Photo of Gina Drosos at the Professional Women's Conference
Drosos was the keynote speaker at the 2012 Professional Women's Conference.

Even if you haven’t heard of Gina Drosos, chances are you’ve benefitted from her work.

As the head of Procter & Gamble’s Global Beauty Group, Drosos was the executive behind Cover Girl, Pantene, Gillette and more. Her 25-year tenure at P&G saw her overhaul brands like Olay and Old Spice, and take her unit from being a $200 million business to a $2.5 billion business.

And true to form, when she returned to her alma mater as part of Terry’s third Professional Women’s Conference, she didn’t just talk about good leadership practices, she showed what it looks like in action.

“The three key changes I’m going to highlight are demographic shifts, constant connectivity and the new workforce, which acts differently and is motivated differently than in the past,” she said. “Today’s business leaders must commit to being in-touch, to driving bold change and to evolving or even revolutionizing their company’s practices. I call this ‘leading from the outside-in’ and it means being outwardly focused, anticipating and leading change, partnering more than ever before, being quick to act, and motivating a changing workforce.”

She shared example after example of ways in which her team was able to identify new segments of the market, then create a product and a marketing strategy specifically for that audience.

“We launched a new version of Safeguard Soap last year called Prickly Heat. The insight, the fragrance development and the name were all designed by my team in Singapore for people who want to feel fresh even in the intense humidity of places like the Philippines,” she said. “It’s one of our best sellers. And the reason why is because it’s completely tailored to understand the local market needs.”

“Another example is brands like Olay, Pantene and Gillette that are covering more price tiers than ever before. Low-cost sizes have made it possible to get much deeper levels of distribution in markets like India, where we sell ketchup packet-sizes of Olay and Pantene for women to buy one at a time. This way, when they come home from a hard week of work on Friday and they want to get ready and have a great bonding experience with their daughters by washing their hair or braiding their hair on Saturday, which is a very typical routine in India, they have the quality of Pantene or Olay available for that at a price they can afford.”

This kind of thinking defined Drosos’ career at Procter & Gamble. Her focus on selling to developing demographics helped the company expand rapidly in the growing Asia market, and her instinct to connect with established markets in new ways helped P&G take on a bigger share of the domestic market.

But working the markets is just part of a leader’s job, she said. It also requires knowing how to manage employees.

“The new workforce wants self-fulfillment and ultimately happiness. And they’re willing to make the tradeoffs to get it,” she said. “To understand more about this, I recently read a book called Happier by a Harvard professor named Tal Ben-Shahar. He teaches one of Harvard University’s most popular courses: The course on happiness. He writes about our intrinsic human need to know that our actions, even our small ones, have an actual effect on the world. Accepting this premise means knowing that people need to take action. They need to be able to translate their idealism into everyday realism. This is significant for Generation Y and Millennial employees in ways than it never was for baby boomers. The implication for leaders is that we have to create experiences so that our new workforce can reach these goals. They’ll find fulfillment in their work and as a result, produce good results.”

“Here’s an example from Secret,” she added. “For those who don’t know, Secret is a brand that girls start to use at around fourth or fifth grade. My team of young marketers wanted to connect more deeply with this audience, so they went out and did research and found that the No. 1 hope, need and fear for teenage girls—the biggest problem they faced at school—was bullying. So we partnered with Dr. Rachel Simmons, the foremost expert on bullying, and Amber Riley from Glee to create the “Mean Stinks” campaign, which is an online forum where girls can share their experiences of bullying and learn as much about how to manage a situation where you’re being bullied as they can about how not to bully.”

The Mean Stinks campaign won a Cannes Lion award, and has helped thousands of girls across the country. But what’s more, it also showed a new generation of workers how working in the private sector can be an enriching and valuable experience.

“There’s no doubt that businesses are facing some tumultuous times. The world’s economy is more uncertain than ever before, many talented graduates aren’t finding the jobs that they want, the worlds demographics are changing more quickly than ever before, and it’s making traditional notions of leadership obsolete,” Drosos said. “In my view these challenges represent great opportunities for leaders like us. Uncertain times invite strong leadership and rapid change requires change agents.”