On July 22, James Michael Lafferty, Procter & Gamble Phils. top man, will lead 50 of his people to run 108 kilometers (roughly the distance from Makati to Batangas) for the Milo Marathon.
Over the past months, Jim, a frustrated athlete who had dreamed of running in the Olympics, has been training his people to do a feat which he says only 0.1 percent of the world population achieves.
Now what has running got to do with working in one of the world’s largest consumer goods maker that include the brands Safeguard, Pantene, Rejoice, Head and Shoulders, Olay, and Camay
The minute you cross the finish line you become part of a very elite club. Something like 99.9 percent of the world will never do (but they can). This builds confidence and perseverance like nothing I have seen.
People change from pre-marathon to ?post-marathon. They believe in themselves at a new level. They learn to stick with things more, their perseverance extends. I have seen it with hundreds of marathoners I have coached all over the world. They become better in all walks of life, certainly in business. And a happier, healthier, more confident employee is going to pay huge dividends to a company like P&G in many ways,? Jim, who has run several marathons, says.
Product of own belief
The interview with the Inquirer reveals Jim himself is the embodiment of this belief?being an athlete, a runner in particular, that enabled him to overcome several tough periods in his life.
But Jim was meant to be a unique person from the start.
He was born in 1963, four hours after a niece?a sister?s daughter?was born. His mother was the oldest birth mother in Cincinnati, Ohio, at that time, at 49 years old.
Naturally his birth and that of his niece made news such that a popular US newscaster stated at the end of his evening newscast: ?There?s one very tired man in Cincinnati today (whose wife and daughter gave birth at almost the same time).
Jim comes from a traditional Catholic family with seven siblings whose parents were high school sweethearts.
Coming into the world when his siblings were already grown up put some pressure on him so he learned to fend for himself early on.
I was completely dominated by my siblings which toughened me up. I learned to fight. The saying in life that everything happens for a reason is true?what does not kill you, makes you strong.
One of the defining moments of his life was having a child at 21 while he and his wife were still in college.
I learned to live hand to mouth?I will not be where I am now if life had not been hard. I learned to fight as a young father.
Married and with a child while still in school, he scrambled for a source of income. Having been a track and field athlete and coach, he knew a lot about fitness.
Seeing the fitness craze of the ?80s early on, he and two doctor friends set up a fitness consultancy firm, Vivo Fitness Services Center. The firm advised firms or gyms that put up fitness centers.
This became such a success that in his last semester in college he did not attend a single class. Yet he managed to get a grade point average of 4, the highest in the US grading system.
Business was doing well at that time so he was traveling all over the US to sell. When finals came, he copied all of his classmates? notes, locked himself up in the apartment for three days straight and studied.
But while the business was doing well, an incident happened that made Jim look into employment more than entrepreneurship.
Their son got sick and with no medical benefits, they easily ran out of money. Jim felt guilty because he felt his son almost died. He decided to look for a job.
He applied with P&G and got accepted after his third try. Jim has never gone to another company since then, or 21 years ago.
I stayed in P&G because of its values. It means a lot to me. You can never find a place with as much values. It?s not just the money although they pay well, it?s the people. If you do your math you spend more time with the office people than with your kids. It is better that you like who you?re working with.
He recalls an incident in the Middle East where a distributor helped them establish the market. Somehow there were differences in the two firms? value systems. Although under no obligation to pay the distributor, Jim asked his boss to allow him to pay the firm the amount that it would have cost P&G to establish the market.
Although money was tight then, Jim says his boss ?did not blink? and released the budget. It’s not what?s legal, it?s what?s moral,? Jim says.
All in the family
Jim walks the talk in his personal life. He always brought his family when posted in a different country. He is married to the same woman, Susan, for the past 20 years.
A Catholic, he received the biggest compliment from his son recently who told an aunt that he wanted to get married and have children early like his father because he wants to do things with them.
Jim says the early memories of his son are going to track meets or races with his parents. He and his wife have remained active in sports, along with their children?all runners. Wife Susan just finished the 89-kilometer, plus mountain passes comrades marathon in Africa, one of the toughest runs in the world which has a time limit of 12 hours. All four kids have ran a marathon except for the youngest who is training for his first soon.
Of course, Jim is his children’s coach.
And this is also why he wants to be there for his people when they run the marathon.
?Training and development has many prongs. One is directly related to business, on topics such as communication, or financial management, or project management, or advertising evaluation. These can all be addressed via straightforward courses to train and develop the necessary skills. However, all people are unique and many times we must train beyond directly business? into areas of personal development, he says.
One of these is leadership. Another is working within a diverse team. A third is self-confidence and perseverance to continue up a tough road.
All of these are crucial to business success. We work in a fast-paced FMCG (fast moving consumer good) industry. We also work in a large company with many stakeholders. A good idea is not enough. We must have leaders who can convince and inspire others to embark on the same idea and path; we must have people who can work on diverse teams of people from all cultures and countries, and learn how to stick together unified in a common goal. And we must have people who can persevere, and have the self-confidence to stick to the plan, to fight when the fighting is tough. All the skills or talent in the world won?t overcome deficiencies here.
These are not things you can toss a person into a classroom and teach them. They must come from within. A teacher (and I consider myself not a businessman, but a teacher) must find ways to facilitate the learning so that it comes from within. This is where a marathon team can come in. We go on group runs together, we run the race together. The finest team bonding I have ever seen is on these runs. We have people struggling, we help each other, we support each other. True bonds are forged in tough times, not easy times!
This builds a depth of teamwork not normally seen, Jim says.
On top, the marathon is viewed as a pinnacle achievement for many people. It is tough, it is painful, it is hard work, and you must do it alone.
Money cannot buy a marathon and you can?t climb on someone else. I would argue you find out what you are really made of in a marathon. When you are at km 30 and you are dead tired and you know you have 12 km to go, what do you do? Now we find out what one is made of.
Asked if some non-runners in P&G will feel ?pressured? to go into running to be closer to the CEO, Jim replies:
I am very cognizant. I am the CEO of P&G Phils. and as such my actions and words can take on an amplified meaning. I however cannot allow this to stop me from also doing the right things for my people and our business.
All of this is voluntary. I never ask anyone to join, I don’t check up on people, and I don?t push people. It is their choice. What I do is recognize that many people do have the dream to try, and I offer them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a custom program, one that works, and I tell them I will help them, run with them every step of the way. All a person has to do, if they want to do it, is discipline and time and do the work. I will help them on the rest.
I would never pressure anyone, and certainly I would never consider whether they run a marathon or not as a part of the evaluation process. No way. This is like any other benefit we offer, we put it out there, and we offer it up to our people, and they are free to choose what they partake in, and what they choose to opt out of.