Procter & Gamble (PG) CEO David Taylor didn't mention activist investor Nelson Peltz once during a nearly hour-long presentation Thursday at a conference in Boca Raton, Fla.
However, his focus on P&G's new product lines, revised pay packages tied to total shareholder returns and an effort to hire from outside the packaged goods company's internal ranks all suggested that he's taking action in anticipation of Peltz's arrival.
There is an increased likelihood that Procter & Gamble's other directors will start listening to Peltz, considering that P&G's shares have been on a downward trajectory, dropping more than $10 a share to $80.54 since the company agreed to add him to its board. That's after P&G reported last month what analysts suggested was a mediocre quarter. Also consider that Peltz was a key driver in the ouster of Action Alerts Plus holding General Electric Co. (GE) CEO Jeff Immelt in June.
Peltz is scheduled to join an expanded 13-person P&G's board after Taylor and the iconic packaged goods company reluctantly agreed earlier this year to add the dissident investor following what turned out to become the largest boardroom battle in the history of director skirmishes. The proxy war concluded with Peltz receiving the backing of roughly half of shares voted in a director fight that took place at the company's annual meeting in October but didn't really end until the two sides settled in December.
During the battle the Peltz team has argued that there has been a significant lack of innovation at the company in recent years and that the last major P&G innovation was the Swiffer, which was created almost 20 years ago. Peltz can be expected to have a strong voice on pushing for a new approach to R&D and innovation as he was approved to join P&G's Innovation & Technology subcommittee, according to a Feb. 16 securities filing.
During the heat of the battle, Peltz had been seeking a wholesale re-evaluation of P&G's R&D strategy, something that Taylor has suggested would be "very dangerous" and result in the complete elimination of the R&D department.
Seeking to combat concerns about a lack of innovation, Taylor on Thursday offered a laundry list of innovative P&G products, many of which also carried a sustainability message. He touted P&G's single-dose Tide Pods laundry detergent, fabric-enhancer scent beads, always discreet underwear and SK-II skin care products. He also lauded P&G's Olay cell science product and its peptide formula, which purportedly delivers "visible skin transformation in 28 days."
"The outstanding combination of product, performance, packaged communication and retail execution deliver a level of consumer delight that support's SK-II's premium price," Taylor said at the annual Consumer Analyst Group of New York, or CAGNY, conference in Boca Raton. "Consumer's see the value and in markets in which we compete, SK-II is running neck and neck for the number one position in super-premium skin-care category with Estee Lauder."
Taylor offered up three TV commercials for CAGNY participants to view, including one in Japan focusing on its Ariel Science Plus laundry detergent products, which seek to remove bacteria and odor.
In addition, a key part of Peltz's campaign focused on the activist's view that P&G has historically had an overly insular culture. Peltz's Trian Fund Management noted during its campaign that the company didn't have anyone in its senior executive ranks in an operating role who had any substantial experience outside of the packaged goods company.
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Seeking to respond to those concerns, Taylor said P&G has changed its approach to talent development and career planning to focus on hiring from outside in addition to training within.
"P&G is fortunate to consistently source and develop very strong talent. But there are time when the best talent for a role may not be inside our organization," Taylor said. "We're supplementing internal development with hiring from the outside to add the skill and experience needed to win and build the best team possible."
And, while not mentioning Peltz, Taylor did acknowledge that shareholder input helped drive P&G's board to revamp its compensation program, to one that focuses more closely on total shareholder returns, a metric that activist investors prefer. The new program takes effect July 1.
"Based in part on shareholder input, the board's compensation and leadership development committee has modified the performance stock program to include relative sales growth metrics and total shareholder return modifier to ensure awards reflect performance vs. externally competitively competitive benchmarks," Taylor said.