The Pink Pearl – Time to Retire when the Rubber Meets the Paper


A Picture is worth 5,000 Words or Less

A Picture is worth 5,000 Words or Less

April 20, 1987 was a very big day for me as it was my first day of working for Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Several weeks earlier, I had interviewed on campus at the University of Cincinnati.  I was an Evening College student majoring in Accounting and set to graduate in June.  Eleven years earlier, I had enjoyed my first day at Miami University and almost got to dine with the President, (read me), where I had set out to earn a degree in Mathematics.  Once I switched over to Evening College, I knew that earning a Math degree was out of the question and so I chose Accounting – hey, it’s got numbers, right?  When I interviewed for P&G, they had their own standardized test for the applicants to take.  I recall it having a lot of algebra and a lot of questions you see on those online IQ tests.  It was one of those times when I left the test feeling like I hadn’t missed a single question – I knew I had aced that puppy!

The interview itself was said to be for Internal Auditing.  Yuk, I hated my Auditing class.  Unbeknownst to me, the auditing area was one of the beginner areas for new P&G Finance and Accounting people and when the recruiting team performed their campus interviews, they also kept an eye out for Cost Accountants.  Naturally they hadn’t shared that with me; they led me to believe I was interviewing for Internal Auditing, so when I received a follow up inquiry from them I let their letter sit on my desk at home for 4 weeks.  I was not interested in auditing.  Jobs were somewhat prevalent in 1987 for recent Accounting grads.  I had a lot of interviews and a couple of interested parties but nothing I had interviewed for really struck a chord for me.  Time was marching on though so I finally decided to return the information sheet to P&G.  I received a phone call immediately.  I mean, I mailed it out on a Monday and Wednesday morning I had a phone call from a nice lady named Kathy.  She explained to me that they had some openings in a broad area called Cost Accounting and described the function as one allocated against product manufacturing and cost analytics and would I be interested in something like that?

Hello?  Are you kidding?  I just spent my previous 8 years in Manufacturing Operations and Hell yes I’d be interested in that – why didn’t you say so in the first place?  We set a day and time to come to the Ivorydale campus for interviews; early March I think it was.  That was 27 years ago almost to the day as I’m sitting here writing this piece.  I remember the faces and conversations of all my interviewers very well.  One of them was named Charlie.  Charlie told me that I was interviewing for a spot they were thinking would be a continuity position so I would be there for 5 years and would that be ok because you’ve had a lot of responsibility previously?  What did I know?  I had just come out of my previous position where I worked for 8 years and had juggled many priorities and people.  Spending 5 years in a small group of accountants actually sounded like nice change of pace.  I lasted only 6 months.

On my very first day of work, a nice older gentleman named Glenn walked me up to the supply storeroom at the Technical Center building to stock up on all the necessary accoutrements of the bean counting trade – notebooks, pencils, stapler, bandages (treatment for when the numbers got bloody) and one single, solitary pink eraser.  You know what I’m talking about – the synthetic rubber wedge, the Pink Pearl?  Glenn loaded me down with many pencils and several notebooks of paper but handed me only 1 Pink Pearl.  I made a joke about it – only 1 eraser Glenn?  “Yes, and that’s all you get for your entire career.  When it’s gone, you’ll know it’s time to retire.”

This is what she originally looked like

This is what she originally looked like

Glenn was trying to be funny, but I refused the offer for an additional eraser and we packed up all the supplies and trotted back to ‘the cave’, (as I affectionately referred to it).  Our small group consisted of 3 older people, all close to retirement eligible status and myself – I was 29.  We were located in what was called ‘The Clock Tower Building’ which was located next door to the Ivorydale Soap Plant.  Back in those days P&G had a number of manufacturing sites in town with the bulk of them being close by the Ivorydale campus.  The Clock Tower building of course looked exactly what the name infers; it had a central brick tower with a large clock built into it.  This accounting group that I was a part of was run by an older lady, name of Wanda.  Wanda was a smoker and twice per day we’d all trek down to the basement for a ‘smoke break’.  In an act of solidarity, I’d usually walk downstairs with them so I could freeze in the dampness and breathe in the secondhand smoke.  If I one day die of lung cancer, right there was where it came from.

When Glenn went to Ireland for a 6 week sabbatical, I took over his accounts.  For the entire time I performed his account reconciliations and my own and I still managed to be the first one out the door each day.  After only a few months I was approached by my manager and was told I was going to be moved next door where the work was more challenging for me.  I took my eraser with me.  The work there was not very challenging either and when the folks there complained about my getting to be the first one out the door each day, we redistributed the accounts.  After a week of getting the accounts caught up and having now the heaviest number of accounts, I still began to again be the first person out the door each day.  What can I say, for the most part I found the work to be repetitious and rule based and when I figure out what the applicable rules are, I can usually make most work appear to be easy.  I don’t like wasting time as I’ve never felt that I had much to waste (getting hit by a school bus will do that for a person).

We had a manager at our Kansas City plant decide she wanted to go back school to get her MBA so there was a need to replace her.  Typically when a person’s role at any large company becomes open, it creates a daisy chain effect where several people will be involved.  In this instance they wanted to back-fill the KC role with the Accounting Mgr from the Alexandria, LA Plant.  As they looked around for people who were ready for a move and willing to relocate, my name popped up.  I had spent a total of 8 months in my first assignment and now another 8 in my second.  The usual move after my current role there would have been to move into a business or accounting support role at one of our technical centers before moving out to a plant in a promotion, but as is normally the case, a lot of these moves are driven by chance – being in the right spot at the right time.

The manager of my current group told me that he wanted to talk to me at the end of the day about my next assignment.  That got me excited as I was thinking – ok, good, I’m ready, yeah moving up the street to Central Cost sounds good, bring it on.  My manager was two levels up from me and perhaps only a year or two older and we got along well together.  When I walked back to the conference room where we were meeting, sitting at the table too was Wanda who had been the team leader for my first assignment.  I remember all of this like it was yesterday – “Rob, we want to talk about your next assignment.  It’s the Accounting Mgr role at the Alexandria Plant.”

Previous to this discussion you see, the Alexandria, Louisiana plant was sort of the running joke for our Laundry business, meaning that people used it in a joking manner because it was located in a tiny town in the south where the heat and humidity were constant.  Our single folks hated the location at the time.  So when Ron, (my boss), mentioned Alex I thought he was trying to pull a prank on me.  One of these days I’ll write an entire story dedicated to pranks pulled at work as this group was where most of them occurred for me.  But anyway, back to Ron.  He offered me Alexandria with a straight face, but I was having none of it.  You can’t pull the wool over Rob Wyatt’s eyes!  I just laughed and said, “good one Ron, now what did you really want to talk about?”  To which he replied, “I’m serious”.  He was laughing of course, but after a few back and forth rounds, I determined he really was serious.

My wife and I traveled down on a Wednesday to Louisiana for a ‘decision-making trip’.  We were to meet that night for dinner and then meet all the people on the following day.  The temperature was a cool 105 the day we arrived.  I remember it very well.  You tend to not forget 100+ days with 90+ humidity if you’d never experienced them before and I was to find out that Louisiana has a lot of those.  It’s kind of like living in Hell but you’re provided a lot of water, great food and friendly people.  My wife and I went to a small 9-hole golf course located in town and rented clubs to golf 9.  Yes, we golfed in 105 degree temperatures.  We both looked like we had participated in a carnival dunking machine and had been dunked several times in pools of human sweat.  But the people were nice and the food was great and so I packed up my little Pink Pearl and headed down to Alexandria, Louisiana.

I managed to spend the first 2+ years in Louisiana in the Accounting Mgr role where I closed the plant’s books in two different accounting systems running the whole time in parallel.  I had volunteered to be one of the lead sites for a new system and it took a couple of years to work out all the bugs.  It was along this time that I began to consider my career options with P&G.  There was not much of a scripted career path for Accountants back in 1990 and I had been growing a minor reputation at the time for being a bit of a forward thinker; someone who was capable of managing the daily routines and also constructing a vision for the future.  I had written a short piece I entitled “Accounting in the 21st Century” which got a little bit of circulation and earned me a spot on a small sub-team of 4 people who were asked to shut themselves off in a motel and think about what building blocks might look like in terms of Accounting skill sets.  I was the person who suggested we construct a matrix of skills with varying degrees of proficiency and between the 4 of us, we did manage to turn out a very nice initial template which ended up getting expanded upon over the years and morphed into other areas of career-related aspects for our Finance and Accounting profession within P&G.  It’s still in place today as I’m writing this story.  The Pink Pearl got a workout that week.

The year was 1991 when I developed my idea for what I thought would be a challenging and rewarding career track.  I wanted to hold line assignments in at least 3 different functions within the company, landing back in F&A (finance and accounting), hopefully positioning myself as a Director for Cost Accounting and Accounting Systems, possibly even a VP role (vice president).  I shared this idea with a Director in F&A HR at the time.  He liked the idea but warned me that the function was likely ‘not ready’ for my approach.  The plant manager at the Alexandria Plant listened to my idea as well and gave me some great coaching.  He first warned me that the F&A function, (in his opinion), seemed like a clique and that leaving the club might hurt my ability to move up the chain of command.  He also told me that in order to transfer from one function to another, I would need to create suction for my skills – “they’re going to need to be able to see you as one of them.”  When I expressed my interest then to him in my first step, a transfer into manufacturing, he offered me a choice between 2 roles.  I accepted the Business Planner role as I thought it would be one where I could get exposure to more areas within the plant and the business itself.

I loved my time in Alexandria as the Business Planner.  I liked how it enabled me to continue building my ability to perform strategic planning and how it was a key linkage between all operating departments as well as research and development for new products.  I’ve always shared with my children how important I think it is to be a constant learner and to always be working against ‘something’.  It can be a degree, a certification, a foreign language or even a musical instrument, but you have to be learning something.  While I was in the Business Planner role I was accepted into the Executive program of Tulane’s MBA.  I had to get support from the Plant Manager because I would be offsite every other Friday as part of the schedule.  The MBA program was a very difficult 19 month period and the Pink Pearl got whittled down somewhat but remained in my possession the entire time.

The company had been building capability within its manufacturing plants so it became obvious that it was necessary to consolidate in order to drive down costs and so began the first really big reorganization in which I was impacted.  In 1994 I was being coached by Manufacturing and Finance each to make a choice as to my home function.  The offer from Mfg was a role in another plant, positioning me for a possible future promotion and from Finance it was to work on a new and exciting country-wide project.  The project indeed sounded exciting so after spending a total of 5 wonderful years with colleagues and friends in Louisiana, I chose to go back to F&A and to Cincinnati, Ohio.  My office box was mailed to my new office location.  My wife and kids were in the van and my Pink Pearl was in my pocket.

Working on a systems and solutions project is unlike working in any other area than perhaps working on a team that is developing a new product for introduction to the consumers.  There is a lot of trial and error, a lot of travel, a lot of late hours trying to work through design issues and a lot of team debates as well as celebrations.  Not many other assignments in my career were as rewarding as the gratification that came when I sat with a team of folks and closed their accounting books with them using the brand new system and set of work processes…and it worked!  (Perhaps this is why my marriage has lasted so long – I am easily excited).  I was one of a handful of multifunctional core experts who benefited by not only the learning we amassed, but also the interactions along the way with hundreds of energetic employees, either on the project itself or as receivers of the final solution.  Over the course of this 5 year period, the Pink Pearl hit the drawing board many times but remained with me, faithful as always.

In 1999 I listened to a Director who, after the announcement of our plan to open a new service center in Costa Rica, informed us all that “if we have interest in continuing to work in cost accounting, our options may be limited.”  I’ve always been one who was watching the politics and signals, looking for queues and so I took this one as a signal to explore the grounds for my next challenge.  I knew I was highly valued and could likely fight my way to the very top amongst my peers if that is what I desired, but my overriding goal was never to be promoted – promotion in of itself was never a goal for me.  My goals had more to do with the building of different skills and finding significant challenges that I thought no one else could address better than myself.  If I could find those, then I felt I could leave a lasting impression.  Who doesn’t want to leave behind a legacy?

So I began exploring the grounds to find out what job opportunities were available.  I was to find out that the demand for my newly acquired skills and reputation was at its peak as I had 6 verbal offers.  The role I really wanted was to be amongst the new group going to Costa Rica for the new service center, however the person in charge for the F&A hiring was not yet in a position where he could make any promises.  He said to me that he was told I “would be a most significant catch” however he just could not commit to me.  As I had numerous offers on the table and the time was ripe for a move, I had to accept the next best offer which was to choose between 2 of the groups in our Service Management organization.  I chose the one which had an issue that was threatening to stall the entire project.  This decision ended up being right for the Company and best supported my overall career plans however it likely killed any hope for future upward progression in the Finance function as I had lost some good political advocacy and in a large company, advocacy gets one promoted.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, the Pink Pearl was busily working, erasing any hopes of ever achieving any future role with much greater responsibility.

And so….I transferred into the IT organization and out of the F&A function.  The IT work was extremely challenging for someone who had no previous formal schooling in their arena.  To ‘earn my stripes’, I asked for an initial 4-6 months in a lower level duty role so that I might build my technical skills, but also so that I paid my dues, per se.  I carried a pager and served time as a “Duty Manager” who had to respond to 3rd level support issues.  If a support call gets beyond the first 2 levels, then it’s typically serious and is delaying ability to process information and allow people to do their jobs.  Time is money anywhere!  In addition to being a duty manager, I was also charged with figuring out a solution for running something called MPS/mrp.  MPS stands for master production scheduling and mrp stands for material requirements planning.  In the realm of production planning, these information system jobs are what generate the critical calculations for all manufacturing sites, telling folks what to order, what to make and where, how much and on what timing.  In terms of system performance, it was the largest processor of information at the time and the job itself was canceling itself or getting ‘hung up’ night after night.

I ended up implementing a whole new solution which solved the issue and earned me quite a reputation, one for which my group affectionately named me “Professor Wyatt”.  After only a few short months in my IT role, my AD (Associate Director, aka my boss), walked over to me.  He was a soft spoken, very intelligent Pakistani.  He bluntly told me, “you are underutilized.  I am going to move Paul out of your group, make you the Service Manager and also I have 2 other broad duties I’d like you to assume.”  Uh…ok?  But I took them on, learned a lot more about a software called SAP in the process, downsized my group and continued to serve in the Duty Manager rotation (I was the only SM at the time volunteering for that role too).  Over the course of these 2+ years I studied the MPS area and wrote quite a bit of documentation for supporting the performance aspect of it.  My Pink Pearl continued to be in service, but was getting a heck of a workout.

Those of you with kids know this as Tommy Tricker

Those of you with kids know this as Tommy Tricker

When 2002 rolled around, I felt it was time to move on because there were rumors afloat of a potential sale of our support group to an outside firm.  I had a great discussion with my IT AD who agreed with me that because I was not a ‘career IT guy’, it would be a good strategic move on my part to move back to F&A.  This was always my own personal plan as the move into IT was all part of my larger career track plan anyway, but it was nice to get honest feedback from a person who had a high regard for what I brought to the table.  As it turned out, this AD soon left the company himself to become the CIO at another large firm.

Back in those days our company had a great intranet job posting system which unfortunately no longer is utilized very much.  The job posting system allowed individuals an opportunity to search any function to see what jobs were available.  There was a lady in F&A who was charged with starting up a new smaller sub-division and she needed someone with a mastery level understanding of accounting processes.  Despite my being out of the limelight for a couple of years, her peers had told her of my reputation and she expressed a strong interest in me when I posted for her role.  When it was learned that I was potentially coming back to F&A, a Director approached her and informed her that “I was not to come back” to the F&A function.  Yes, I was being blackballed and I knew by whom.  I’ve never been one who had a desire to carry around a lot of animosity so although my feelings were a little hurt by this, I stuck to my core principles and kept my chin up.  As it turned out, because the hiring lady needed someone like me and trusted in my ability to deliver what she was looking for, she approached a vice president in HR (human resources) to ask for advice.  The VP told her that if I had the skills she was looking for, that it was acceptable to transfer me back into F&A.  The role I was being asked to play I had meanwhile assessed to be a grade or two below my capability, but she was offering me a member’s card back into the club so I promised her that I would put in 2 years and would get done what needed to be done there for her but that afterwards I would be looking to leave the group.  We shook hands and once again I packed up the Pink Pearl to go with me into yet another area where I was asked to create new work processes.

This was a time of what is called the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX).  You might be old enough to remember a few very large corporate and accounting scandals involving companies like Enron, Tyco and WorldCom.  These scandals ended up costing the investing community billions and billions of dollars, not only in the companies involved in the scandals, but in the entire marketplace as public confidence in the markets had shrunk to a new low at that time.  A lot of individuals lost their entire life savings.  In my new role I was charged with helping to script work processes related to the certification process for the company’s revenue and sales as well as related areas of accounts receivable.  I performed hundreds of interesting consultations with finance managers from all over the world and ultimately we delivered the needed certification process that would allow the company to abide by the new laws established as a result of SOX.  Once again the Pink Pearl performed over and above the call of duty, but as 2004 rolled around, I knew it was time to move onto a new challenge, as I had promised to do when I accepted the role.

It came time once again to analyze my options within the company.  I had completed the initial phase of my career track plan – serving in 3 functions.  I was strong.  I was extremely knowledgeable.  I had demonstrated my ability to work in a fast-paced manufacturing environment.  I had demonstrated my adeptness with information systems and the marriage of them with work processes.  I had demonstrated my ability to lead a team of top individuals working together to deliver a key initiative.  I had demonstrated my ability to analyze accounting principles and then apply them with their ‘intent’ against rules and practical application in the workplace.  I had even demonstrated my ability in the IT world where I had not only served as what was called a “Product Owner”, but I had created at the time what an SAP consultant termed, “the fastest running supply chain mrp in the world”.  In hindsight, a better personal move after this assignment might have been to leave the company as I was at the height of my marketability, but I was naïve in ignoring the importance of politics in a large, (or even a small), firm.  I tend to be a very transparent individual and it  was always my desire to walk softly and carry a big stick – the stick being ‘my results’.  In a large company though, there are lots of people with big sticks.  Big sticks always win against little people with tiny erasers.

So I picked up my eraser and decided to leave the corporate environment and began searching for another plant assignment.  A great thing about working in a large, diverse company like P&G is that if you have multiple skills, there are several avenues to choose from.  You could choose the downtown corporate environment, the category business environment, technical environments, central services environments or even manufacturing.  I knew that a plant assignment was not going to be a personal stretch given my previous manufacturing experiences so in order to make it challenging I decided to try to find a plant that felt it had very significant problems.  I had approached 3 different F&A AD’s at the time and actually had good leads in several businesses where they were looking for people to take on a PFM (plant finance manager) role.  I ultimately decided to take on a role out in California.  My wife and I didn’t really have the intention of moving so far away from our families, but the interview I had with the plant manager there is what helped to ice my decision.  He described a competitive marketplace environment, one where his doors were being threatened with closure unless he could compete with global competition and he didn’t even know what his full costs were.  My trusted friends and colleagues were advising me against this move, saying that this particular division had its problems and that I could do much better.  This only helped to solidify my choice – I knew I could make a difference.  I’m not the kind of guy who ‘just collects a paycheck’.  In every single role I ever took on, I tried to do 3 things:

·         Be better than anyone else ever in the same role

·         Increase capability of the people around me and improve & simplify their work processes

·         Such that I could eliminate my own role – I always figured that if I could eliminate my own role, I could be freed up for more exciting work.

When I arrived in California in 2004, the Pink Pearl had been whittled down to more than half of its original size.  In the 80’s, I had worked at a family-owned foundry and had helped to keep it solvent for several years, but along the way I had watched more than 100 people lose their jobs.  I will write about this episode in my life one day soon, but periods like those make a large dent in the personal armor we all wear.  My previous successes had made me become a person who was very sure of what I could do and perhaps I could help save the jobs of the workers in my new California plant.  Don’t misunderstand though – had I assessed that the plant could not be competitive, I would have been in front of the pack lobbying for a sale of the asset.  The first major task I took on in my new assignment was to seek out all of the costs of making the product at the plant.  The Sacramento plant is unlike any other P&G operation.  You readers out there I am sure enjoy many of our great products like Tide, Pampers, Olay, Pantene and so many others.  These products are all made at plants where the product is created and then packaged for distribution to customers like Wal-Mart.  Unlike all of these plants, the Sacramento plant makes an ingredient.  The ingredient then is shipped to other P&G plants to be used as a raw material for other products.

In terms of the process complexity, (and the accounting complexity), it is one of, or “the” most complex in the company.  The molecule of the oil is broken down into segments and chemically transformed into useful raw material products.  Those that are not used within P&G are sold to other merchants.  Learning this caused me to generate a net cost model for the plant and I began talking and educating people about variable vs. fixed costs, contribution margins and cash flow.  The first model was coined ‘the cash flow model’.  It was rudimentary, but it served its purpose which was to get my business partners to be thinking about minimizing the net cost to P&G.  The plant has the ability to process other oils too and each oil is different in its chemical composition which then drives different volumes for the output products.  When I learned this I asked – so how do you know which oil to buy?  The answer that came back was – we just buy the cheapest.  Yeah, but you get different sales prices for your products.  This spurred me to create a model that brought together all costs and all sales revenues so that we could make the best forward-looking financial decision.  My tool and process is still being used and has helped to drive millions of dollars of savings to the Company.

The infamous Pink Pearl - faithful to the end!

The infamous Pink Pearl – faithful to the end!

There is so much that I could write about in regards to my past 10 years as I served as the PFM for 1 and 2 sites but the details I’m sure would bore most of the readers here, (unlike the rest of this fabulously exciting story).  This would include a letter to Congress that I wrote in 2012 where I asked them to drive to compromise and rebuild our manufacturing infrastructure via incentives and corporate tax reductions.  If we can once again ‘make stuff’, we will rebuild a strong middle class.  (Sadly, only the rep from my own district responded out of 435 letters mailed).  I have announced my intention to retire from P&G and to begin a new chapter in life.  I am leaving on a high note in my California role.  I have done my job here which was to help make the plant cost effective and competitive.  I leave feeling confident that in a world of job uncertainty, I am leaving behind a well-oiled asset.  It may not always be in the P&G family, but it will always ‘be’ and the employees there will have the satisfaction of having an American job where ‘stuff is made’!

My Pink Pearl is still with me.  It has, (like me), lost a lot of its shavings over the years, but is still perfectly functional and has much to offer.  Like a sharp mind, as long as you continue to use it, it will continue to stay strong until the day when there is nothing left.  Like me, The Pink Pearl is the best in its class.  After all, I grew up on Prytania!

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6 comments on “The Pink Pearl – Time to Retire when the Rubber Meets the Paper

  1. Nice story Rob, and I am foreverror grateful to you for sharing your expertise with me from your clock tower hq! Ifor I had not met you, I might have been forced to execute the crazy plan my boss bad for my first assignment which was to use Lotus 123 for the Fs&lp cost accounting system!

    In hindsight, you would have been promoted if you went to Costa Rica I believe, but as you said early on, it was manufacturing and accounting that defined ‘home’ for you.

    Congratulations on a terrific career at P&G, and I hope you find many new paths to explore!

  2. Rizza says:

    Very inspiring! All the best!

  3. Shelly Allen says:

    Nice Story. I had no idea the challenges that you were facing when you came to Sacramento. I am thankful for your involvement so that I may too retire from the Sacramento plant someday!

    • rlwyattcali says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read, Shelly. Even better, thanks for taking the time to comment. I love comments. I am happy I got to play a role there. I might have been passed up for promotion, but I got to spend ten wonderful years helping to drive the plant higher. I hope you get to retire from there as well! If you enjoy the stories, feel free to enter your email address to get a notice with each new story I publish. I have a number of PG followers – would love to have you jump aboard.

      Thanks again for chiming in and good luck in the future!

      Rob

  4. […] I am writing this story, I am down in Phoenix, only 3 days after my retirement from P&G (read me).  Kim and I are trying to ensure at least one of us is visiting monthly to maintain the […]

  5. […] sure it does for many of you reading this now.  I retired from P&G last July and wrote this story (read me) about my journey […]

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