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2021 Top Women in Grocery Trailblazer: Clorox Co. CEO

Linda Rendle always keeps people in mind whenever she makes important business decisions
Gina Acosta
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2021 Top Women In Grocery Trailblazer: The Clorox Co. CEO
Linda Rendle (Illustration by Jason Seiler)

Linda Rendle was named CEO of The Clorox Co. in September 2020. She began her career with Clorox nearly 20 years ago as a senior sales analyst in the company’s charcoal and insecticides businesses. Before her promotion to CEO, she was the company’s president, overseeing all of its businesses, corporate and business development, corporate strategy, and the five core global functions: marketing, sales, product supply, research & development, and information technology. Previously, she was EVP – cleaning, international, strategy and operations, with responsibility for Clorox’s cleaning and international segments and corporate business strategy, along with the company’s global functions. She was also VP and general manager of home care and held roles of increasing responsibility within the sales and product supply organizations, including VP of sales of the cleaning division, where she helped develop new strategies and growth platforms for the laundry and home care businesses; director of sales for the customer supply chain; and director of sales planning – litter, food and charcoal. She joined the company in 2003 after a three-year stint at Procter & Gamble, where she held several roles in sales management in the Boston and Charlotte, N.C., markets. Rendle was appointed to the board of directors of Visa Inc. in November 2020.

Progressive Grocer: Did you ever think when you were studying economics at Harvard that one day you would be worried about the manufacturing capacity of disinfecting wipes during a pandemic? Can you talk about the supply chain challenges of the past year?

Linda Rendle: No one could have expected the challenges that would come our way over the past year and a half, including unprecedented demand for our products.

While prioritizing our people’s safety – especially our teams who remained on site making, producing and shipping our products – we put all our efforts into producing as much of our products as possible and getting them to our retail partners and consumers as fast as possible. We left no stone unturned in trying to increase supply.

In the case of our disinfecting products, we ran certain manufacturing facilities 24/7, focused on the SKUs that were the fastest to produce, brought in more third-party supply partners and added another disinfecting wipes line in our home care facility in Atlanta. Today, we continue to produce more disinfecting wipes than ever before, shipping about 1.5 million canisters every day to stores.

I couldn’t be prouder of how Clorox people around the world stepped up to support our consumers, retailer partners and communities.

PG: Looking back to your college days in Cambridge, Mass., what was appealing to you about the consumer packaged goods industry, and what made you decide to go to work at The Clorox Co.?

LR: My dad worked in consumer packaged goods, which meant that, growing up, we lived and breathed detergent, shampoo and toothpaste in our household. So when it came time to choose a field when I graduated from college, it was an easy decision for me, because I’m passionate about the role brands play in people’s everyday lives.

CPG was also attractive because the majority of household purchasing decisions are made by women, so who better than women to add their perspectives and experiences as consumers ourselves to help us build brands that women want to buy?

I joined Clorox because it’s a company that is values-led and genuinely cares for people and communities.

PG: The Clorox Co. 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 the company has a strong pipeline of female talent.

LR: Less than 8% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and even fewer are women of color. We have a lot of work to do – as a company and as a society.

Inclusion and diversity makes us a better company. If our teams mirror the diversity of our consumers around the world, we’ll have stronger insights and innovation, and ultimately be able to better serve them.

To support diversity among our leaders, we’ve been investing in our talent pipeline and retention. This includes a focus on career development through focused development plans and executive-level sponsors to ensure our leaders of the future are supported today. I’m proud that our board of directors has significantly more gender and ethnic diversity than the Fortune 500 average and that women make up 50% of our executive team.

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

LR: No matter the challenge, I’ve found you need to lead with values and tell the truth, even when things aren’t going as well as planned. This builds trust, but it takes courage, especially when it may be counter to what other people are doing or willing to see.

I’m also an introvert, so I knew it would take practice going into a meeting to voice my opinion in a way that I was able to be heard. It starts with being a good listener. Then focus on the facts and hopefully deliver your message with some grace. It’s also important to allow others to be heard.

PG: What do you think is the role of a leader? How would you describe your leadership style?

LR: First and foremost, it’s important for me to be a human-centered leader. When we make decisions, we need to appreciate our impact on people – whether they’re our teammates, consumers, communities or business partners. During the pandemic, people’s safety and well-being have always been top priorities for Clorox. Everyone knew what we were working toward and rallied behind our efforts.

After I stepped into the role of CEO last year, we crystalized our purpose and refreshed our values to better express who we are and what we stand for as a company. These reflect how I believe we’ll deliver long-term value for our business and society. Our purpose is to champion people to be well and thrive every single day, which speaks to Clorox being a health-and-wellness company at heart. Our values, which I expect our Clorox team to live by, are, do the right thing, put people at the center and play to win.

And for me, winning requires playing 100% offense all the time. It starts with setting a clear vision and priorities. And I try to remove barriers that stand in the way so that our team can focus on the things that matter most. I also challenge people to be bold, take risks and learn from failures. It’s not about failing, but what you learn from it. This builds resilience -- something we all need to be successful today.

PG :Can you talk about how consumer behavior has changed in the past year? How have CPG and retail changed?

LR: The pandemic has changed consumer behaviors and expectations for the long term. There has been rapid acceleration around health and wellness, and a broadening of how people think about hygiene. This extends to cleaning, which is no longer just a chore, but a means to stay well and protected. We’ve seen these types of behaviors stick in the past, especially around difficult cold and flu seasons, and we expect them to continue.

Both CPG and retail have also experienced a rapid rise in e-commerce. Even as we turn a corner in the pandemic, people don’t want to give up on the convenience of shopping online.

PG: What new retail technology or trend do you believe will have the biggest impact in 2022, and why?

LR: Consumers have new expectations around how they shop. They want things delivered right to their door, ready for them for pick up, or recommended based on their past shopping trip. Technologies and companies that enable frictionless shopping will be critical to winning with consumers. At Clorox, we believe personalization is critical to building more meaningful relationships with shoppers. That’s why we’re investing behind solutions that can help us really get to know them, enabling us to deliver tailored experiences as they engage with our brands.

PG: What’s next for grocery shopping? Can you elaborate on grocery delivery, drones, robotic fulfillment or other grocery tech trends affecting CPG?

LR: Retailers and delivery companies are focused on the “last mile,” investing to ensure consumers get things when and where they need them, whether it’s in-store, at home or curbside.

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

LR: Raise your hand for the big assignments. Do different things in your career even when they don’t seem logical. Time and again, I was willing to do things that were off the beaten path, and that served me well.

Also, speak the truth. Don’t be afraid to offer a point of view even if it isn’t the prevailing thought at the time. And finally, be yourself. It’s the only person you’ll ever be good at being.

PG: What is your proudest accomplishment so far?

LR: I’m proud to see how our team has stepped up to serve consumers and communities around the world throughout the pandemic. We took to heart our role in supporting public health, and from that experience, our company purpose to help people be well and thrive has never been clearer.

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