Jon Moeller ’86, MBA ’88, left, president, CEO and chairman of the board at Procter & Gamble, speaks with Andrew Karolyi, dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, during the Durland Lecture, March 27 in Statler Auditorium.

P&G CEO Jon Moeller ’86: ‘Constructive disruption’ creates value

Procter & Gamble boosted its organic sales after a sweeping organizational restructuring that significantly changed its portfolio and structure, Jon Moeller ’86, MBA ’88, president, CEO and chairman of the board at P&G, told students, faculty and staff during the 2023 Durland Lecture, held March 27 in Alice Statler Auditorium.

Moeller spoke with Andrew Karolyi, dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, in a fireside chat format for this year’s lecture. Audience members included graduating students from across Cornell who have accepted job offers at P&G.

For nearly 35 years – since he graduated from Cornell – Moeller has worked at the consumer products giant, where his many leadership roles included a decade as chief financial officer before he took on a concurrent role as chief operating officer. In 2021 he was appointed president and CEO; in 2022, he also became chairman of the board.

P&G’s “constructive disruption” journey began when Moeller was CFO. “That office has responsibility for strategy,” Moeller said, “and we were not producing the kind of results we were proud of. So we significantly changed our portfolio as a company. We exited categories that I used to call ‘flavors, fragrances and fashion’ and focused our portfolio on daily use categories, where performance drives brand choice.”

P&G cut its participation from 16 product categories down to 10 and reduced the number of brands from 170 to 65, he said. To ensure all P&G brands rose to the level of its new “irresistibly superior” standard, the company committed to invest in its products’ performance, packaging, marketing, sales and value.

“We assessed that only 30% of our sales were for products that were truly irresistibly superior,” said Moeller. “We had a lot of work to do.” As CFO, a big part of Moeller’s focus was to create the financial flexibility to make those strategic investments.

In addition, Moeller pushed to transform P&G’s organizational structure. “We constructively disrupted the entire company, everything about it,” he said.

The company’s reorganization and portfolio makeover proved to be a resounding success: According to P&G’s 2022 Annual Report, organic sales in North America increased from an average of 2% to 8% in the three years following its organizational design change. “We tell investors: These were an integrated set of choices that together grow the business and create value,” Moeller said.

When Karolyi asked Moeller about his leadership philosophy, Moeller spoke about creating the right environment for his colleagues and employees to maximize their capabilities.

“I’m one person out of 100,000 in the company, so I start from a leadership standpoint by thinking about the others,” he said. “I have a very strong belief in the capability of human beings and what they can accomplish – incredible things, when they’re energized and enabled. When you add diversity to that equation, when you have people from different life experiences, different sets of knowledge, coming together and working on the same problem and opportunity, it’s an exponential multiplier.”

Moeller, who earned his undergraduate degree in biology from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in addition to his MBA at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, paid tribute to Cornell as the place where he “developed a very high level of intellectual curiosity,” a quality he calls “an important part of staying current and relevant in today's rapidly changing world.”

He also learned to work very hard at Cornell, he said, and the combination of intellectual curiosity and hard work provided the foundation for his success.

Karolyi asked Moeller what message he would share with students in the audience as they embark on their careers. Moeller qualified his response, saying: “We’re each different as individual human beings; I wouldn't be so presumptuous as to pretend that I know what advice resonates with you or is good for you.” Instead, he spoke of his own situation, referring back to his own P&G career story. “I talked about learning and contributing in an ecosystem whose values were compatible with mine. If I were in your place,” he said, addressing the students directly, “that’s what I’d be looking for. I’d want to find a situation that scratched all of those itches, because I know that as a person, I could be most productive and successful in that environment.”

The Lewis H. Durland Memorial Lecture is hosted by the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business. It was established in 1983 in memory of Lew Durland, treasurer emeritus of Cornell, who served as the university’s chief financial officer for more than 25 years.

Janice Endresen is an editor for the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

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