Innovation 101

There are few people who rank as my business heroes, so I was honored to hear one speak recently at Ernst & Young’s Strategic Growth Forum in Palm Desert, Calif.

During his decade-long tenure as chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble, A.G. Lafley engineered one of the most dramatic transformations in business history. Under his leadership, sales more than doubled, profits quadrupled, P&G’s market value exceeded its starting point by $100 billion, and he moved the business into every corner of the globe.

Even more impressive is that when Lafley assumed the top spot in 2000, P&G had 10 billion-dollar brands, and when he retired in 2010, the company had 23.

Lafley recognized that innovation wasn’t just developing new products; it was also improving upon existing products and brands as untapped opportunities. He listened to the customer, engaged partners through a system of “open innovation” and focused on delivering value.

About six years ago, I ran across a small piece in a national financial publication titled “Eight things I wish I’d known when I started my career.” The brief caught my eye because it cited Lafley as its source. The short list struck me as both simplistic and powerful, so I cut out the small piece and taped it to the wall next to my desk, where it remains today. And, when I need a quick shot of inspiration, I often refer to Lafley’s wisdom.

Among the eight items on the list are “know yourself,” “change is inevitable” and “see things as they are, not as you would like them to be.”

Taking Lafley’s advice, I am seeing things “as they are.”

As you may have noticed from the cover of this month’s publication, our big story is coverage of the 2010 Weatherhead 100, presented each year by COSE and Case Western Reserve University. Our supplement profiles the winners and their amazing stories of growth.

The class of 2010 is composed of a strong group of leaders who understand what it takes to build sustainable growth. These honorees see their industries as they are, not as they would like them to be, and they have adapted accordingly.

Beyond the stories contained in this magazine, Smart Business reached out to all of the honorees and asked for their views on leadership, innovation and growth. More than 50 responded, and their answers are online at our special Weatherhead 100 microsite, which you can access at www.weatherhead2010.com.

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