Victor Aguilar, Chief Research, Development and Innovation Officer, P&G
Victor Aguilar is P&G’s newly elected Chief Research, Development and Innovation Officer. Victor will lead P&G’s Research & Development (R&D) organization, global innovation program and strategy, its nearly $2 billion annual investment in R&D and end-to-end packaging transformation. He will also serve as liaison to the Board of Director’s Innovation and Technology Committee.
Victor brings over three decades of P&G experience spanning three continents, and across Fabric and Baby Care, Future Works and Corporate R&D. As a long-time leader in Fabric Care, Victor has led innovation that has accelerated growth through a commitment to superiority, agility and consumer-inspired solutions. And, most recently in Corporate R&D where he has made an immediate impact, accelerating the value of our Transformative Platform Technologies.
Victor is a passionate advocate of equality and inclusion in the workplace, envisioning and enabling a culture that embraces agility. Victor is an authentic and passionate leader. He is a deep and fast learner with a growth mindset, and an innate ability to break barriers and create new capabilities to help the company continue to win behind innovation.
Part of your job is to develop and commercialize new products that deliver significant revenue growth for your company. What primary lessons have you learned over the years with P&G that help you achieve greater success in this area?
First, I would say that one of the most important parts of my job is to help create products that really delight consumers in a way that not only solves their needs and pain points but creates irresistibly superior experiences when they use them. Over the years, I have learned over and over that the more we focus our innovation programs and our R&D efforts in delivering against this mission, the more we create value for our consumers, our stakeholders, and P&G shareholders. The history of P&G is a great testament to this.
In February 2020, P&G launched Microban 24, a new disinfectant spray that “keeps surfaces sanitized for up to 24 hours, even after multiple touches.” According to an 11.13.20 Wall Street Journal article, the approach P&G took to developing that product was atypical for the company. How did it differ, and what did P&G learn from the product launch?
Microban 24 is an excellent example of P&G’s ability to anticipate consumer needs and then create products with agility. Of course, we could not have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic, but we do know consumer and household needs when it comes to hygiene are increasingly important and relevant.
With Microban 24, we put into practice our capability to leverage GrowthWorks, our approach to Lean Innovation, to introduce the product with accelerated speed, learning and adjusting quickly as we executed the launch. This contrasts with more traditional innovation approaches where we would perform significant pre-market testing to ‘dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s” which is valuable, of course, but in this case it would have taken longer to execute.
In that same WSJ article, the author claims that Microban 24 resulted from ‘a strategy central to P&G’s success over the last century: creating a product to fill a need consumers didn’t know they had.’ How do you go about uncovering such unacknowledged customer needs?
Exactly. Our scientists and market researchers identified the importance of hygiene in our day-to-day life, even before consumers articulated it. This is a process that combines art and science, many different tools, and requires a lot of integration of sometimes contradictory signals to create hypotheses of what future needs could look like. This is one of our core competences at P&G that has enabled our company to create innovative products such as Tide PODs to Oral-B iO toothbrushes.
What are some of the primary reasons innovations fail to achieve market success?
This is an excellent question and I am sure there are lots of analysis done by academia, marketers, among many. However, from P&G's perspective, innovations are successful when we are able to deliver irresistibly superior products, packages, brand communication, retail execution, and consumer and customer value. We call these elements our 5 vectors of superiority. We know that when we deliver on all of these vectors, innovations succeed and deliver disproportionate growth to P&G. And it all starts with understanding consumer needs and then creating irresistibly superior products.
P&G invests a great deal of time, effort and money in developing the packages that carry names such as Tide, Dawn, Cascade, Crest and more. What can we expect from P&G with regards to creating more sustainable packaging?
P&G has declared a very ambitious sustainability program which we call Ambition 2030. This includes goals of reducing the use of virgin plastic by 50% and making all of our packages fully recyclable or reusable. We are making great progress towards these goals and many of our packages already incorporate a significant part of recycled resins.
We are also creating products based on novel technology that will eliminate the need to use plastic packages altogether. One example of those products is EC-30, a suite of product solutions including a laundry detergent, a shampoo, a conditioner, a toilet cleaner, among others. We featured EC-30 at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, 2021.
How did you become interested in pursuing a career in science, generally, and chemical engineering, more specifically?
Very interesting question. My father is a Chemical Engineer and during my high school years, he invited me to work during the summers at the company he worked for. I became fascinated in how science, and chemistry in particular, could be industrialized in a way to create very useful materials. My father was working to industrialize PVC, a material that is used in many industrial and consumer applications. I then started to spend more hours at the labs, met great teachers, and other students, which reaffirmed my conviction that this was a career I wanted to pursue.
Like you, many other ACS Boss Talk contributors have combined a technical degree, such as chemistry or chemical engineering, with an MBA. What makes that combination so synergistic?
As I discovered my passion for chemical engineering, I also discovered a passion to make a difference, to create products that would have a meaningful impact in people’s lives. And one way to do this is to create something that also creates economic value to all stakeholders involved. This is where the MBA comes in handy, by developing the ability to understand how businesses need to be run to thrive and succeed. Understanding the science behind our products, and the ability for these products to create economic value, is what makes this combination synergistic in my opinion.
How have your parents influenced your leadership style?
I have been fortunate to have been educated in a family where values were firmly rooted and always respected. My parents taught me the importance of setting ambitious goals, the importance of hard work and dedication to achieve those goals, the importance of collaborating with others, and most of all, that I could achieve any goal I wanted if I really wanted it. Academics call this growth mindset these days, but back then I just knew that I needed to be better every day and work hard to achieve whatever I wanted. Now, as a leader, I am to instill these values in all of those who I work with.
With respect to your scientists at P&G, what non-technical skills do you most highly value?
First, I would say that there are many skills that I personally value and are important in the context of each individual. It is the combination of those skills that makes everyone unique. This said, I believe that Innovation is a team sport that requires not just technical skills and mastery but a lot of creativity and imagination. And I believe creativity is an acquired skill that comes from being very inclusive, which is the ability to listen to others, seek and understand different points of view, create diverse teams, and then integrate all of this information into something bigger than the original idea.
Hence, harnessing creativity requires a great deal of collaboration. Another important skill when it comes to innovation is the willingness to pursue uncharted territories, to constructively challenge the status quo, and to take risks to achieve greater goals and objectives.
P&G describes you as a “passionate advocate of equality and inclusion in the workplace.” What fuels that passion?
A very important question given the environment in which we are all living, particularly in the US. There is ample evidence that diverse teams outperform those that are not diverse and more so when it comes to innovation. But team diversity is just the foundation. The real breakthrough is the ability to create an environment that thrives in equality and inclusion. This is when the diverse ideas come to life, when everyone is challenged to their fullest of their potential, when the sum is greater than the individual parts. Being Hispanic, I have witnessed firsthand what our community can do to create better and bigger innovation when we inclusively combine with the skills that all identity groups bring to the table.
What technology trends are you following most closely with an eye toward how they may impact the work of your scientists, and your company’s future growth?
We are living in an era of disruption, with many trends being created that I believe will shape the world’s future. For example, the ability of computational technology to accelerate innovation is reaching unprecedented levels. Connecting data is rendering significant insights that were not anticipated before, not just in traditional fields of science but across all fields.
At the same time, consumers are more demanding of not just better solutions but also personalized ones. All of this is creating excellent opportunities for innovation for companies like P&G. We are constructively disrupting our company, with irresistibly superior products that truly improve people’s lives. And we’re leading the adoption of digital and computational technologies not just on highly smart products, such as Oral-B iO, featured at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2021, but also in how we are innovating to create these products much faster and better than ever before.
What have you learned about yourself during the pandemic?
The pandemic has been obviously a very difficult year for the world for many reasons. At the same time, it has been a great year for innovation. It taught me the value of understanding consumers at all times and how life can change in an instant. It was also a great reminder of the importance of being agile, to embrace change, and to leverage new circumstances to become a better leader and a better human being.
We leveraged P&G innovation capability to produce face masks, face shields, hand sanitizers, ventilators, and many other products to help our communities. And we did this following our lean innovation approach, which proved to be once again extremely valuable. P&G’s mission is to improve consumers lives and we were able to demonstrate once again our capabilities to do so.
Do you have a favorite memory from your undergraduate years at Mexico’s Tecnológico de Monterrey?
I have many fun memories of my undergraduate years. Those were fun but also hard-working years. One of those fun memories is when I learned about P&G’s recruiting team at the Tecnológico de Monterrey. I approached the interviews with a bit of skepticism. First, I did not know P&G was behind the brands that I used at home, but also because I wasn’t sure I would move to Mexico City, which is where P&G is located. When I was offered a job in Research & Development, I told my girlfriend Gabriela, now my wife, that I was only going to try it out for a couple of years. And here I am still working for P&G 33 years later!
This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.
Copyright 2022 American Chemical Society (All Rights Reserved)