Proctor & Gamble CTO on Innovation
"When you really listen to consumers, you often come out in a completely different place than you expected when developing a new product. As we work at creating and innovating, we work hard to articulate consumer needs."
A lot is at stake every time a company with the size, scope, and history of Procter & Gamble launches a new product or innovation. Millions are invested in making sure that the product meets a real need for consumers and that it can sell widely and profitably. In a business like P&G's there are big risks to be taken and big opportunities not to be missed.
Kathy Fish, chief technology officer for Procter & Gamble since 2014, is a leader in the company's development of new and innovative products, most of which are designed to sell on a global scale. Fish, a 1979 MSU graduate (B.S. chemical engineering; honors college) keeps her eye on the company's strategic goals and on sound methods of product development that match research to consumer need and demand.
In a recent visit to MSU during BroadWeek IV, Fish explained to MBA students the crucial role of innovation in high-stakes research and development at P&G. "About 60% of our growth is driven by innovation. We operate with excellence and discipline and at the same time create the future. We have to work with design thinking and a creative approach."
As chief technology officer, Fish is responsible for the company’s innovation program, which involves an annual $2 billion investment in research and development and nearly 8,000 global R&D employees.
During BroadWeek, Fish told students that product development research at P&G starts with the consumer. "We work hard to develop products that meet the needs of consumers so that they will want to come back and buy our products again. When you really listen to consumers, you often come out in a completely different place than you expected when developing a new product. As we work at creating and innovating, we work hard to articulate consumer needs."
Fish added that at a company of the size and scope of Procter & Gamble innovation always comes with the intense pressure of short-term success. Innovation must be continuous, as it always has been since P&G's founding 178 years ago. "You have to reinvent yourself to stay relevant in a time frame that long."
During her more than three decades at P&G, Fish has been involved in many major, highly successful product unveilings including the launch of Tide Pods, P&G’s 3-in-1 laundry pac. She discussed a number of P&G innovations including Swiffer Sweeper, WetJet, Crest Whitestrips, and the Gillette Fusion razor with flexball technology. Fish said, these are ingenious and useful products that “people didn’t know they needed until they had them but now can’t live without.”
Fish also spoke of the company’s need for continuous innovation of many kinds to satisfy customers and keep profits strong. “A common misperception is the belief that innovation occurs only in moments of serendipity. What makes P&G innovation unique is that it’s not just one year, but consistent performance over time.” And innovation delivers, Fish said, boosting sales across the world. P&G considers innovation part of the company’s DNA?it practically invented the concept of “new and improved.”
Since joining P&G in 1979, Fish has risen steadily through the ranks from product developer to her current position. As CTO, Fish says she will be focused on driving new capabilities and technologies to deliver discontinuous innovation that enables the long-term growth of the business.
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Author: Ben Kilpela