Passion is our Power |

Passion is our Power

Deb-Photo-June-2009_2smallOn September 14th 2011, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy hosted Fortune’s 20th Most Powerful Woman in International Business, Deb Henretta, for a lunchtime talk entitled “Passion is our Power”. As Asia Group President of Procter & Gamble, Chair of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) and an ‘overprotective’ mother of three by her own admission, Henretta drew on her wealth of experience to discuss women’s leadership and explain why a woman’s passion is her power.

At the outset Henretta made explicit her belief that ‘men and women think and act differently’; for example, men are more analytical, while women naturally respond to conceptual ideas. Women are also generally more emotional. Refreshingly, Henretta doesn’t cite these differences as weaknesses. According to her, an emotional woman is a passionate woman, and passion is a woman’s greatest strength. To be a successful leader, a woman needs to “positively funnel emotions” into power. Women can use their passion to stay positive, see potential, and drive progress; passion gives women a ‘glass-half-full’ attitude, an openness to opportunities, and a willingness to pick themselves up time and again. In addition, one woman’s passion has the power to inspire others and get them on board as she pursues a goal.

These are qualities that the world needs as it attempts to speed up economic growth three years after the economic crisis of 2008. That’s why ABAC is suggesting to the 21 heads of state of the APEC member countries that policy should encourage women to join the workforce, not just as employees, but also as business leaders and entrepreneurs.

Policy needs to be rewritten so that the structure under which we conduct business is conducive to success, for both men and women. When Henretta entered the ‘diaper business’ at the beginning of her career, the industry was in a 10-year slump. Run by scientists and engineers obsessed only with the ‘absorptive capacity’ of the diaper (at that time, an ugly, plastic thing with sharp edges), the company had lost sight of the consumer: the mother. Henretta brought the focus back by revolutionising the structure of the business. Satisfied with the ‘absorptive capacity’ of the diaper, she moved on to improving other aspects – the material, the “prettiness”, the ease of use for a parent. To get employees into the right mindset, she redecorated the workplace, painting the walls in bright colours like a day-care centre. She stopped thinking about the industry as the ‘diaper business’, rebranded it as the ‘babycare’ industry and branched into markets for toddler’s toys and wipes. By changing the structure of the business, she turned a failing company into a $4.5 billion business. Passion, as a woman’s greatest strength, may have to be channelled into changing the existing structures of the business world before women find widespread success. 

Today, as head of an $18 billion business in Asia, Henretta does all she can to make a difference, aware of both her environmental and corporate social responsibilities. What’s most important to her, though, is the legacy she leaves behind in the form of young leaders. “The greatest contribution that a leader can make is growing future leaders”, she said, nearing the end of her talk. She believes that the highest compliment that can be paid to a leader is praise for ‘lifting’ as you ‘climbed’ – making others, and your endeavour, better by your leadership.


By Aisling Leow, an intern at the Research Support Unit, LKY School.


How can women leverage their unique strengths to successfully lead in a man's world?
Listen to Deb Henretta, Asia Group President for Procter & Gamble and the 20th Most Powerful Woman in International Business (FORTUNE), as she shares her experience of "Turning Passion into Power".

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Deb Henretta, Group President - ASIA, The Procter & Gamble Company

Wednesday, 14 September 2011
12.15 p.m. - 1.30 p.m.

Seminar Room 3-5
Level 3, Manasseh Meyer
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
469C Bukit Timah Road
Singapore 259772

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