The 2020 Top Women in Grocery: Trailblazer Judi Kletz

The 2020 Top Women in Grocery: CPG Trailblazer

Gina Acosta
a woman smiling for the camera

Judi Kletz began her career with Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble nearly 35 years ago, serving in three functions — sales, marketing and communications — providing her with a rare combination of experiences and skills unique to the CPG industry.

From her first sales position in 1985 to a series of new-to-market roles (integration operations manager, first field marketing manager, pioneer of the field-based communications team), she was quickly promoted to roles of increasing responsibility. Kletz is best known for taking on work with no defined path and creating new capabilities for the company. 

In 2013, she was promoted to the role of managing director, North America industry affairs, with responsibility for all U.S. trade associations, trade media, industry and sales executive communication. Her team, a matrix model of internal and external resources, leads the strategy, development and implementation of P&G’s industry activation and reputation.

Progressive Grocer: Judi, your work history and current title sound pretty overwhelming! Looking back, what was appealing to you about the consumer packaged goods industry, and what made you decide to go to work for Procter & Gamble?

The 2020 Top Women in Grocery: Trailblazer Judi Kletz
© Jason Seiler, 2020

Judi Kletz: While certainly overwhelming at times, I view my current role as full circle in my career. The functions and roles I served in prepared me well for leading our North America industry affairs team.

Interestingly, CPG is literally in my blood.  My grandfather owned a grocery store in Queens, N.Y.  As a little girl, I would sit on his lap, and he would share stories about the customers — now shoppers — who frequented his store, and the brands they purchased. I thought it was fascinating.

Fast-forward: I never planned to be part of the CPG world. I majored in economics and accounting, and had already secured a job at one of the top accounting firms. My best friend, whose father was a brand manager at P&G, coaxed me to do an on-campus interview.  I accepted the challenge, and I’ve never looked back.

PG: What do you remember about those first few days, the work and interacting with customers?

JK: The early days were quite different from the world in which we operate today.  I started in our professional division, selling adult diapers [Attends]to nursing homes. The sales cycle was quite long, six to nine months. While one could argue it was quite different from traditional retail, the reality was, the guiding principles were the same: Establish strong connections with your buyer, articulate the consumer insight, develop a strong selling proposition, reinforce how it works, and ask for the order. 

The simplicity of the selling process allowed for quick decision-making. It also put the onus of results on the sales rep. There was no place to hide behind data.

PG: Can you elaborate on the time when you realized you were going to make a career in the world of consumer packaged goods?

JK: When I accepted the job with P&G, I thought to myself, “This will be a good two-year gig.” Folks had told me if you get through two years at P&G, it’s like getting your MBA — you can go anywhere. 

Honestly, it was somewhere around that period that I realized I love this work, and I love the people. That sealed it for me. As long as I received challenging opportunities, increased responsibility, and the ability to grow and develop people, I knew I’d be a lifer in CPG.

PG: Talk about some of your early influences, who they were and what lessons you learned from them.

JK: My early influences involved traditional mentors as well as business shifts and uncharted opportunities. I’ve been blessed at P&G in having a number of amazing mentors, but the two who had the most profound influence on me and my career are Bryan Stuke and Beverly Grant. Both led huge businesses: VPs of the drug and grocery channels, respectively. What I learned from both of them was simple: 1. Take care of your people, and the business will take care of itself, and 2. It takes courage to make the hard left versus the easy right — by that, I mean stand up for what you believe in and stay true to yourself.

Which builds upon my second point: I learned early on that taking on work with no designated path is not only my passion, but is a business necessity. I was fortunate to be provided opportunities that allowed me to try new approaches, stumble and fall, and get back up again. My dad always told me that “success is defined by the ability to change.” This is not only an important life lesson, but one which is critical to today’s business, now more than ever!

PG: Consumer packaged goods was a male-dominated industry when your career began. Were there female role models that you looked up to early on?

JK: Thankfully, yes. From my earliest days with the company, there were women leaders at P&G who truly defined a trailblazer. These women broke down barriers that women today cannot even fathom, things like required corporate dress guidelines, maternity leave, flexible benefits — the list goes on. Interestingly, this group — Helayne Angelus, Barbara Hartman, Maria Edelson, to name a few — were the pioneers who helped start the Network of Executive Women. Without their dedication and courage, and the support of P&G leaders, we would not be where we are today as a CPG industry.

PG: Procter & Gamble has done a lot to diversify the ranks of leadership. Talk about what’s being done to move the needle even further on gender diversity, not only among senior leadership, but also at other levels, to ensure that the company has a strong pipeline of female talent.

JK: At P&G, we believe an equal world is a better world — for everyone. Diversity and inclusion have long been a priority at the company; we understand the importance of understanding and reflecting the diversity of the consumers we serve. A few years ago, we put additional focus on gender equality specifically. We set a goal of 50/50 representation of women and men at every level. And we’ve made strong progress: Women were 44% of our managers globally when we started in 2016, and today that’s 48%. Forty percent of our top leadership team and our board of directors are women.

As the world’s largest advertiser, we’ve also made it a priority to use our voice in advertising and media to shine a light on bias and promote equality. The iconic “Always Like A Girl” campaign is one example, and there are many more.

I’m proud to work for a company that takes a stand and genuinely wants to create a better, more equal world.

PG: Let’s talk about female leadership in CPG. Thinking about your own career, what were some of the challenges you faced?

JK: While I’m sure there were issues internally, as a female leader, I never felt hindered. In a results-oriented company like P&G, I was rewarded for delivering the business. The challenges I faced were more personal work/life balance for my family, preserving that part of myself.  Outside of P&G, especially in the early days, I operated in a man’s world. At first, it was quite intimidating. However, I learned over time that my success was the same as it was internally: Deliver the results, and you will excel.

PG: Can you talk about how consumer behavior has changed CPG and grocery in the past five years?

JK: The consumer is more savvy, intuitive, and demanding of data and transparency. Armed with this information, she carefully evaluates the best options for her and her family. Consumers also increasingly want brands that stand for something or that share their values. If the brand does not deliver on its promise, she is extremely vocal about her experience.

More recently, with the pandemic, consumers are more focused on health, hygiene and cleaning, looking for brands they can trust in this space. And they’re shopping in new ways. I think this will have a long-lasting [effect] on our industry as shopping gets even more convenient for consumers.

PG: How has your average workday changed due to the pandemic?

JK: Well, for one thing, I’m not running through an airport to catch my next flight — my travel prior to the pandemic was about 60%.  In addition, my team and I are responsible for the industry’s top-tier events. Our average workday consisted of preparing and activating for these executions on-site.

Fortunately, when not traveling, I have always worked from home.  While it’s been quite an adjustment to be home office-based 100% of the time, I’m able to continue what was a normal office routine. Like all of us, I’ve adjusted to more conference calls and leveraging new technologies. While challenging at times, it’s been exciting to exercise a new muscle.

PG: What are the biggest challenges and opportunities for CPG associated with COVID-19?

JK: These are unprecedented times. At P&G, we put three clear priorities in place from the start of the pandemic: Keep employees safe; serve consumers and customers who count on the health, hygiene and cleaning benefits of our brands; and support communities and relief agencies. That focus has served us well.

Looking further ahead, contrary to what some folks are saying, the challenges and opportunities are very similar pre- and post-COVID. While the supply chain issues are amplified — P&G has had their fair share with overwhelming demand for our paper products like Charmin and Bounty — the post-COVID CPG world will still need to focus on the consumer first and build our strategies and plans around them. There will certainly be challenges with social distancing in stores, contactless delivery, uber-cleanliness, etc., but the opportunities will remain consistent: Understand consumers’ needs, and deliver superior products and services that delight them.

PG: What do you consider to be the most essential keys to CPG success in 2020 and beyond?

JK: While there are many that are top of mind — superior data, flawless supply chain, best-in-class brands — the one that is near and dear to me is top talent. In my early years of CPG, top talent was drawn to this industry. As tech emerged and other vectors of business became more dominant, CPG needed to work harder to attract and retain the best talent to continue to lead. Unfortunately, we have fallen behind. We must get back to leading. This is not a choice. CPG is the world’s largest industry, and we must seek out, develop and retain top talent.

PG: What one new CPG technology or trend do you believe will have the biggest impact in 2020, and why?

JK: I believe contactless purchase/delivery will have the biggest impact. Still in its infancy, with refinement, this tool will allow shoppers to safely learn more about brands, stores, trends — evaluate when and how they want to receive them, evaluate and adjust.

PG: What have the highlights been during your tenure at Procter & Gamble?

JK: Bar none, the No. 1 highlight of my P&G career is the people. I know that sounds cliché, but if you had told me three-plus decades ago that the people I work with would be some of my closest friends, I would not have believed you. It’s hard to explain unless you are part of the culture, but it’s part of a long-standing belief that our purpose, values and principles (PVPs) are intrinsically intertwined with the people we hire.

PG: If you had a teenage daughter going to work at Procter & Gamble today, what advice would you give her as she headed out the door to begin her first day?

JK: My two daughters, Alexandra and Elise, are well past the teenage years, but I’ve imparted the same advice to them throughout their lives. First and foremost, do what you love, and love what you do.  We all spend a lot of time at work, and you should be certain that this is where you want to spend your time, and it’s work that you’re passionate about.

Second, make sure every moment is one in which you will learn and grow. As a learner by nature, what’s kept me at P&G is the insatiable desire to consume knowledge that leads to opportunities to better myself and the business.

Last but not least, your success is contingent upon your results. Don’t ever once think that you will move ahead because someone likes you. You must deliver, and then leverage the relationships you’ve built, to move to roles of increasing responsibility that deliver outstanding results.

PG: You’ve seen a tremendous amount of change during your CPG career and there are many types of jobs today that didn’t exist when you began working. As you look ahead, where do you see the greatest opportunities?

JK: The greatest opportunities lie in the things we cannot see and have yet to experience. The one constant is the consumer: She will guide us to solve an unmet need for her family, create new-to-the-world products and technologies, and do so with data and the transparency she demands. While she will allow us to figure it out and at times even fail, her tolerance may be shorter, given the current global dynamics. We will need to stay close to her and listen to her wants and needs very carefully.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds