Monday, October 6, 2003

Former dancer takes giant leap

By Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer

MOSCOW - Daniela Riccardi rises from her office chair and sweeps her arm across a map of Russia.

It's a big sweep, because Russia's a big country, 6.6 million square miles, nearly twice the size of the United States. And Riccardi, a 43-year-old Italian native and professionally trained ballet dancer, manages it for Cincinnati's Procter & Gamble Co.

"I think we're wonderfully positioned here," she said. "I think it's a perfect match." Indeed, industry observers say P&G and Riccardi, regarded in Cincinnati as one of the company's rising stars, are a 21st century power couple.

Since moving from Caracas, Venezuela, where she ran fabric and home-care operations in Latin America, the P&G lifer arrived in Moscow two years ago.

She's shepherded the marketing of new brands and opened innovative distribution channels. She's also maintaining profits and producing annual sales growth of 50 percent.

"She's been just a tremendous hit for us in Russia," said P&G vice chairman Kerry Clark, Riccardi's boss and head of global market operations.

Riccardi started her P&G career in Rome in 1985, just out of Universita degli studi di Roma with a political science degree. She has never worked for any other company. She was transferred to Brussels in 1991, where she met her Colombian-born husband Juan-Pablo Cavelier, who also worked at P&G.

Fluent in four languages and eagerly soaking up Russian ("I try to defend myself, at least"), Riccardi speaks of her love for new countries and cultures.

Question: What was your first reaction when P&G approached you about Eastern Europe?

Answer: I did not expect Eastern Europe and I did not expect Russia. ... I was also excited by the challenge. Russia is really the place to be, along with a few other developing markets like China. I was a bit concerned about how life was going to be for my kids (4 and 7 years old). They only speak Spanish and have grown up in the tropics. But it's been very easy for them. It's a good nurturing place for the European person, from an art point of view. The music and the ballet and the theater.

Q: You're a ballet dancer. How does one get to Procter & Gamble from being a ballet dancer?

A: I did it professionally for many years. For the ballat, you go in at 8 o'clock in the morning and you go out at 8 o'clock at night, and you do everything there, your school and all your classes. Most of the people don't go to university. I wanted to do more things. At some point in time, I decided to continue doing ballet as a passion, and go to the university.

Q: When you were growing up, did you see yourself in business?

A: Not really. I saw myself going around the world. I was very curious. I loved the idea of traveling, of knowing new things. I studied for a diplomatic career. A big enrichment in life is to know different places, to know different cultures, to try to do something for other people.

Q: And marketing has turned out to be different than your original impression?

A: Oh yeah, for sure. At Yale we had classes and lectures on marketing at different companies like Pepsi. Young people were taking jobs and getting to travel in several parts of the world. When I came back, I thought that marketing was not so much door-to-door. I wanted to join an international company. So I joined Procter and started a new life.

Q: Do you see yourself part of senior management in Cincinnati some day?

A: Maybe. I think I really feel part of senior management somehow, obviously not on the 11th floor yet. I think I have a very challenging and important job, a job that is a priority for the company. I feel the company very closely in what I am doing here. I think every assignment is a test. ... The cultures in which we work are often very, very different from the cultures we've grown up in, and very different from the American corporate culture. To me, that is one big challenge and a big test to me, as a leader.

Q: Do you think it's significant, a woman executive running a territory this big and this important to the company?

A: I think it's noticeable in the company. We have more senior women, I think, than other companies, but we don't have any senior women running a country. I was also probably unexpected to the people here. I think it's worked out pretty well. I remember the boss that offered me this job. He told me it would be easier for a woman than for a man. Particularly, I think he meant, for the external work in Russia. They are used to women working. I think probably the vast majority of the female population works and they work in important positions.

Q: Obviously, you are mid- to high-tier when you look at prices in the Russian market.

A: We used to be top tier only. In the last two years, we have made a significant strategic intervention. This market is very peculiar. It was generic brands only before capitalism started. There were the Soviet brands, and there was one for each category. You would have detergent in a white bag and that would be it. And when the multinational companies came here, the market quickly turned into only top-tier. Two years and a half ago when I came here, we reanalyzed the market from scratch and realized that 70 to 80 percent of the market, in every category is made up of mid- to low-tier brands. Some (products are) locally produced, and some from multinational companies that realized the way to overcome the crisis was to put into the market lower-priced products.

Q: P&G does about $500 million annually in Russian sales, growing nearly 50 percent a year. Can that be sustained?

A: I think this is a market where we need to go with very aggressive growth, that's what I told my management. ... We have very fast growth. But we also had a very fast decline during the crisis. Since then, the objective has been to go back to where we were. We are there now, and the next goal for us is to get to a billion (dollars in annual sales). Our 2005-06 (goal) was to get over a billion, and I think we are going to be able to get there one year ahead. That's our motto, "Reach for the Stars."

Special Report: P&G's Russian Frontier

Second of three parts

Making cleaning products, two worlds meet
Former dancer takes giant leap

Booming market bears potential and challenge
It's not like Kroger: 'Stores' make selling a challenge
New economy holds instability and risk
Overseas sales have big impact back home

Coming Tuesday

Before going to Russia, P&G tested its mettle on the consumer-products battlefields of Western Europe.



Carmakers accelerate incentives
Making cleaning products, two worlds meet
Former dancer takes giant leap
Don't look now, but you're fired
Eckberg: Daily Grind
Making it
Morning memo

Sunday's business report