Building a Company Without Borders

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HBR.ORG
Bart Becht is the CEO of Reckitt Benckiser, headquartered in Slough, England.

Building a Company Without Borders
AN ITALIAN IS RUNNING THE UK BUSINESS A DUTCHMAN IS RUNNING THE U.S. BUSINESS AN AMERICAN IS RUNNING THE GERMAN BUSINESS

by Bart Becht
A FRENCHMAN IS RUNNING THE RUSSIAN BUSINESS

AN INDIAN IS RUNNING THE CHINESE BUSINESS

A BELGIAN IS RUNNING THE BRAZILIAN BUSINESS

T
THE IDEA

You may never have heard of Reckitt Benckiser, but in the past few years the company has outperformed its rivals P&G, Unilever, and Colgate in growth—even during the downturn. Here’s how.

hey say you can’t go home again. If you work for Reckitt Benckiser, you can go home—but you may not want to, and you certainly won’t have to. Many companies, when they describe themselves as global, mean they have operations around the world, they work virtually and in all time zones, and their key people are developed through stints in other markets. Our version is more comprehensive. Most of our top managers haven’t held jobs in their countries of origin for years and view themselves as global citizens rather than as citizens of any given nation. We have operations in more than 60 countries. Our top 400 managers represent 53 di erent nationalities. We’ve spent the past 10 years building this culture of global April 2010 Harvard Business Review 103

This article is provided compliments of Reckitt Benckiser Group.

HOW I DID IT

mobility because we think it’s one of the best ways to generate new ideas and create global entrepreneurs. And it has paid o . Products launched in the past three years—all the result of global cross-fertilization—account for 35% to 40% of our net revenue. For example, Finish, an all-in-one dishwasher tablet you drop into your machine, is now the leader in its market category. Recently we successfully introduced QuantuMatic—an automatic dispenser of dishwasher detergent that doesn’t need to be re lled for up to a month. With constant innovation like this we’ve enjoyed steady, pro table growth, even during the downturn. Since 2005 we’ve outpaced all our big competitors. During the recession

we’ve invested more than ever in marketing, and we grew at a rate of 8% (at constant exchange rates) in 2009.

A Company Without a Country

The RB “Powerbrands”
Though the company’s corporate brand recognition is very low, its products are well-known. RB focuses on 17 powerbrands:

Air Wick Calgon (water softener) Cillit Bang Clearasil Dettol Finish French’s PREVIOUSLY ELECTRASOL Gaviscon AMERICA IN NORTH Harpic Lysol Mortein Mucinex Nurofen Strepsils Vanish Veet Woolite 104 Harvard Business Review April 2010

Reckitt Benckiser resulted from a merger in 1999 of Reckitt & Colman—a British purveyor of household cleaning products with a great stable of brands—and the Dutchlisted Benckiser, a much smaller but betterperforming consumer goods company. But we don’t want to be known as an AngloDutch enterprise, or by any other label based on our operations or history. We’re not any country’s company—we’re a truly multicountry company. That is by design. Postmerger we mixed the national cultures quickly in every corner of our operations. Premerger many of the local businesses had been running themselves more or less independent of the rest of the world and without regard to overall corporate priorities. We transferred people who embodied RB’s values into key positions in new markets. Managers from one side of the merger were purposely moved to another territory, and then moved again. Now in every country we have people of many nationalities as well as local citizens. Today an Italian is running the UK business, and an American is running the German business. A Dutchman is running the U.S. business, an Indian the Chinese business, a Belgian the Brazilian business, and a Frenchman the Russian business. It’s not that you can’t advance at RB in your local company. You can. But we also offer unique global...
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