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Procter & Gamble CEO: Why activist investor Nelson Peltz is wrong for our board

Nicole Sinclair
Markets Correspondent

Procter & Gamble (PG), the biggest household and personal care company in the world, has spent the past five years cutting $10 billion in costs and shedding more than half of its brand portfolio. But that’s not enough change for Nelson Peltz’s hedge fund Trian Management, which initiated a proxy fight for a board seat in July, with an upcoming shareholder vote on Oct. 10.

P&G CEO David Taylor, who took the helm in 2015, told Yahoo Finance that Peltz is wrong for the board, saying the company’s brands — including Pampers, Tide, Crest, and Gillette — are already undergoing an important transformation.

“I respect Nelson as a successful investor and he may be the right board member for some food companies that are in the start of a transition,” Taylor said. “P&G is deep into a transformation that is working and when it’s working you want to stay the course and execute it. You don’t want to start over and go on a different track.”

‘He’s advocated we need a lot of small brands … That’s just not the case’

Taylor added that Peltz’s track record doesn’t align with P&G.

In the past, Peltz has held successful activist campaigns at Kraft, Heinz, and Cadbury. And his most recent push at Pepsi (PEP) did result in a board seat (with no proxy battle) though the company did not pursue his initial proposal (a spin-off of its snacks division).

However, Taylor said that some of the ideas Peltz advances — including proposing a holding company with no corporate research & development (R&D) — is a mistake. Taylor emphasized that Peltz’s proposal to break P&G into three separate operating units would be unproductive.

“We want to see the share price go up, but it’s very important how you do it and it’s very important that whatever actions you take are good for the short, mid and long term,” Taylor said.

Peltz, whose $3.5 billion outstanding shares amount to about 1.5% ownership in P&G, also advocated for more emphasis on small brands. But Taylor says this is misplaced.  “What’s growing fastest for us in e-commerce is the big brands because consumers trust them,” he said.

When it comes to corporate R&D, Peltz has accused the company of not innovating quickly enough —contending the company has developed no new brands since Swiffer 20 years ago. This is particularly pointed, considering the growing prominence of small brands like Dollar Shave Club.

But Taylor said innovation has happened within brands, pointing to “Always Discreet” in the adult incontinence area and “Unstoppables” under the Downy banner.

“You can go category by category and you see P&G innovations growing categories and delighting consumers, often done under the parent brand name because the brands are trusted by consumers,” Taylor said. “What you want is innovation that matters, that makes a difference in consumers’ lives, grows the category profitably. P&G does that every year.”

Even though the majority of the proposals that Peltz detailed in his September White Paper largely mimic P&G initiatives that are already underway, Taylor said his influence would be disruptive.

Brand strategy

Taylor said the company’s core initiatives in terms of messaging and story-telling with its core brands are important to the bottom line long-term… and to keep consumers coming back. He added that many of these initiatives don’t fall within the traditional financial and strategic parameters that Peltz considers.

“Peltz is a hedge fund guy and doesn’t understand our longer term initiatives when it comes to brand strategy,” Taylor said.

Taylor pointed to, for example P&G’s successful “Like a Girl” campaign with its Always brand. This responded to the brand’s discovery that 50% of girls have a significant drop in confidence at puberty. The campaign has had 550 million views.

“We have used our voice in advertising for growth and for good,” Taylor said.

he company’s “Share the Load” campaign also received high engagement. Centered around its Ariel brand in India, it focused on sharing responsibilities in the household between men and women.

Yahoo Finance markets correspondent Nicole Sinclair sits down with David Taylor, Chairman & CEO of Procter & Gamble at Yahoo Finance studios

Improving performance

Peltz pointed out that P&G’s total shareholder return (TSR) has underperformed its consumer staples peers and the S&P for as long as 10 years. Meanwhile, its 2.3% organic sales growth CAGR since 2011 has also lagged the 3.7% growth for its peer average, with market share down in some key categories and geographies.

However, P&G has highlighted the progress the company has made since Taylor became CEO in 2015. Total shareholder return of 24% since Taylor took over as CEO is 2% higher than the peer average. And the company’s fourth-quarter report at the end of July was better than expected, with 13% operating income growth and 2% organic sales driven by beauty, grooming and fabric/home care.

In the end, Peltz says his track record speaks for itself — but P&G doesn’t see him as adding value to the company. In a recent statement, P&G said, “Peltz also has a history of behavior and hidden agendas that result in derailing companies.”

Nicole Sinclair is markets correspondent at Yahoo Finance

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