January 04, 2011, 12:38 PM — This interview is part of ITworld's regular "How I Got Here" series which focuses on the career path of successful IT professionals.
Guy Peri is a member of Pathways, which is a proven leadership development program, designed to prepare VPs, IT directors and manager for the many challenges they will face as future CIOs and IT executives. The program recognizes the individual needs of each participant and provides custom offerings for advancing skills specifically in leadership development and business strategy. The Pathways program was created by the CIO Executive Council, which is a global community comprised of hundreds of the world's leading CIOs who together form the most unbiased and reality-tested peer-advisory resource available to the profession.
Guy Peri started out his career at Procter & Gamble as a Laundry Business Analyst. And no, that doesn't mean that he was in charge of making sure you separated your delicates from permanent press -- but in the end, he helped P&G sell a lot more laundry detergent by gaining a better understanding of how and when people use it.
Did you have any idea that you would want to do this sort of thing back when you were in high school?
I had no idea. I always loved technology. It started with the IBM PC Junior, doing BASIC programming, and thinking it was the coolest thing ever. I don't remember how much memory it had, but I'm sure my watch has more memory than that whole computer had. Then in tenth grade I was asked to join a group called the Academy of Finance, where they selected students they thought would do well in business. It had a bit of technology to it, and it really cemented in my mind how technology and business together can be a pretty powerful combination. I got into college at the University of South Florida, in Tampa, and ended up majoring in that field, and back then it was called MIS (Management Information Systems).
Any good college stories to tell?
I remember the good old COBOL programming days where you would work hours to compile your program, and then you would have a period that was misplaced and the whole thing wouldn't compile. In my senior year, my professor gave us all the specs for a program, and I delivered it exactly to spec, but got a "C". I said, "But that's exactly to your spec, how did I get a C?" He said that the logic I used in the program wasn't as efficient as it could be. So it really taught me that it's not only about the output, but it's about the logic that you put into it. It was an interesting lesson.
Tell me about the decision to go back to graduate school.
I tell folks I'm a technology geek at heart, but honestly, it's all about the people interactions. That's why I decided to go back to graduate school and get my MBA. While I loved technology, I was missing the human interaction, and the application of technology with business problems. When I have career discussions and people ask me about my journey, I say I see myself as a business manager first, and then as having a passion for technology second. If you look at it that way, and really immerse yourself in the business to understand the business, you can enable it better versus a technology-looking-for-a-problem approach. So I got the MBA and got a lot more interaction with people, and then P&G came knocking right out of graduate school.
Is there any one lesson you can point to in terms of interacting with people in business, and the importance of that?
Yes, I think in our projects here at P&G, here in the Global Business Services organization our job is to meet with business leaders to understand what their problems are. So we have lots of examples where we are innovating very iteratively with them. I'll be meeting with general managers or presidents, understanding what their problems are, and it's that back-and-forth iteration and understanding the business problem that lets me come back with a potential solution. That's been an interesting and successful model. The old way of doing things is to get specs, and then take six, twelve, or eighteen months and come back with the program. Back then, that worked, but the environment wasn't changing.
" I see myself as a business manager first, and then as having a passion for technology second. If you look at it that way, and really immerse yourself in the business to understand the business, you can enable it better versus a technology-looking-for-a-problem approach. "
So it's not just seeing things as a technology problem to be solved, but understanding the business needs behind it.
Exactly. It's a business problem first. Technology may or may not be the right answer. Maybe it's process. Maybe it's something completely outside the technology realm. So really understanding the business challenge, and knowing the business as well as your business partners, has always been a success-driver for me. That helps you to speak the business language, and to effectively communicate.
Is there an example of a particular project you were working on, where it went beyond being a simple technology challenge to having to understand the business behind it?
Yes. One of the solutions we recently put in was one of the highlights here. Our business is dynamic and we really need to understand how the markets are evolving. So we started to understand what the business problem was, how fast the markets are growing, and what our share in the market would be based on the plans and all the different dynamics. We leveraged some technology to do some visualization, and some analytic modeling, and what we found was that technology was a part of the solution. But the other part of it was getting really clear on process and ownership of different building blocks from different business partners, who really needed to drive their own individual parts of the plan. It was about making sure we had the right accountability and ownership from a process perspective, and that was key to delivering the solution. So it was a combination of technology, with what we call a decision authority matrix that was very process-focused, to ensure that we had the right processes in place to deliver that solution.
You went to P&G right after grad school. Did they recruit you, or did you approach them first?
They recruited me. They came down three times to Florida, where I was 10 minutes away from the beach. And I get a phone call from the P&G recruiter the first time, and he said, "Hey, I'd like to talk to you, I saw your resume on the database." I said, "Well, if you have a job in Tampa, I'm happy to talk to you." He said no, they were in Cincinnati. The second time they called, we had a similar conversation, and I said, "Okay, if you have a job in Florida, I'll consider it," and he said, "No, we're still headquartered in Cincinnati." The third time, the guy said, "Listen, this is the last time I'm calling you, but honestly I just want to talk to you, let's have lunch. I'm from Florida too, and I'm not going to pretend that Florida is Ohio, but we have something you'd like." So I said to myself, I like the transparency of this guy, I'll go have lunch with him. Next thing you know, he brought me up to Cincinnati, I met the people in the company and I've not looked back since. It's really the people that keep me here.
What was the first position they tapped you for?
My first position was as a laundry marketing analyst.
What does a laundry marketing analyst do?
Essentially what they do is understand what was happening in the market. We did a lot of business analytics or data analytics. We brought a lot of data together, made some analyses and did recommendations to the business on different things like pricing strategies and product portfolio.
Within the Procter & Gamble world, what has been your biggest challenge?
One of our biggest challenges is given the scale of our company and the dynamic nature of the markets we compete in, is just to bring all of the data together. We have over 300 brands across 180 countries, so you can imagine the amount of data that we have to bring together to drive some meaningful insight. One of the biggest challenges is how we bring that together in a way that's integrated and meaningful.
In that process, have you found that you are overcoming a lot of data silo situations where you have data that is isolated and you then have to pick that up and integrate it into your business intelligence system?
Absolutely. The company has evolved, so even if you look at how the company is operating, we're operating very much regionally and category-wise. 10 to 20 years ago, we started operating at a much more global scale. By definition, you have these natural data silos that were created, because they were simply needed to run the way the model was historically. Now we need to start integrating. And of course, it's all the classic challenges that silo data has, which is, they don't report off the same hierarchy, the data quality standards aren't the same, etc. What our Global Business Services unit has done is to create this global master data that gets everything standardized in terms of hierarchy, and that has allowed us to really drive some pretty significant integration and to look at this business more globally.
So what's the best thing about working at P&G?
We have a unique strategy of promoting from within. I'm not sure how many other companies have that. Our future CEO is somebody that's hired in at the first level and eventually makes their way up to CEO, and as a result of that, the company has a very deliberate investment strategy in building its people. It's not only the training and mentors I've been fortunate to have, but also the assignments. I had a four year assignment in the Middle East, I was based in Israel for four years and had a wonderful opportunity to run the business analytics in the region, where I was able to go to 23 different countries. With those kind of experiences, you grow professionally a lot as well as personally. Going outside the United States really opens your eyes to lots of different perspectives.
It does. You're never the same after you spend some significant time overseas. So was most of your time there in Tel Aviv?
Yes. I was based in Tel Aviv for the whole four years, but I was responsible for the region, so I was traveling to all of the Central European countries and the Middle East and Africa. Halfway through, I was also given Asia.
What's one of the most interesting experiences you had covering the Middle East territory?
Where do I start? It's like there's one after another. I had a six month assignment in China. I was going to Southern China, and at the end of this six month assignment, they offered me this beautiful meal. The Chinese culture is, if you are offered something and you say no, it's very offensive. So we walk into this restaurant and there's caged animals that you select, and there were three different grades of snake. They said, "do you want the high, medium, or low." I had no idea how to evaluate a snake, so I picked the medium, and I was completely shocked. They went up to the table and cut up the snake in 23 different pieces, and it was still moving on the plate. At the end of the meal they have this delicacy, where they take the snake blood and put it in a shot glass. They presented it to me. I'm a pretty adventurous eater and I think part of the experience is to eat the food and learn the culture, but I had to draw the line at the snake blood. I couldn't do it. Fortunately, right as they offered it to me, and they were staring at me and waiting for my reaction, I saw a colleague from Japan and I turned to him and said, "You've been here six months and you've done wonderful work, you do the honors." He drank the shot and couldn't be happier, so it was a win-win situation there.
You're able to get a completely different perspective on everything in a situation like that.
Yes, in every country I visited, I did a consumer home visit, where we go into a consumer's home to really understand what a day in their shoes really is like and what their needs are and how they live. Every one of these was eye opening. You saw that they had a monthly income of maybe $200 a month, and how a family of five living in a hut were quite happy. In the end, everyone has the same vision. They just want to have a good life and let their children have just a little bit better than the lives they were living. Everybody makes do, but it really puts some great perspective on things, not only in terms of how they think about P&G products, but also just how we're really fortunate to be where we are in the U.S.
One thing I've noticed about living overseas is that here in America, we separate business and social life. Over there, it's never separate. Business and pleasure is always together. What was your perception of that?
Absolutely. If you don't have the social relationship, the business doesn't happen. There are lots of examples of that, I think probably in Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Without the personal relationship, there is no trust and confidence to pursue the business discussions. Getting to know the individual and them getting to know me outside of work was really useful.
Tell me more about your present position.
I've been in my present position for about 18 months as Director, Business Intelligence. We have in this Global Business Services organization, analysts that are embedded across the different business units, and we develop capabilities to help our business make better, faster decisions. Filippo Passerini, our CIO and president of GBS, was recognized as Information Week's Chief of the Year. He's been an amazing mentor and leader to me personally, and a number of other folks in the organization. That's just part of his style. That's why I invest a lot of time in mentoring others, because I know how valuable it is for my career.
Is that mentoring part of P&G's internal process?
Absolutely. Because we promote from within, we know that developing that next generation is fundamental to P&G's success. We have a lot of mentoring. We have strong leaders. I think the talent that we bring in is what keeps me in the company. It's very diverse and well-educated, and also very open to new ideas and pushing the envelope. It's an enriching environment.
Besides being mentored yourself, you also mentor others. What's that process like?
I tell my mentors I probably get more out of it than they do. We set ourselves up with people that either seek you out personally or where I think I can add some value. We have meetings, some of which are formal and others are just casual lunches. It's for sharing perspectives, talking about challenges, and trying to get a different angle on a problem that somebody's trying to work out.
What's your favorite part of the job now?
Two things. One is the direct impact we have on the business. It's really rewarding to see that you really are making a difference in how the business operates. The second thing is the interactions we have with such a variety of people, and being able to interact with these business leaders. It's like getting an MBA every day.
What advice would you have for young people just coming out of college?
Two pieces of advice I often give is, figure out what you're passionate about, and then find a career that delivers that passion. People often ask, how do you progress in a career? I think it's about three things: hard work, focusing on being the best person in that job, and continuously transforming yourself. I tell people that if in five years, I'm working the same way as I do now, by definition I'll be irrelevant. You always have to transform your skill set, transform how you work as an individual, and how you work as an organization.