired” the same way that the US and Western Europe were. They skipped the stage of Ethernet and home computers–they jumped straight to mobile and feel inherently comfortable shopping on a small screen.

In addition, thanks to government investments in wireless and mobility accessibility (like those in India and in Singapore), trends will continue to drive consumers to purchase on their phones. As e-commerce becomes a growing priority for CPG companies in 2017, how can learnings from APAC translate to US business?

5. Find the right external resources


General Assembly’s framework for success in the “digital age.”

Digital transformation is complex and requires companies to go beyond their walls. (See “External Focus” on our success framework above.) By the time most large companies decide on what capabilities they need to build in their organizations, those skillsets have likely shifted under their feet! In addition, most companies cannot quickly and effectively build and execute training to close these skill gaps in real-time.

Seek out a partner that specializes in the skills you need to build. Deb said, “I wish I had found GA years ago to support training needs for my core e-Business.” The pace of change is so fast in the digital space, large companies need to rely on outside experts and disrupters whose core business is to sit on the cutting edge.

Want to hear more from Deb and learn about becoming a GA member?