Deb Henretta, Group President-Global E-Business, Procter & Gamble


What makes Leaders successful?:

  • Leaders must be able to work successfully in teams
  • You have to stay grounded in the traits that have always made leaders great – having a vision, inspiring others, and executing/implementing the vision
  • Leaders must embrace failure, learn from it, and do so quickly

Being a Good Mentor:

  • Sometimes mentorship requires tough love… the most important mentoring that you can get is constructive criticism
  • The best part of mentoring is the opportunity to learn and grow
  • It is important for a mentor to provide stretching expectations and room for growth
  • Mentors have to want help and provide opportunities



Deb, even though we all have agency in our careers through the choices that we make, others can play an invaluable role in helping us discover our talents and strengths and how we can use them to add value. Can you tell us about a leader who has been instrumental in your career?

A.G. Lafley gave me my first big break at P&G. I’ve worked for him in different capacities throughout my career; we think alike because he has taught me everything that I know. My career opened up because of his “leaning forward” with me when I was a relatively unknown and very junior manager.

At the time, not too many people had any idea what I was capable of, but because I had already worked under A.G. for a number of years, he sensed I had what it would take to bring disruptive change to a business that was in a 10-year decline, and gave me the proverbial head nod.  He put me in charge of P&G’s baby care business, as a Global President, and my success there that just opened up the rest of my career.

I am forever grateful in terms of the skills that I developed, because I couldn’t be where I am without that golden opportunity to show what I could do. And I did do it – turning the business around in just 2 years and starting a growth trend that continues today, a decade later. 

In taking on the challenge of turning around a declining business, some would say that you took on a pretty big risk. What did you see as the opportunities for the company? How did you prepare yourself to embrace potential failure?

I remember when they told me that I was making the move. As a General Manager, I was relatively junior, and so, as anyone would be with a big change, I was very nervous to lead the business as a President. I wondered whether or not I had the skills or the capabilities to deliver what was needed. But, A.G. was eager to make a big change with the business vs. how it was run in the past, and he realized that it was best to take a risk and hope that I – as a new mom – could bring some new insights into the business.  But he also made it very clear that my consumer insights and my brand building expertise landed me in the position.

I have to say that as the job was explained to me, and as people showed me the logic as to why I was recommended for the role, and where they thought I could add value, it was actually a big confidence builder, because it was work I knew I would be good at. I went into that job acknowledging that I had strong leadership skills as well as first-hand knowledge of the product category:  at the time, I still had one child in diapers, which helped my team trust my input.

However, at other times in my career I have definitely had to embrace failure. The key about failure is learning from it, and doing so quickly.  You’re going to make mistakes, but can you figure out that you made a mistake fast enough, and be agile enough to change course in time? What can you learn from that experience so that you don’t ever let it happen again?

P&G’s baby care business was in a 10-year decline before you took the helm. You turned it around in just 2 years and started a growth trend that continues today. How did you first approach the business?

When I started this new role I literally had the team share everything about the brand with me, all at once. We reviewed the holistic brand-building effort – all the products, the marketing, the print ads, and all the running television copy. It became immediately clear to me what we needed to do. We needed to get out of the factory and into the nursery.

While we had an outstanding diaper, it was unfortunately very plastic-feeling because of an outer coating that was designed to keep urine in. And, it featured mechanical tapes on the sides to hold the diaper together. As a mother, you would pick that diaper up and say it doesn’t feel right. The tapes were too sharp, and if you used diaper rash lotion, the tape would stop sticking.

The graphics on the diaper were terrible, too – a cartoon bear holding an umbrella over his head. I remember sitting in this first meeting with the product development group and looking at these diapers and saying, “I don’t know how you did it, but you managed to create an ugly bear, and that’s really hard to do!” But they were so focused on the mechanics and the functional performance of the diaper that they weren’t looking at the softer, aesthetic benefits – the brand building elements that would really endear a mom to the brand.  And so that’s where we started our changes.

This idea of “endearing a mom to brand” is a wonderful one.  Of note is – you were also a mom to young kids at the time. So, you were in a sense, representative of your market. And you moved the business from an engineering-focused one to a customer-centric one.

We moved to a softer, more cloth-like diaper, and replaced the mechanical tapes with flexible Velcro fasteners. Then, we licensed usage of the Sesame Street characters for Pampers. Moms loved Elmo and Cookie Monster on the package! That was such a huge ‘aha’ for our engineers, who couldn’t understand why mothers weren’t only concerned with the diaper’s technical performance.

“Out of the Factory and into the Nursery” turned into the rallying cry for everything we did. We had to make sure that we weren’t just looking at the brand through a product development mode, but equally through the lens of a mother in a nursery with her baby. I was there for four years of awesome profit growth, and the business is still growing.

It’s interesting that you talked about how A.G. gave you the initial confidence, and also very good feedback. He laid out the rationale for why you were in the job and why he believed you could do it. Giving constructive positive and negative feedback is something leaders can overlook.  How does doing that well correlate with good leadership?

Absolutely, and sometimes mentorship requires tough love. Sometimes people think that the mentor’s role is only to be there supporting the individual, but the most important mentoring that you can get is constructive criticism. I listen to some people talk about the role of mentors and worry that they go into this relationship a little bit wrong because they’re only expecting advocacy. They miss out on the opportunity to really learn and grow, which is the best part of mentoring.

Constructive criticism can help you take your game to a totally new level, and if you have someone who is providing that kind of feedback for you – the good, the bad, and the ugly – that’s how you become the best that you can be. Having a mentor who has very stretching expectations for you is another important aspect of that relationship; if he or she doesn’t help push you to growth, then your growth step might be too small to make a difference. In my case with Baby Care, I was going into a business situation where A.G. had said to me that I was expected to turn around ten years of decline: that was quite a stretch expectation!

Additionally, I appreciate that A.G. and my other mentors always had very helpful attitudes. It was all about “What can I do to help?,” and I have to tell you that there were very few times where I went to him and asked for help when he didn’t deliver. He would also provide me with unexpected opportunities. For example, any time he was meeting with a consultant he would invite me to talk to them for an hour. I never would have thought to ask for an opportunity like that, but he was there to offer it to me.

If I think about turning the tables and being a mentor today, these are the same things I try to do for people. I try to be the one who always stretches my mentees to get to a completely different level of performance instead of just being there as their cheerleader. Because I’ve seen what good mentoring is like, I want to be a good mentor myself.

Leaders are only as good as their teams.  What does it take to have the right people in the right positions on the team?

When I go into a job, I’m a firm believer in getting people into the right seats on the bus, even if that means that some people have to get off the bus. This can be difficult, but is very important, because if you don’t have a team where everyone is heading in the same direction with you, this can hold back the momentum – and the plan – you want to move forward with.

When it comes to teams, I always value and appreciate that I have people to bounce ideas off of, and A.G. has been a great sounding board for that too. He has always had a valuable perspective of people and their skills, so that’s another way to think about the roles of teams too.

Continuing along this train of thought, recruiting the right people is so key to the success of a team, project, and company.  Often, companies think about this primarily in terms of experience and competency but they overlook the importance of culture fit.  How important is it to recruit for culture fit as it is to recruit for superstar talent?

At P&G we have what we call our PVPs. The PVPs stand for our Purpose, Values and Principles. It creates the “What we are, what we’re trying to be” and it’s the culture piece we use and think about as we recruit. Our principles and values are things that we center around; our company purpose is to touch and improve the lives of the world’s consumers.  We know we aren’t going to cure cancer or stop a nuclear disaster, but our whole commitment is to improving consumer’s every day lives. So, if we can make the water that they drink a little bit cleaner, if we can make the surfaces that their children are touching a little bit more germ-free and clean, or if we can make the diaper a little bit more sanitary, that’s what we’re committed to.

Many of the principles that we work by are things that speak to character and integrity. We want people to understand that we are only interested in hiring employees of the highest character and incredibly high integrity because that is how our culture works. P&G values employees who are willing to deliver against very high business standards in terms of the quality and consistency of the products and services we deliver, but also against the quality and consistency of our business conduct.

And while we know we need strong leadership, this skill must be balanced with the ability to work together in teams. An individual is not going to make anything happen at P&G alone – he or she has to work with a multifunctional team in order to get a product launched, or to get a new marketing campaign developed, or to get a sales program announced, and so we need people who have a good balance between leadership and collaborative skills. That’s also an important part of our culture.

So, throughout the interview process, we try to ask questions that help us get a sense of who we are speaking to. As they explain their leadership accomplishments or what they’re most proud of in life, we look for things that demonstrate to us that we’ve got people of high character and of very high integrity.

Success is what you make of it regardless of what position you hold in the organization. Everyone has value and can add value. What advice can you share with our readers about the foundational elements for achieving success?

One of the things I’m wrapping my mind around is that when you look to the future, there are some pieces of leadership that are going to stay the same based on historical strengths, but there’s also a new wave of leadership coming. You have to stay grounded in the traits that have always made leaders great – having a vision, inspiring others, and executing/implementing the vision. These are tried and true, and will be there forever.

However, you cannot be a successful leader today unless you are also competent and courageous. Competence covers the basic leadership skills, but importantly pushes people in this new world to be faster and more agile with their strengths. Then, there’s the idea of more courageous leadership that is emerging. I think as we look to the future, the leaders who are going to be the best and deliver the greatest results are going to be those with the intellectual courage to do the right thing: to consider new ideas, to confront tough business issues, or even to confront other leaders who aren’t themselves doing the right thing. This is going to be a hard skill for leaders to learn, because there hasn’t been such a premium placed on it before.  But it’s coming.

In order to solve problems, such as turnarounds, effectively, we need to understand the topography of a problem – the context, the interdependent parts and the various stakeholders.  Can you share with us your approach to problem solving?

I think it starts by identifying and having common goals. We work to operate P&G around the principle of creating shareholder value, and the only way to do this in the consumer industry is by delighting the consumer.

For me that begins with understanding the landscape and defining the business problem you’re trying to solve. From that, you need to find an aspirational purpose that has both business and human components – what are you trying to do for the business, what are you trying to give to the consumers. Also, what will you do for your employees and stakeholders as you build a greater business purpose?

With the pressures that currently exist in business today, every industry and businessperson has to be working towards common good, or delight, and there are two sides to this. I always tell my son that you earn the privilege to do good work – charitable work – by being a reasonably profitable player in your industry. In my mind, these go hand in hand because it’s the profits that allow you the ability to have a bigger purpose or meaning. So solving problems for me is about identifying both the business and aspirational levers, and solving with both the profit and charitable good, so to speak.

Who else has been instrumental in your success and life?  How do we look outside of our careers to find the advice and wisdom that we need to succeed in our careers?

I’ll have to say my lifelong mentor, my mom. My mom was a nurse, but she ran the New York State Sudden Infant Death Foundation for many years. Even though she worked on the nursing end and not so much the business end, she approached it with a business eye. So I was able to watch my mom in nursing leadership positions. She was also an educator at a couple of different universities, and ended up being the associate dean of admissions for the University of Rochester nursing program.

In all of her jobs I was able to see her breaking new ground in nursing leadership. Her advice, coaching, and her suggestions through the years, even though we were in two completely different fields, were hugely helpful. It never occurred to me that a woman couldn’t be successful in business or any other field she wanted to work in, because I watched my mother be very successful in her chosen field. That was a really important mentoring phase that started in my school days, that I never want to be remiss in because I don’t think I would’ve had what I needed going into P&G were it not for the role modeling and mentoring that she provided me with through my school years and then in the early days of my career.



Deb Henretta, P&G’s current Group President, Global e-Business and former Group President, Global Beauty, has led the company’s world-wide Beauty business with a portfolio of more than 50 brands including iconic brands like Olay, Pantene, CoverGirl, Clairol, Head & Shoulders, Max Factor, Old Spice, Safeguard, Secret, SK-II and Wella. This business has a global footprint with brands sold in more than 150 countries.

Deb brings to the Beauty business a deep passion for brand building, an intuitive understanding of Beauty, and a track record of sustainable business results. In the company’s fiscal year 2013/14, Deb’s leadership of the Beauty Sector resulted in the strongest profit performance for P&G Beauty in the past five years. Prior to this role, Deb was Group President, Global Beauty Care, from 2012–2013. After only nine months on the business, Deb grew Beauty Care sales to a three-year high and reversed a four-year profit decline with a strong innovation pipeline and focus on productivity.

Previously, in her role as Group President of Asia, P&G’s Asia business doubled in size between 2005 – 2010. While in Asia, Deb established Beauty Care as a growth engine for the region with Hair Care and Prestige Skin Care emerging as two of Asia’s fastest growing businesses. Her leadership propelled four brands (Pampers, Pantene, SK-II, Head & Shoulders) and two markets (ASEAN, India) to Billion Dollar status, and drove China and Japan to multi-billion dollar status.

Prior to her assignment in Asia, Deb led the global turnaround of P&G’s Baby Care business delivering four consecutive years of global top-line and bottom-line growth on Pampers, P&G’s biggest brand—results not seen in more than a decade and starting a growth trend that continues still today.

Deb is consistently recognized as an influential business leader, including seven consecutive years on Fortune magazine’s US and international rankings of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business. In 2014, Deb was also named as one of WWD Beauty Inc.’s Beauty’s 50 Most Influential People.

An effective voice in global business, Deb has been actively involved in defining and driving business progress linked to economic development for emerging markets. In 2008, Deb received a US State Department appointment to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)’s Business Advisory Council (ABAC). In 2011, she was appointed Chair of this 21-economy Council, becoming the first woman to hold the position. In this role, she advised top government officials including President Barack Obama & former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Deb also founded the ABAC Women’s Forum.

As a member of Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB) from 2007 to 2013, Deb contributed to the growth strategies for Singapore, and was selected to serve on the EDB’s Economic Strategies Committee between 2009 and 2011. For her work with both groups, Deb was awarded the Friends of Singapore Public Service Award by Singapore President Nathan in 2011.

In 2013, Deb was elected to the Board of Directors of Corning Incorporated and to the Board of Trustees for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Effective 2014, Deb also serves on the Board for the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC), and as Vice Chair of the PCPC Executive Council.

In addition, Deb serves on a number of university advisory committees, and is a passionate advocate for health and education of children. As part of P&G’s Live Learn & Thrive program, Asia delivered more than 325 Million liters of clean drinking water to Asia’s disaster-struck areas, improving the lives of more than 100 million children during her 7 years running Asia. In 2010, Deb’s efforts were recognized with the dedication of a Vietnamese school in her honor.

Deb has a BA in Mass Communications from St. Bonaventure University, and an MA in Advertising from the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. In 2010, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by St. Bonaventure University.

Deb is married to husband, Sean, and is mom to three children, Caitlin, Connor and Shannon.