Keeping Success Rolling

Illustration of Kathy Walters

Kathy Walters

Georgia-Pacific, Group President, Consumer Products Group (retired)

Favorite Quote from Good Profit:

“It can be far more difficult to overcome success than adversity.”  Good Profit, page 68

For Kathy Walters, who led Georgia-Pacific’s Consumer Products Group – the largest North American manufacturer of bath tissue and paper towels – that quote was a constant reminder to never be complacent.

“Not only are customer needs constantly evolving, but technology is also changing supplier systems, production processes, internal and external delivery systems and customer interaction options. That quote indicates how hard it is to keep up and how fast your company’s capabilities need to change to add value,” she says.

That’s one reason Kathy believes the most important chapter of Good Profit is on vision.

“It clearly indicates that vision isn’t about the present. Vision is about the future. It’s about your business’ capabilities. It’s what a business can do to innovate and transform. It’s about better productivity, efficiency, and adding new value to products and experiences, and much more. So, whether you must evolve or revolutionize, you need to change the vision to help a successful company continue to succeed.

“The vision process also allows us to build strategies for different parts of your business, focused on understanding employee capabilities and the talent you need to achieve a mutually beneficially culture for a business unit’s customers and society,” Kathy says.

She effectively used the vision for Georgia-Pacific’s Consumer Products Group to help align the Group’s three large business units in North America and Europe (20,000 employees) around how to create greatest value for customers, suppliers, communities and employees. She rarely spoke to groups of employees without first centering the conversation on the vision.

“That vision – which was constantly evolving – allowed us to direct our focus and resources where we had competitive advantage and not waste efforts on what looked like a great opportunity but where we had no advantages and, thus, no reason to be pursuing it without adding or acquiring a company that did,” she adds.

“Since we were aligned around the vision, senior leaders were able to let teams across the organization make decisions and improve the business for the company and customers. For people to contribute the maximum, you need a framework and a culture to allow leaders to get out of the way of their ideas.”

Kathy also points out that the vision allowed business teams to concentrate on creating true cycles of mutual benefit – another key concept in Good Profit. “You start by asking your customers for feedback on how to provide even greater value and they will work with you. Then as you develop new products and services based on that feedback, they will pay you for that value, allowing you to have the resources to develop additional capabilities, products and services - starting the cycle all over again.

“Using those cycles, we transformed Georgia-Pacific’s away-from-home B2B (business-to-business) division from a commodity business to a development business,” she adds. “Starting with enMotion touchless towels, arguably one of the most successful products for its time in the away-from-home sanitation industry, we also created a full set of IoT (Internet of Things) and technology products that provided true value for customers, end users and our company.

“For GP’s North American retail consumer products group, the vision process allowed us to expand our consumer segmentation and customer reach,” Kathy says. “The benefit was more innovation that we brought to our customers.”

Today, Kathy continues to use vision and other key MBM principles in her leadership roles on the boards of a major university and public company. “While those organizations have their own cultures and management processes, the MBM framework provides the structure for my thoughts, and allows me to develop and share more in-depth perspective on key issues and decisions.”

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