Colgate-Palmolive case study

The challenge

Peter Laforest joined Colgate-Palmolive in Sydney as a senior brand manager in 2009. In 2014, he now leads Palmolive Body Cleansing’s worldwide marketing as Associate Director, Personal Care, Global Marketing—a brand that attracts almost A$1.5 billion turnover annually for the business. 

From his new office in New York, Peter reflects on his career and pinpoints 2009 as a turning point.

It proved to be a pivotal year; a competitor had recently released a liquid hand wash range that saw Palmolive’s market share drop by almost 15 per cent.

At the same time, Peter was moving into the role of Marketing Manager. As he transitioned up and across, he was selected to attend the Leadership Development Program (LDP)® through MBS-Mt Eliza Executive Education.

“It was very well timed,” Peter says. “I was progressing in leadership and the program offered an opportunity to invigorate my skills as I moved into a broader role.”

The solution

The program’s focus on self-awareness, strategy and connecting across the business enabled Peter to take swift action back at work.

He formulated three core goals for returning to work: enhancing his approach to managing others; increasing collaboration across silos; and moving Australia to being an innovation centre for Colgate-Palmolive.

Peter drew from the program’s communication methods to focus on instating alternative and flexible approaches to meetings, including regular ‘walk and talks’.

“It’s liberating and a major deflator of tension,” he says. “You can provide feedback in a more constructive, informal environment. It made a huge difference to the team and the way we approached communication.”

He also initiated relaxed, fun meetings across the entire marketing department that focused on taking time to celebrate successes, as well as sharing lessons learned.

The meetings quickly broke down the silos within the department, reducing work duplication, and increasing morale, efficiency and communication.

With a more positive culture established, Peter’s team was able to effectively tackle the broader issue of reclaiming Palmolive’s market share over the following 18 months.

The impact

“We dedicated ourselves to innovating our way out rather than dropping our price,” Peter says. “We needed to innovate fast and innovate right, all under enormous pressure.”

Building on the culture of collaboration and sharing that was developing within the business, Peter’s team adopted a ‘grab and go’ and ‘give back’ ethos. “We didn’t need to reinvent the wheel,” he says. “We were able to draw on the learnings and ideas from the Palmolive team around the world and evolve them further to meet the exact needs of the Australian market.”

The initiative paid off, with the release of a new dispensing format for the liquid hand wash range that brought premium luxury to the Australian mass market. “Our foaming range shifted something mundane, like washing your hands, into something irresistible and aesthetically beautiful,” Peter says.

From neck-and-neck competition, Peter’s team successfully re-established Palmolive as market leaders, with 40 per cent market share, almost eight points higher than their nearest competitor.

“It was an enormous team effort; something we couldn’t have done three or four years ago,” he says. “I’m thankful to the Leadership Development Program for being such a solid experience—it’s made a lasting difference.”