Procter & Gamble CEO David Taylor Talks Equality, The Economy, and Why Leaders Wear Masks

16 minute read

(Miss this week’s The Leadership Brief? This interview below was delivered to the inbox of Leadership Brief subscribers on Sunday morning, June 14; to receive weekly emails of conversations with the world’s top CEO’s and business decision makers, click here.)

As the United States—and the world—continues to reckon with systemic racial injustice, David Taylor, CEO of the $67 billion multinational consumer goods company Procter & Gamble, acknowledges that “it’s time for action.” As a start, P&G announced in early June that it was launching a “Take On Race” fund to support organizations pursuing equality: the company made an initial $5 million contribution. More work, however, lies ahead. “Far too often, the burden of seeking equality rests on the shoulders of those most marginalized,” says Taylor. “This simply won’t work.”

On the sales front P&G, in its 183rd year, is one of the rare companies thriving in the pandemic. Quarantined consumers have been stocking up on P&G products like Pampers, Mr. Clean and Charmin. P&G has also adjusted its plans to meet emerging COVID-19 needs. Early on in the crisis, for example, a team at a P&G facility in Boston figured out that the plastic in Gillette packaging could be used to make face shields for health care workers. “We don’t make face shields,” says Taylor. “But they said, ‘We can. We could repurpose this, change this, work with somebody here’ and now we’re going to ship 300,000 of them by the middle of June.”

With sanitizer in short supply, a P&G plant in Lima, Ohio, repurposed some of its perfume-making equipment for detergents and fabric softeners. “They got the World Health Organization formula and then within days were making sanitizer in 55-gallon barrels,” says Taylor. The company is now pumping out 45,000 liters of sanitizer a week. “We’re not selling any of it,” he says. “We’re giving it away, or we’re using it in our plants and our operations to stay safe.”

Taylor, a Charlotte, N.C., native, has spent his entire career at P&G—he started in 1980 out as a production manager in North Carolina plant that made adult diapers. He recently joined TIME for a video conversation from his home office in Cincinnati: he outlined P&G’s response to the unrest engulfing the country, shared concerns about new COVID-19 outbreaks, and talked about how he stays energized. (Hint: running up and down stairs between meetings helps.)

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(This interview with Procter & Gamble CEO David Taylor has been condensed and edited for clarity).

How do you lead a massive organization through what the country is going through right now?

It’s important, as a leader, to connect personally, meaningfully and empathetically with all employees. It’s also a time for action. Far too often, the burden of seeking equality rests on the shoulders of those most marginalized. This simply won’t work. The change we need is broad and deep and requires us all to be active—as friends and colleagues, and as allies and advocates.

Specifically, what is P&G doing internally?

We have and will continue to build a diverse employee and leadership base to reflect the consumers we serve, and foster an inclusive, respectful, welcoming and affirming culture. We are ensuring we view our business practices through an equality lens. We are also continuing to create safe spaces for dialogue within P&G, living our values, and demonstrating our humanity.

And what is the company doing externally?

It’s important that we step up to help create the world in which we want to live. So, P&G and our brands are stepping up our ongoing efforts to advance equality for all people, and especially, right now, for Black Americans who face racism and bias. We established the P&G “Take On Race” fund with an initial contribution of $5 million to help fuel organizations that fight for justice, advance economic opportunity, enable greater access to education and health care and make our communities more equitable.

What have you communicated to your workforce this week?

This is an important moment for listening, empathy and action. I reached to P&G people not only as a leader, but also as a concerned citizen, father and husband—reinforcing my personal continued commitment to equality and justice and to affirm P&G increased efforts in this area.

We know that our success is grounded in the success of our employees, consumers and communities. All of them.

Far too often, the burden of seeking equality rests on the shoulders of those most marginalized. This simply won’t work.
- Array

Shifting to the pandemic, do you have concerns about a second wave?

If I would wish anything more broadly for society is to not dismiss this if you don’t have it or know somebody that has it. Because it is a very transmissible disease. And when you’re outside your home, just be conscious that even if you’re not wearing a mask, the risk of you infecting somebody, if you’re asymptomatic, is real. I am concerned when you see the things that you see on TV. Many, just out of frustration of being cooped up, may put their guard down. And the risk is that we start to get the seesaw. We get better, then worse. Better, then worse. And certainly, for the health of all citizens, and all people, I hope people take it very seriously.

P&G has manufactured millions of masks during the pandemic. What do you think of the President’s actions relative to masks?

What I will say is I do believe that leaders need to role model the desired behavior. So when I’m out at the grocery store, always a mask. P&G people, they recognize that role modeling matters because others look to what leaders do. And so that’s why in our plants, our plant leaders should wear masks. It’s important for all of us to recognize that people will look to others for signs of what’s the best behavior. I’ll leave it at that.

Let’s get the toilet paper questions out of the way. On March 12th, toilet paper sales increased by more than 700% year-over-year, making it the top-selling product in the country for the day. Why toilet paper?

It goes back to a very simple thing, which is if there’s uncertainty ahead and you’re not sure you’re going to be able to go to a store, think of any product in your home that if you didn’t have would be a problem. If you don’t have certain things, there’s a good alternative. But when you get to basic care of yourself, there’s not a lot of substitutes for toilet paper. What would you do for three or four days without toilet paper?

So this was a demand surge, not a supply issue? For the record, there is no shortage.

Absolutely. Supply has actually been fine. Supply is up. It’s largely over now, but there was a short-term spike where people started hoarding and stocking up. If you buy a three-month’s supply then all of a sudden the shelves get bare.

I understand that it’s a surprisingly complex product to manufacture.

We have a proprietary process that we developed many years ago that gives you the softness and strength that you want in Charmin. It’s a wet strength so that it does its job, but then it dissolves so that it can go down the toilet. And Bounty is a product that if you’ve ever gotten it wet, it doesn’t fall apart. So it’s got absorption, but it doesn’t fall apart when wet. So it’s a different technology. It is high-speed, very technical manufacturing. The technicians and managers that run it are very, very skilled.

Has this experience changed your view about “just-in-time” inventories and how much cushion needs to be built into the system?

Not largely. I’ve been with P&G 40 years and I’ve seen maybe a couple of these over four decades. So, the risk in over-rotating back to big inventories is you tie up a lot of assets and there’s inefficiency there for the whole system.

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What other products that you make are seeing strong demand?

There’s a long list of things. Anything that deals with personal or family safety, we’re seeing spike. We’ve seen Mr. Clean do well. Even things like sleep aids, ZzzQuil, because people are at home and there’s the stresses of all of this. That category is growing faster than it was before.

What about razors and razor blades and shaving cream?

That category has been negatively impacted. And it’s because people when they’re at home, you’ll generally see less shaving. If you normally shave each day before you go to work, you may say ‘I’ll do it every two or three days.

What is your personal outlook for the economy?

I’m not an economist, but I do believe that it’s going to be a difficult period until we get to the vaccine. And even then, the vaccine may or may not be one that’s always effective. Certainly, my hope is for the fastest recovery. My belief is that we’ll be in a bumpy period for a number of months until we get probably into early ’21.

Your facilities are deemed essential and are operating at full capacity. How are you operating safely?

For the plants we’re operating, and our distribution centers, and our offices, we’ve learned from our experiences in China and in Italy, early on, when it was very bad there, in both those places, that we have to be very disciplined. When you come in at the door, temperature checks. If there’s any issue there, stay at home and get checked out. If you don’t feel well, stay at home. If you’re in a high-risk group and uncomfortable, stay home. If you have a comorbidity that causes you to be concerned, stay home, and we have very good plans and benefits to take care of people.

Then, if you clear the temperature check, you have to have a mask on; we have masks available for our people in plants. And then once you’ve cleared temperature checks and you have your mask, then we’ve gone to social distancing throughout our buildings.

China is your second largest market: Are you worried about the U.S.-China relationship?

Certainly. I think it would be very bad for the U.S. and for China and for the world, for the two largest economies to decouple and not have free and open trade. The rhetoric that we see at times is very concerning. My hope is, and I don’t have perfect knowledge, my hope is that there are behind the scenes, thoughtful, respectful dialogue, and negotiations going on. I do believe change needs to take place on some of the things like intellectual property rights. We’ve seen progress. And we believe dialogue and negotiation is much better than decoupling.

Hunger is an issue you’re passionate about. Why can’t the richest country in the world, our country, feed all of its citizens?

I spent eight years on the board of Feeding America. And it’s one of the questions, frankly, and one of the challenges we put forth to both lawmakers and to a number of other donor companies to say we collectively can do better. I don’t know the latest numbers, but over 15 million children are food insecure. There’s a lot of food that’s not harvested because there’s not a way to get it from the field to a person that’s hungry. There’s not an economic model. And those are the kind of things that Feeding America is working on addressing. There’s a food system for all of us with money. There needs to be a food system for those that for a period of time are unable to care for themselves, and that’s what the food system that Feeding America and the food banks are working on.

What was your first job at P&G?

My career is atypical. I started as a shift manufacturing manager in Greenville, North Carolina on one of our paper businesses. I worked there for five years. There were really powerful career journey learnings to work in a manufacturing environment, on shift. On third shift, nobody cares what degree you have. They care whether you can get that line back up. And it was just amazing to see the way the team would come together when you valued each other for what you can do. Not for what title you may have or what degree you may have.

What did the plant make?

The brand was Attends, we don’t have it any more, and it was for adult incontinence. So it was a big diaper. A mega-Pampers, if you will. An adult diaper.

What is the least favorite part of your CEO job?

It’s big meetings, lots of people and lots of Powerpoint. And then people feel they have to share everything they know. I’m really not interested in being presented to a lot. I’m not wild about sitting down, review, review, review. What I want to do is talk to people and add value where I can. The other thing that does happen at times in big companies is there’s a lot of filtering. And I really value when you go to a plant, or to a sales office, or to an R&D Center, talking to the person that’s closest to the consumer or the customer as opposed to going through something that may have been filtered and vetted too much for alignment.

Where do you feel you really add value?

What I don’t believe is in micromanaging. My job is not to manage. It’s to lead.

There’s two or three things that I think are most important, where I can add value because the people that run the businesses do a great job: On talent, to make sure we have the right people in a team that works together. And it’s probably one of the things I put the most energy into everywhere I’ve been in my career. I believe so much that when you have a diverse team with a lot of different experiences, and different nationalities, genders, and, it’s critically important, and you create the environment — the inclusion — where they truly feel they can come as themselves and speak truth to power.

And one of the reasons I’ve been successful is not because I have the answers. I’ve learned many years ago, I don’t have to know the answer. I don’t have to be right. I have to get the right thing done. Many people try to be right. I just need to ensure the right thing gets done. And it’s a powerful thing to believe that not one of us is smarter than all of us.

The second is a focused, clear, understandable strategy. When we don’t perform well, it’s not that we don’t have good people. It is for whatever reason, either our strategy is not focused, which we’ve had cases in our company where we tried to chase too many objectives, too many mouths to feed, or we created a structure that inhibited people’s creativity and capability to contribute.

It's a powerful thing to believe that not one of us is smarter than all of us.
- Array

Any lessons that you picked up from mentors?

I want to be present for everybody I meet with. For somebody coming in, often it’s a big deal. Even though it’s just David, it’s still the CEO of P&G. And part of what you want to do is to be fully present. I’ve learned that from some of the great leaders that I’ve worked with in the past on how great I felt when I met with them. And they actually have seemed like they paid attention to me, and listened.

You have a lot on your plate: Any time management tips?

I generally focus less on time management. I believe — and I learned this from a course I went to many years ago — in energy management. If you’ve got the energy, you’ll make good use of your time. So that’s where you get up, wake on time every day. Drink a ton of water. And if you get a little bit tired in the day, especially with jet lag, run up and down stairs, and you’re back on again. Anything that kicks your heart rate up to keep your cognitive facilities clicking is going to help.

You run up and down stairs between meetings?

Oh yeah, I’ll do that often. My office is on the 11th floor of the building. The cafeteria is on the 5th floor. I haven’t used the elevator, I can’t remember the last time, to go to lunch. I run down 6 stories, get your lunch. Run up 6 stories, and then it sets you up for the afternoon.



BUSINESS BOOK: Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

AUTHOR: David Baldacci.

APP: Both the app and device would be the Fitbit because it’s the way I help keep myself (healthy). I’ve got it on right now, and I make sure I get my 10,000 steps. I almost always get my 70,000 by the end of the week. If I had to do a ton on the weekend, then it’s the way I keep myself honest.

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