Why disruption isn’t always a bad thing

CPG executives discussed the best way to fight off disruption during at a panel discussion moderated by Dan Mack, executive director of the Mack Elevation Forum, at the Future Leaders Summit.

One of the biggest challenges facing companies in the last several years has been the near-constant rate of business disruption. Changing consumer attitudes and delivery methods are upending countless industry sectors and businesses. A recent panel discussion of CPG executives — including Ansell VP marketing North America Carol Carrozza, Paris Presents chief customer officer Bob Wiltz, GSK Consumer Health Care chief customer officer Dennis Curran and Blistex VP U.S. and Canada Kevin Brunory — outlined how their companies are adapting to the new normal of constant change and upheaval.

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“Every five to seven years, industries get flipped,” explained moderator Dan Mack, founder and executive director of the Mack Elevation Forum, setting the table for the discussion. “You have to be really good at facing challenges; you have to love reinventing yourself.”

For Ansell, since its target audience tends to shift every several years, the company is constantly spurred to innovate in the categories they compete in. “I deal with so much of this [because] every five to seven years my customer ages out, so I constantly have to reinvent and rethink,” Carrozza said.

According to Carrozza, the changing CPG landscape allows not just for new solutions, but also creates the opportunity to reinvent and retry programs and initiatives that may have been unsuccessful in the past, as technology and con sumer attitudes change. “One of the things that I’ve discovered ... is that what didn’t work 15 years ago may work today,” she said. Carrozza pointed to Ansell’s recent launch of an e-commerce site for its condom business, which previously hadn’t taken off, given that most purchases in the space were what she called “distress purchases,” made at the last minute in a brick-and-mortar store. Now, though, e-commerce has been “magnificently successful” for the brand, she said.

One of the key ways companies can stay ahead of disruption — as their competitors fall behind — is by anticipating future shopper attitudes and needs.

“We’re actually spending a lot of time thinking about what 2025 looks like from a portfolio perspective, where we should be playing, any of the emerging trends,” GSK’s Curran said. “We’re [testing a lot of] different technologies to figure out how we can better [engage] with consumers, and we’re trying to fast-track them.”

Besides the consumer-facing parts of an organization, Curran noted that looking to the future also means changing the way that organizations develop talent internally.

“As I look at the organization and think about talent in the future, for a sales organization, I think the days of just being a good sales person are over,” Curran said. “I would tell you becoming a general manager and having an understanding of all the functions — and a somewhat deep understanding, not to be the expert, but to understand what makes them tick — is really important. The other element is collaboration, not just across your internal organization, but how we’re partnering with our retail partners.”

Growing amid constant disruption also can mean understanding what is working with current practices and building on that, while also building a new generation of talent that contributes to a business’ ability to adapt by fostering growth among employees who show promise.

“When I think about disruption, ... the first challenge is ‘What do I believe is my competitive advantage?’” said Paris Presents’ Wiltz. “I break that down and ask ‘What’s rare, valuable, sustainable [and] can’t easily be replicated?’”

According to Wiltz, that typically boils down to two factors — technology and people. “On the people side, [you have to ask yourself,] ‘Who are my high potentials?’ First I want to align with their career plans. ... The second thing is to make sure that I’m investing in them, surrounding them with other high potentials and always make myself available to them.”

And though much of the discussion revolved around how to avoid disruption, Blistex’s Brunory said that his company is embracing it and looking to bring its own bit of “positive disruption.”

“Any time you’re asking someone to do something they’re not used to doing, ... it’s disruptive. ... Disruption [is] really not a bad word,” he said. According to Brunory, Blistex spends a lot of time trying to make positive disruption happen. “You’ve got to find a way to build positive disruption so that it creates momentum that you can use to build new best practices. As we create new ways to do things and we solve issues together, we seek ways within a business planning cycle — quietly on our own and then with our partners — to find a way to ask ‘What’s the next area of momentum for our categories and for our business relationships?’ Positive disruption is what fuels the innovation that makes growth happen.”