Up Close: Penny McIntyre, Newell Rubbermaid exec

McIntyre has almost 30 years of global consumer packaged goods experience from jobs at SC Johnson and Coca-Cola. She has worked around the world -- in the U.S., Canada and Tokyo (for S.C. Johnson); and in Moscow, Johannesburg and London (for Coke).

Prior to joining Atlanta-based Newell Rubbermaid, she was senior vice president--non-carbonated and new beverages at Coke. She spoke with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about how to rejuvenate brands and how an international career affects a family.

Q: You were on a fast-track career at Coca-Cola. Why did you join Newell Rubbermaid?

A: I wasn’t looking for a new job but I had the opportunity at Newell Rubbermaid to expand my abilities to lead an organization to new growth. My group has 10 plants, 4,000 employees, 19 brands and is truly global. The position was also in Atlanta and I have two children. We didn’t want to uproot them. My family was happy and I was able to have this almost irresistible opportunity. I thought I’d give it a shot.

Q: Essentially you are the CEO of a $2 billion business. That is quite a large business unit, isn’t it?

A: It’s certainly up there, especially since the business isn’t focused on just the U.S. or North America. We are number one or two in our markets around the world. It’s pretty impressive, but very challenging.

Q: Many of your brands are mature, such as Sharpie and Parker pens. How do you plan to push sales?

A: I have 19 brands but four where I focus my attention: Paper Mate, Sharpie, Dynmo and Parker. Now take Sharpie. Everyone knows Sharpie and everyone uses them, both at home and in the office. But we have less than 15 percent market penetration. So when you go into stores like Office Depot, you’ll be seeing a big display that will remind consumers about Sharpie. We’re reaching out to the teen market. Take Paper Mate, which needs to be polished as a brand. It has global recognition. I grew up with Paper Mate in Canada but in the last five years or so there hasn’t been a lot of time and resources spent on promoting the brand. We advertised in the Olympics and saw a great increase in sales. I am excited that we are revamping an icon and bringing it back to where it should be. [Parker] is very strong in Europe and China and the emerging markets, but you need a hunting license to find it in North America. The challenge to the team is: if people can buy multiple pairs of eyeglasses why can’t we get them to do the same with pens?

Q: What makes for a good marketer?

A: A good marketer is curious of the why of the product and the why not. Why do you love the brand? What makes it unique? Conversely, what can be done to make the product right or better? When you release the power of a brand, you have a heartfelt desire to do right by the brand and the consumers.

Q: Your career took you all over the world. How did you manage with your family?

A: It is so critical to have a supportive family. I have a husband who has been with me and the children every step of the way. From the first day of a new assignment in a new country I was able to focus on work and he took care of the practical things like getting the gas turned on. On the business front, I’m very much into work integration. It’s about ebbs and flows. Some days it’s important to stay home and focus on family and on other days there’s less of a balance.

Q: Your children are Canadian. Is it difficult raising children oversees and keeping their identity?

A: My children are Canadian and love Canada. But they’ve never lived in Canada. We go back every summer to visit family. My children don’t see the world through the lens of ethnicity, nationality, race. My son Jon once described his friend in South Africa to me as having curly hair – not by race or anything else. That was what stood out to Jon, because he has straight hair. That, to me, is worth it. I am raising international citizens.

Q: How important is it for executives to have international experience?

A: Critical. I don’t think you necessarily have to live internationally, but you do have to immerse yourself in a culture. Social norms often dictate how things are done.

Q: What is the key to corporate success?

A: Opportunity is there if you have passion, commitment and advocacy for what you do.

Penny McIntyre

Title: Group President, Office Products – Newell Rubbermaid

Age: 49

Education: University of Western Ontario

Husband’s name: Peter McKenney

Children’s names, ages: Sarah (17), Jon (13)

Hometown: Montreal, Canada

Currently resides in: Atlanta

Hobbies: Reading, Fitness

Favorite charity: United Way

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