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Book Review | Playing to Win

A book on strategy liberally peppered wih case studies
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First Published: Sun, Feb 17 2013. 05 00 PM IST
Playing to Win—How Strategy Really Works:

By A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin, Harvard Business Review Press,
260 pages, $27 (around Rs 1,460)
Playing to Win—How Strategy Really Works: By A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin, Harvard Business Review Press, 260 pages, $27 (around Rs 1,460)
The inside story
In this manual on strategy, A.G. Lafley teams up with Roger Martin, who besides being dean of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, has had a 27-year association with Procter and Gamble (P&G). The result is a nice mix of management theories on strategy, peppered with case studies from P&G.
So we read about Oil of Olay, the iconic skincare brand that was flagging so badly by the late 1990s that it began to be called “Oil of Old Lady”. Younger women weren’t buying the $3.99 (Rs.215 now) bargain basement price bottle; they were choosing the more expensive department store brands. Losing on this brand was a huge red flag for P&G. Plummeting market share in skincare could be damaging, given that skincare was also a huge driver for the rest of the beauty business, which included haircare brands like Pantene and Head & Shoulders. Here’s where strategy with the five comprehensive questions kicked in—to solve the Oil of Olay conundrum:
What is our winning aspiration?
Where will we play?
How will we win?
What capabilities must we have in place to win?
What management systems are required to support our choices?
Besides Olay, we read about strategy again in the story of Bounty, the soft superior absorbent paper towel that was losing market share to cheaper variants in the late 1990s. There are also success stories like Gillette, where after the company’s acquisition by P&G in 2005, Chip Bergh, P&G’s president of men’s grooming, sent the research team, kicking and screaming, to India for first-hand consumer knowledge. This led to the design and launch of the hugely successful Gillette guard razor that was designed to be used easily.
The case studies mesh well with the framework of strategy. Perhaps this is because of P&G’s long connection with consultants and with strategy, beginning in the 1980s with the firm’s engagement of Monitor, the firm founded by Michael Porter, the legendary guru of the theory of competitive advantage. Besides Porter’s basic theory, which always makes perfect sense, there’s much else in this book to delight the management theory junkie, like diagrams on “reinforcing rods” and “strategic choice cascades”, and lots of how-to’s like this one—“Do work to create how-to-win choices where none currently exist.”
The many stories from one of the biggest consumer goods firms in the world, with its many successes (and some failures too) along with the framework of the strategy to win, make this an interesting read.
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First Published: Sun, Feb 17 2013. 05 00 PM IST