Besides former CEO A.G. Lafley and current chief executive Bob McDonald, one P&G executive arguably is more responsible for P&G’s innovation transformation than any other: Jeff Weedman.
Weedman is P&G’s vice president of global business development and oversees its outside-looking Connect + Develop enterprise, with duties that include licensing and commercialization of the company’s 300 global trademarks and 28,000-plus patents and other intellectual property. The 56-year-old Indiana native began with P&G in brand management. Here, he shares his career advice with brandchannel readers:
What’s your best advice for up-and-coming marketers — and how might that be different from what you would have said two years ago, or even five years ago?
Connections are absolutely essential in today’s business world. They probably always were, but it took me a long time to fully appreciate their importance. And I suspect that they’re going to become even more important going forward.
This is especially timely to me because I’ve had a lot of conversations with colleagues seeking help for themselves or their kids or friends — and in each case, I’ve actually known whom I want to direct them to. I have a reputation for being highly connected. It’s like, “If Jeff doesn’t know the person, he knows someone who does.”
There’s both an internal and an external element to this. Quite often, people focus only on external connections. And of course it’s often not what you know, it’s who you know. That aspect takes a bit of discipline in terms of, when you meet people, how do you make a connection with them, how do you learn enough, and how do you put it in your memory bank so that at right moment it pops out?
Everyone you meet is a potential connection. You need to develop the discipline to remember them and put them in your system. It’s not just collecting names, but what is their area of interest and specialty?
But the internal aspect is one that people often ignore. People think that companies move in robotic ways. But quite often, when you’re trying to sell something internally or learn something about it, your natural instinct is, “Do I know anybody in that department? Does anybody I know, know anyone in that department?” It’s like when you’re going to go on vacation: Do you know someone who’s been there before? You may not know about the culture — on vacation or in a company. Rapidly collecting contacts — so that people can guide you, help you, or forewarn you — is a critical skill.
And then of course once you figure out who you need to connect with, you need to handle it well on a personal level, or things aren’t going to happen. And that means connecting on a personal level, even if you can use all the social technology in the world.
What are the pros and cons of forging connections on Facebook and LinkedIn vs. in-person?
It depends on the individual. Those are wonderful tools that allow interaction and connectedness, but ultimately the connection has to be much more personal than, “I saw you on Facebook.” You can have a perfectly acceptable relationship that way, and it’s a great way to reach out beyond the days of Rolodexes and shoe leather, but you’ve got to do more than that.
How has all of this worked in your career?
The most personal way is the mentorship I received from some now-retired people at P&G. The one who promoted me the most was Steve Donovan (P&G’s former President, Global Beverage and North American Food & Beverage). At first he was two or three levels above me, and then later I worked immediately for him. I’d work for him, and then he’d throw me out and make me go work for someone else, and then he’d reel me back in.
When I was working in the [P&G] laundry business, my peers included [former chairman & CEO] A.G. Lafley and John Lilly, who later left and [former global business units president] Susan Arnold. I came up with those people. I remember the time when Arnold had something presented to her, and she asked, “Has ‘The Weed’ looked at this?” And all of the sudden I became a path to important proposals that dealt with external development. That came because I had shared experiences with these people.
Last year I read an interesting book on Israel that discusses how Israel became such an entrepreneurial environment. A lot of it stems from their compulsory military service: Everybody knows everybody else because they have served we because they have served together, and they can make those connections – and in a microcosm, in companies that is what you seek to achieve.
So how do you network and build meaningful connections?
It’s always having an attitude of openness to the possibilities and then making the most of what flashes in front of you because of that. For example, recently [Ohio Gov.] John Kasich came to town, and we were in the middle of a meeting with him about driving economic competitiveness compared with Tennessee. And I was mentioning that we shouldn’t be worrying about Tennessee but instead about the U.K. and Singapore.
Then there was an embarrassing thing: I had forgotten to turn off my cell phone. So in the middle of the meeting, it goes off, and it’s the fight song from [the University of] Michigan, where I got my MBA. The lawyer from across town is a big Michigan guy, and he gave me a secretive thumb’s up!
Every place I go, I look for connections. That includes the boards of not-for-profits. I went to a retirement dinner a while ago for some long-time friends, and there is [former P&G CEO] John Pepper. He says, “Jeff, do you have anything to do with Tide’s dry-cleaning franchise? I’ve got a friend who owns some.”
Connecting is just a way of life. When my son is traveling with me, he says, “Dad, do you, like, know someone everywhere?” Connections can help you get better data, and better information, and make better decisions if you use them.