Kimberly-Clark must have thanked its lucky stars that Troy Warfield threw his hat into the ring when the role of general manager for UK & Ireland came up for grabs six months ago.
Having spent the previous 18 years at Unilever, his time evenly split between marketing and sales roles in Australia and the UK, the Australian-born marketer knew a thing or two about fmcg. Better still, he was a big fan of Kimberly-Clark's leading brands, Huggies, Kleenex and Andrex, thanks to his family of a wife and two young girls.
The interview panel clearly found it a compelling combination and swiftly charged him with building the company into "an indispensable partner to retailers" - a phrase he uses many times during the interview - as well as taking on the might of P&G to become the leading health and hygiene company.
First, Warfield set about doing his homework. Before he officially joined, he began asking people inside and outside Kimberly-Clark for their opinions on the business. "The first thing I did was spend 90 days listening," he says. "I spoke with all employees, the retailers and ad agencies to get their views of the company and our brands and the issues we need to address. I then looked at our vision and what road map we need to achieve it.
"What came back was that it was coping well on a day-to-day basis but not exciting customers in terms of level of insight and category management capabilities, or really challenging them in terms of innovation."
In short, there was no flair, says Warfield. "The company is in good shape, it is a good, solid business and has been a consistent performer in the UK for years. There was no 'Oh my God, this is awful' moment, but there are definite areas where we can sharpen our game. It gave me a very clear path to come back to the business and say, 'this is what we have to do if we want to become an indispensable partner with our retailers'."
What he means by this is for Kimberly-Clark to tailor its innovation, speed to market and promotional strategies to individual retailer needs. "It's about understanding what they are trying to do to drive the market and helping them achieve it," he says. "If we can grow their categories and grow our brands, that's a very strong position to be in."
Warfield's time at Unilever, which includes restructuring its Australian business into one organisation, will put him in good stead. His parting role at the company, as global customer development director, will also help with improving the customer side of Kimberly-Clark, he says.
One of the areas Warfield is already tackling is the company's track record with availability in the toilet paper category. While the problem is a sector-wide problem, Andrex, with a 35% share of the market, suffers more than its rivals.
Availability levels are currently running at just 88% for Andrex, and in some stores its four-roll can be off-shelf for three days in succession. As a result, it is losing serious cash, admits Warfield.
"We have a 12% issue in terms of availability. Over a category of £1bn, that's £120m of lost potential business. We know that about 30% of this is true lost sales instead of substitution, so that's £40m of lost sales because we're unable to keep products on the shelves."
He has already begun to assess availability of the brand on an hour-by-hour basis in stores across the country and is working on how to encourage buy-in across the supply chain.
"We know availability is a tricky issue and we have got to deal with the whole chain," he says. "It can be down to manufacturing shortages or a system saying there is stock in store when there isn't. It's a shared responsibility, but clearly, by working with retailers, there's a massive prize to go after."
Toilet paper is not his only concern. While Andrex is the outright leader in the toilet paper category, when it comes to nappies, the com-pany's Huggies brand comes a poor second to P&G's Pampers brand.
"When I worked at Unilever, we had a majority share in deodorants, but in laundry P&G had a 60% share and we had a 25% share," he says. "That means I am able to shift my mindset from being in a nice place in toilet tissue to a more challenging place in nappies."
He admits he's got his work cut out, however. Huggies' 30% market share in 2000 had slumped to 18% two years ago, though it climbed back to 19.4% last year.
"I wouldn't say it's the turnaround we need but it's now about building on the foundation. We are not just taking on Pampers but retailer own-label as well. Taking on two of the toughest competitors in the world, namely the UK retailers and P&G, is a fascinating challenge for our business."
Over the past 12 months, Kimberly-Clark has focused on the newborn market, an approach that will continue under Warfield. It is developing products and working with retailers on recruitment programmes such as parenting clubs, which are designed to help mums understand the different nappies on the market and help Kimberly-Clark establish what she looks for when buying her first pack of nappies.
And he's not sitting back and relaxing in categories where there's less competition. Even in tissues, where Kleenex blows its closest branded competitor away with sales of 40 to one, he faces challenges. The facial tissue category has been stagnant for a number of years and, with a 45% share of the market, Warfield believes the time is right to grow and stimulate the category.
Under his guidance the company has begun to align itself with the cold and flu category. According to Kimberly-Clark, 65% of consumers who buy a cough and cold remedy don't buy tissues at the same time, so the company has been working with retailers to put its packs next to key cough and cold remedies.
"We want to be big when the category is big, so clearly when the cold and flu season is at its peak, we want to be at our peak too," he says. "There's a fantastic opportunity to marry with the likes of GlaxoSmithKline and own-label cold and flu remedies, and get tissues moving."
All these moves are helping the company towards its goal of becoming an indispensable player. But it's got a way to go yet. Warfield says that feedback from its suppliers puts it in "the middle top of the second tier". He has set himself a target of five years to make it into the top league of suppliers in UK retail.
It will at times be a difficult climb but one that Warfield is convinced the company can do. And he's certainly going the right way about it.n
What's your career history?
I spent the past 18 years at Unilever, nine in marketing and nine in sales. Of that I spent 13 in Australia and five in UK, with three years (1997-2000) at Lever Fabergé as category director for deodorants and skin when it was Unilever's personal care business.
How does Kimberly-Clark compare with Unilever?
They are both excellent companies. Unilever operates over 28 categories, while Kimberly-Clark's focus is a lot sharper because its portfolio is narrower, which makes the pace quicker.
Describe a typical day
I get up at 5.50am and go to the gym, reaching work around eight. One day I'll be dealing with UK business, another I'll be in Reigate talking about the European business, and other days out with customers.
How do you relax?
My children take up most of my spare time - the weekend is pretty much theirs - but my wife and I love the theatre and we are Fellows of the Royal College of Art.
You're Australian, so do you prefer rugby or cricket?
Being an Aussie I clearly love sport but I am more of a rugby fan than cricket. I have played a fair bit of rugby and have represented Australia at it. Unfortunately, ever since we lost the Ashes two year ago, I get forced into every cricket debate going.
What's your biggest achievement?
I'm very proud of Kimberly-Clark's role in Comic Relief, with the Blow a Pound campaign (it raised £500,000 and the company raised a further £30,000 through staff activity). The brand health on Andrex and Kleenex is the best it has been for three years.