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Marketing Innovators Luncheon Seminar

An ‘Exceptional’ Rallying Cry for Kimberly-Clark

Audio and the deck from this presentation may be found below.

Anyone who has read Jim Collins’ highly renowned management book Good to Great no doubt remembers a great deal of material devoted to the tremendous leadership of Darwin Smith. Kimberly-Clark’s late visionary CEO was famous for turning around a declining commodity company by focusing on what it could do better than any of its competitors could, starting in the early 1970s. The result was a transformation into the world’s leading consumer paper products company over the next 20 years—and stock returns four times that of the overall market.

Today, two executives - Sue Sears, vice president, global marketing & sales and Amy Walker Barrs, global director of marketing—are keeping Smith’s customer-focused spirit alive on the business-to-business (B to B) side at Kimberly-Clark Professional. Sue and Amy will share insights on how they have achieved this at BMA Chicago’s Marketing Innovators Luncheon Seminar at the Standard Club on Thursday, December 6.

Although the gravitational pull of the “commodity magnet” endures in the paper products industry, Kimberly-Clark Professional refuses to live off of its reputation for focusing on customers first and foremost. Sue and Amy are doing their part to ensure that employees and customers buy into the customer-first philosophy.

Recently, Kimberly-Clark Professional faced a business condition that many of us face in our industries, which Sue and Amy call “The Race to Zero.” They will describe how Kimberly-Clark Professional found itself in a commoditized business lacking product differentiation in a high-fixed-cost industry. The resulting competitive landscape forced Kimberly-Clark Professional to competing on price for the same customers with declining demand in a mature market.

In response, Kimberly-Clark Professional developed a “Transformation Agenda” outlining bold financial goals supported by a focused set of aggressive marketing strategies. However, the leadership team felt that the agenda lacked passion and an emotional connection to the company’s employees and customers.

Sue and Amy decided that they needed a noble purpose or a rallying cry that would inspire their 5,000 employees to help execute the transformation agenda. The global B to B marketing team collaborated and commissioned marketing research with customers to test three transformational mission statements with the goal of selecting one.

With the help of Kimberly-Clark Professional’s agency, Gyro, the marketing team selected “We will partner with our customers to create Exceptional Workplaces.” According to Sears, “Creating exceptional workplaces is all about the people who work in the workplace and our promise to help them be healthier, safer, and more productive. We will deliver on this promise by offering our customers new platforms or sets of solutions. One of these is our Healthy Workplace Project, which is designed to reduce absenteeism by educating workers on where the ‘germ hot spots’ are in their offices.”

Barrs describes how the company has focused this past year on building this brand promise internally and will provide an example of the company’s “Exceptional Workplace Experience” program in which employees nominate workplaces in their local markets that need an exceptional transformation. In 2013, the plan is to broadcast this new mission externally to Kimberly-Clark Professional’s customers.

This new noble purpose is resonating well with all Kimberly-Clark Professional employees and their distributor customers all over the world. The Exceptional Workplaces initiative is providing Kimberly-Clark Professional with meaningful value, faster revenue growth, and higher margins. 

Suzanne (Sue) is Vice President at Kimberly-Clark Professional, where she currently leads the global marketing & sales team. She is accountable for the development of global marketing strategies and customer management strategies, including global national accounts, as well as new and expanded channels of distribution and category development.

She recently was president of the Global Do-It-Yourself Business, an entrepreneurial business of Kimberly-Clark that sells and markets professional-grade products into the retail channel.
Previously, Sue was vice president of marketing for Unisource Worldwide, Inc, a $7 billion company and one of the leading distributors of printing and imaging products, packaging systems, and sanitary maintenance supplies in North America. She was responsible for developing a market segmentation strategy focused on growing highly profitable product categories in strategic customer segments in North America.

Prior to joining Unisource in 1999, Sue was director of worldwide product development in the B-to-B market with Scott Paper Company, a $2 billion business. Her responsibilities included developing new products, new technologies, licenses, and joint ventures worldwide for the company.

Sue has been an active member of the board of directors for the Network of Executive Women since March 2011. She was inducted into the University of Delaware “2011 Hall of Fame” award that recognizes outstanding professional and public service achievement in her community. Sue also received the Marketing Leadership Award from the Business Marketing Association in 2008. In 2006, she received the National Association of Women Business award in the Philadelphia area. She is also an active member of the ISBM Advisory Board and is serving a three-year term in this capacity.

Sue graduated with honors in Business from the University of Delaware. She, her husband, and three children reside in Media, PA. Her hobbies include aerobics, swimming, and raising funds for cancer awareness charities.

Amy Walker Barrs is the global director of marketing for Kimberly-Clark Professional. In this capacity, she is leading innovative marketing concepts in the areas of branding, market research, sustainability, and marketing communications. In addition, she is part of a global network of marketing directors for Kimberly-Clark Professional who are transforming their marketing groups into more customer-facing organizations in their respective regions as well as sharing best practices and successes.

Amy is an experienced marketer within Kimberly-Clark Professional, having held numerous positions in product, segment and channel marketing. In addition, she led the industry communications team for a large company merger, the startup of what is still one of the lowest cost plants in the company, and the divestiture of a business which was considered non-strategic to the organization. Amy has been recognized for her dedication to a customer-driven marketing philosophy and her development of innovative marketing campaigns.

Prior to joining Kimberly-Clark, Amy obtained her M.B.A, from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School in Atlanta and her BA in French from Hollins College in Virginia. She pioneered the “Living Case” concept and intern programs with Kimberly-Clark and Goizueta and continues to serve as a judge for the annual Goizueta Marketing Strategy Competition.
Amy and her husband have two daughters and live in Atlanta.

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