Scott Isenhart estimates that he’s followed a half dozen career paths. He started as an engineer re-tooling factory equipment. He enjoyed a stint as a recruiter before returning to lead an engineering team. Fascinated by marketing, he moved over to climb the ranks in brand management. Today, he heads the North American recruiting team at Procter & Gamble – the only employer he has known since graduating from the University of Illinois 27 years ago.
In fact, Isenhart jokes that he “got his MBA at P&G” through hard-won experience. His path is hardly an anomaly at the firm. P&G’s CEO, David Taylor, worked his way from plant management to brand management to the c-suite. Their journeys illustrate a differentiating approach at P&G: MBAs can customize their career paths because the firm operates from a “Develop-From-Within” philosophy. Here, they are viewed as the company’s most indispensable asset – and the training and day-to-day reality is geared to this talent strategy.
FIRM’S FOUNDATION IS DEVELOPING TALENT FROM WITHIN
“We need to hire the best-of-the-best,” Isenhart emphasizes in an October interview with Poets&Quants. “We can’t just rely on going out into the workforce and hiring people at different levels in their career. By developing people from within, we get the best people early on so we can coach, develop, and mentor them. That just plays itself out in the culture at P&G. We have to be inclusive and collaborative because if we’re not, we won’t keep our best talent.”
The company is serious about grooming employees internally, with the vast majority of its c-suite and department leadership teams rising up through the ranks. In fact, P&G is often referred to as a “leadership training ground,” based on the sheer number of alumni who’ve gone on to lead blue ribbon firms like Coca-Cola, Hershey, Levi Strauss, and Johnson & Johnson over the years.
What’s P&G’s secret to leadership? Not surprisingly, the firm invests heavily in formal training to continuously broaden their MBAs’ skill sets, build their leadership acumen and expose them to the best practices. However, the firm also maintains a coaching culture, which stems from its top-to-bottom world class leadership team.
IMPACT STARTS FROM DAY ONE
It is a strategy that’s heavy on hands-on learning and support. P&G operates from a 70-20-10 model, where 70% of training is based on experience, with the remainder devoted to coaching and classroom learning. The big wrinkle, however, is that MBAs take the reins on high profile brands and campaigns from the get-go, enabling them to learn faster and make an impact from the start.
“For interns and new hires, you’re given a high level of responsibility immediately and you’re surrounded by people who will help coach and develop you,” Isenhart explains. “We believe the majority of your training is through experiencing it – and experiencing it right from day one. MBAs even expect it more since they already have vast experience before they started their MBAs. Coming to P&G and being given a chunk of the business and running part of it as a manager is what they’d expect and that’s what we give them.”
Making it to Procter & Gamble has always been the mission for ambitious marketers. From fabrics and fragrances to soaps and supplements, P&G has been a staple in households around the world. Just look around your house. You’re bound to spot a dozen or more popular brands like Crest, Gillette, Tide, Ivory, Scope, Cascade, Puffs, and Old Spice in your cabinets. The company’s reach is almost immeasurable. While P&G once used soap operas to package its messaging, the firm is increasingly emphasizing social messages, such as its acclaimed Do Things Like a Girl campaign, which resonated with over a half billion people by championing the aspirations and individuality of young women.
Indeed, good citizenship has always been a core tenet of the larger P&G brand. Over the years, it has grown into a commitment to diversity and an inclusive culture. For Isenhart, meshing diversity – attracting the right mix of talent – and inclusion – leveraging their unique perspectives – has been a long-time passion. It is part of a winning business strategy that aligns with the company’s purpose, values, and principles (PVP, for short) – a code that emphasizes transparency, responsibility, and community in fostering culture.
YOU CAN TEACH MARKETING, BUT YOU CAN’T TEACH INTEGRITY
Another part of PVP involves integrity, Isenhart explains. While P&G naturally values leadership and intelligence, their hiring process also focuses heavily on uncovering character. Part of that, he says, is being a straight talker who is always looking out for the company’s larger interests. “As we’re making decisions,” he notes, “we want something holistic; we want the whole picture. If you believe we are doing something that isn’t in the best interest of the company, speak up – even if you may not be a leader. Straight talk is clearly embedded within our culture; it fits with all of our values: integrity, ownership, passion for winning, trust, and the leadership.”
Make no mistake: it isn’t easy to land a job at P&G – and that’s by design. Each year, the firm hires 100-150 American MBAs for full-time positions. However, each goes through a vetting process that includes several online and in-person tests that evaluate candidates’ figural reasoning skills and alignment with the P&G’s five core skills. For those MBAs who are chosen, the sky is the limit at P&G. “We look at that hiring decision as not only an entry level job, but something that builds into something with multiple roles and hopefully a career,” Isenhart explains. “Being a develop-from-within company, we’re making a very selective choice of who we bring in.”
The first step to getting on P&G’s radar, says Isenhart, is connecting with the company. He points to the firm’s MBA Brand Management Camp, which will be held for incoming first years next year from July 22nd-27th. An all-expense-paid program held in the Cincinnati headquarters, the camp enables MBA candidates to act as brand managers – with many receiving internship offers by its conclusion. In fact, most MBAs at P&G started through an internship at the firm. “We try to fill most of our needs through our internship programs, at least at the entry level,” Isenhart adds.
What skills does P&G value most? What can MBAs do to improve their odds during the recruiting process? What are P&G’s expectations for new hires? Find the answers in our exclusive in-depth Q&A with Isenhart on how P&G recruits and develops MBAs.
P&Q: What do you look for in a resume and background that many candidates might not know?
SI: One thing they don’t expect is that we hire for character as much as we’re looking for the leadership and intelligence. It’s very obvious when you’re engaging with a candidate in an interview or looking at their resume whether they have the complex leadership skills and experience. That’s the visionary and entrepreneurial leadership that we’re definitely looking for. We’re also looking for the intelligence: strategic thinking and data analytics, for example.
However, P&G is known for our purpose, values and principles (We say PVP internally). And we’re looking for people whose own PVP is congruent with those of our company. So we’re seeking people who want to make a difference and can promote diversity. But it also gets back to that character piece. When I say character, I mean integrity – and not just people who don’t lie or cheat. We’re looking for the more subtle aspects: the ability to build trust and being open and honest. We’re big on straight talk – we say what we do and we say what we mean. That’s what really sets P&G people apart.
So if I had to wrap it up in a bow, we hire for character as much as we hire for leadership and intelligence. On a resume, you can tell just by the words. Did they help? Did they coordinate? Did they manage? Or, did they lead? Did they champion? Did they envision? I am amazed how often you can get a good clue on a candidate just by hearing the verbs that they use to describe their experience. That’ll come out in an interview – same with intelligence. We also have assessments that weed that out. But those purpose, values, and principles – that’s pretty hard to pull out of a resume. We get that through the different questions we ask in an interview. We get that through our online assessments.
Clearly, corporate citizenship – someone who’s out there doing good by society and the environment – fits with our principles. Our values are “integrity, leadership, ownership, a passion for winning, and trust.” Some of those could come through in an interview or resume, but we also like to get at that in-person and through assessments.
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