Exclusive: P&G chief more worried about U.S. than ever
CINCINNATI (Reuters) - One of Bob McDonald's biggest concerns after seven months at the helm of Procter & Gamble Co (PG.N) is the possibility that President Barack Obama's administration could stifle U.S. corporate growth by imposing taxes on companies' foreign earnings.
"I am really worried about the United States ... more worried than I've ever been in my career," McDonald, chairman and chief executive of the world's largest household products maker, told Reuters in an interview at his company's Cincinnati headquarters. "I worry about the deficit, I worry about an uncertain future."
McDonald, a member of the U.S. Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations who visited Washington, D.C. last weekend, said he has told government officials that they must "create greater certainty for business."
McDonald, who served as a captain in the U.S. Army before joining P&G in 1980, has set lofty goals to grow P&G's sales and profits even as he waits to see what happens with the U.S. government's stance on business.
P&G, with its $79 billion portfolio of brands such as Pampers diapers, Tide laundry detergent and Gillette razors, competes on a global scale against the likes of Unilever (ULVR.L), Henkel (HNKG_p.DE), L'Oreal (OREP.PA) and Unicharm (8113.T).
Within five years, McDonald wants average spending on P&G products to rise from $12 to $14 per person and to add 1 billion more consumers to the 4 billion already using the company's goods.
At the same time, he said the company must once again generate total shareholder return that would please investors.
P&G shares have done well over a long period of time, but they underperformed their rivals in 2009 as the company absorbed $2 billion in additional commodity costs and a $4 billion currency hit.
"My success or failure will be $14, 5 billion people and a good total shareholder return in the top third of our peer group," said McDonald, who took over the CEO role from A.G. Lafley in July and added the role of chairman in January.
McDonald has already surpassed Wall Street's expectations during the first two quarters of his tenure. Demand has started to perk up for most of P&G's goods, helping it post a healthy 5 percent rise in quarterly volume last week.
P&G shares have climbed 20 percent since McDonald became CEO, slightly ahead of an 18.4 percent rise in the Dow Jones industrial average .DJI, of which P&G is a component.
P&G shares slipped 0.5 percent to $61.10 on Friday.
MORE WORRIED ABOUT THE U.S. THAN EVER
Consumer sentiment in the United States "is getting a little bit better, but it is uneven," McDonald said.
The question that remains is how much of consumers' return to purchasing has been driven by government stimulus spending rather than underlying growth, he added.
Companies large and small have shown reluctance to hire even though the economy has been growing for two quarters, and many economists think that reflects uncertainty about the pace of the recovery and policies coming out of Washington. High on the worry list are how much it will cost to provide health insurance for workers if Congress passes a healthcare reform bill, and what will happen to corporate tax rates.
McDonald, a straight talker, was quite clear how he felt about whether Obama should tax U.S. companies' foreign earnings as he tries to create U.S. jobs and improve exports, saying it "would be a dumb thing to do" as it would make U.S. companies less competitive versus foreign ones.
Lafley, his predecessor, was also vocal against the idea.
McDonald argues that such a plan would not help a company like P&G, which has 145 plants around the world and produces the majority of its goods close to where they are sold.
It is not cost-effective to make Pampers diapers in the United States and then ship them to China, for example.
McDonald has not yet spoken directly with the president and had to turn down an opportunity to have lunch with Obama at the White House last week due to a prior speaking engagement.
McDonald has broached such issues with U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, White House economic adviser Larry Summers and White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, who he said are open to listening to ideas.
"But then you see the same proposal cobbled together a different way," McDonald said.
McDonald said that 20 percent of his company's U.S. jobs are dependent on its international business. In its home state of Ohio, that percentage jumps to 40 percent.
"The point is business needs certainty, or as great a certainty as it can get, if you want business to hire more people. And there's a lot of uncertainty out there today with this administration," McDonald said. "They're not pro-business in general."
P&G's Good Government Committee PAC contributed $355,000 to federal candidates during the 2008 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Of those funds, 65 percent went to Republicans and 35 percent went to Democrats. So far in 2010, 53 percent of its $147,000 in contributions have gone to Democrats and 47 percent went to Republicans.
(Reporting by Jessica Wohl, editing by Michele Gershberg and Dave Zimmerman)
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