Reckitt’s transformation started with its purpose
Reckitt has launched a new corporate purpose and corporate brand and is reframing how it tells its story as it positions for growth
Reckitt is changing. The consumer goods business has just unveiled a new brand identity, corporate purpose, supported by a fight and a compass, a corporate philanthropic strategy and an ambition that were all prompted by one simple question.
Why does this business exist?
It was posed by Laxman Narasimhan following his appointment as chief executive in 2019 with a mandate to transform the consumer goods business back into the high-performing company it once had been. He recognised that, to achieve his goal, the business required a change in direction and transformation.
So, before Narasimhan developed his business strategy, he asked his senior colleagues what made Reckitt (now rebranded without Benckiser) different. He wanted to understand what differentiated Reckitt from other companies in its field but also what should be different.
‘What we started with was a discussion of our corporate purpose,’ explains head of corporate affairs and chief sustainability officer Miguel Veiga Pestana.
‘More companies are being asked why they exist. And legally of course, Section 172 of the Companies Act, requires you to talk about your corporate purpose. I think it is fair to say, however, that this process often feels like it is reverse engineered – retrofitting a corporate purpose into something based on an existing strategy – as opposed to starting with a very frank discussion before deciding on which path to embark. It’s almost like starting with a blank piece of paper.’
For Veiga Pestana, a purpose statement needs to be ‘aspirational, inspirational, memorable and repeatable’ and rooted in the DNA of a business so that it feels real to people. But it also must be immovable. ‘You don’t look to change your purpose. You change your strategy every three or five years, because a lot can happen in a business’ footprint, but your purpose should be constant,’ he explains.
It was this reasoning that was partly behind the decision to start the process with the next generation of leaders because they will inherit the corporate purpose. ‘You often get advice that you should talk to everybody, have huge numbers of focus groups, but in reality what often happens is that you lose sight of the wood for the trees,’ he explains. ‘We were really select. We picked people carefully, those who actually influence what others think, and the people who will be the next generation of leaders, as well as our leadership.’
Today, Reckitt’s corporate purpose states: We exist to protect, heal and nurture in the relentless pursuit of a cleaner and healthier world.
‘If you look at the breakdown of what our corporate purpose says, the ‘protect, heal and nurture’ is really our corporate categories. We’re a nutrition business today. We’re a hygiene business. We’re a consumer health company. The words are all expressed in a human way,’ explains Veiga Pestana. ‘The ‘relentless pursuit’ piece, for me, captures the very agile, entrepreneurial nature of the business.’
But importantly, according to Veiga Pestana, this ‘relentless pursuit’ is not purely expressed in terms of generating even greater financial returns but how the company is in the service of creating a ‘cleaner and healthier world’.
‘What we have spelt out in our purpose is a description of the places that we play, where we can make the biggest impact. We talk about the DNA of the company in terms of its entrepreneurial drive and initiative,’ he explains. ‘But you can also interpret that language in terms of the planet. Protecting and nurturing is also about planetary boundaries. It is about doing the right thing in terms of climate change. It’s also about people because the role of a company, in many ways, is to ensure that it safeguards, protects and nurtures its people. There’s a notion that we’ve built within our purpose a truly integrated view of the world.’
What we have spelt out in our purpose is a description of the places that we play, where we can make the biggest impact
But rather than underpinning its corporate purpose with a mission statement or values, Reckitt has launched a corporate fight: Making access to the highest quality hygiene, wellness and nourishment a right, not a privilege. ‘It speaks to the competitive part of our DNA. People in our business love something to compete against. The corporate fight is why we get up in the morning,’ says Veiga Pestana.
As he explains, the fight is all about access. Access to high-quality nutrition, hygiene and health and wellbeing is still a privilege in so many parts of the world where basic hygiene, sanitation and health is not available. ‘[Our corporate fight] is a rallying cry. It’s the thing that motivates people but it’s also about what drives our strategy. It’s about market expansion. It’s about category expansion. It’s about pricing and affordability. It’s about education and behavioural change. It goes beyond selling a product to actually encouraging behaviours to change.’
The corporate fight has powerful support. In March 2020, Reckitt announced that the equivalent of one per cent of its net profits would be deployed to improve access to health, hygiene and nutrition. ‘That means places we can’t reach, refugee camps in Syria, for example, or countries where we don’t have a footprint or communities where they can’t afford to buy our products,’ explains Veiga Pestana. ‘It’s a fund. It’s not a foundation. The advantage of our fund is that our brands can also engage with it. You can tie campaigns to it. It’s a way of driving more impact.’
Launched just after lockdowns were imposed across the world, the Reckitt Fight For Access Fund was immediately mobilised to fight the spread of Covid-19. Around £52 million was spent on more than 40 projects across 19 countries, including Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Nigeria and Vietnam. In some countries, Reckitt worked with government bodies, health associations and non-governmental organisations on public service campaigns to educate consumers on handwashing and sanitation.
For example, Dettol India’s The Hand Wash Challenge campaign with TikTok was seen by more than 125 billion people. ‘It was a massive public health campaign, but it was presented in a way that was engaging and fun and something people wanted to share,’ he explains. ‘But at its core was this idea of behavioural change.’ More than ten million bars of Dettol soap were distributed in India.
The fund also committed monies for critical medical equipment to health care workers and hospitals, while a partnership with Nigerian online shopping channel Jumia offers consumers in eight African countries access to a steady supply of hygiene products, such as Harpic and liquid hand wash, at affordable prices. Jumia is forgoing commission on three products and using its commission from other products to discount prices while Reckitt is offering free shipping.
‘Corporate purpose is core to why you are here. It’s what you do. We’re a company that makes things for people that improves their health, their wellbeing or makes places cleaner and more hygienic. In many ways, Covid brought our purpose into sharp focus [Reckitt launched its purpose in February 2020],’ he adds. And it was completely embraced by our people. I can’t tell you how pleased I am when I hear it being played back to me by my colleagues. It does instil a sense of real pride within our community.’
We’re a company that makes things for people that improves their health, their wellbeing or makes places cleaner and more hygienic. In many ways, Covid brought our purpose into sharp focus
Once Reckitt had launched its purpose and its fight, the company presented its compass. ‘It is five areas that we need to excel at, if we’re going to be a truly outperforming company,’ explains Veiga Pestana. ‘It acts as our guide.’ The heart of the compass serves almost as a conscience. It says simply Do the right thing always. Every action needs to be measured against this exhortation. From this, the four points say: Put consumers and people first; Seek out new opportunities; Strive for excellence; Build shared success.
‘The idea of the compass is to look at yourself in the mirror and say Are we living up to these five things? Building shared success means being a much better partner. Putting our people first is about diversity and inclusion. We need to be a much better business at representing the people that we serve. If ultimately we don’t actually represent those societies that we are a part of, then we are going to fail.’
At Reckitt, these values are summed up by four words, including care and create, for which colleagues have individual accountability. They aren’t painted on the walls, embellished on posters or etched on glass. They are designed to be lived in the moment. ‘It’s not some top-down thing or a mantra on a wall that you look at and disregard,’ he adds. ‘As a leadership team, we are trying to see if we are living up to the things that we tell other people they should live up to. We’re being very deliberate and talking about it a lot as a leadership team.’
For example, it cites ‘active listening’ as a behaviour which means that colleagues hear, and are respectful of, the views of others. ‘We talk about speaking directly but always with respect. If I think somebody isn’t actually listening to what I am saying, then I can call this out. These are things that we want to incentivise behaviourally into the organisation,’ he adds. ‘But it also starts with holding ourselves individually accountable.’
And it was only when this groundwork – the purpose, fight and compass – was laid that Narasimhan announced Reckitt’s new strategy. ‘There’s a clarity. There’s a logic to how this evolved,’ says Veiga Pestana. ‘But we’ve also talked about our ambition which is the societal impact that we want to have. We don’t have a sustainability strategy. We don’t have a CSR strategy. We just talk about our ambitions because they are a manifestation of the impact that we want to have… that’s how you deliver against your purpose and your fight and all those good things, but in a way that drives your growth.’
Having gone through this journey of corporate discovery, the existing brand and logos seemed out of kilter. ‘Why did we change our name? Why did we change our symbol? It’s way more than a symbol, it’s a manifestation of who we are but also who we aspire to be in the future,’ says Veiga Pestana. Reckitt is the name to which employees, suppliers and investors already defaulted. Similarly, the abbreviated RB did not engender an emotional connection. But more importantly, perhaps, Reckitt has a heritage dating back almost 200 years.
While not as well-known as the Cadbury, Rowntree or Lever families, the Reckitt family was instrumental in the development of Hull and they continue to support the city today. In the nineteenth century, they were building model housing for their workers, supporting schools, hospitals and museums. ‘The Reckitt family had a purpose. They were talking about enabling people to be healthy. I look at board papers from the mid-19th century when they were hiring their first chemist to validate the science behind the things they were doing,’ explains Veiga Pestana, who visited the company’s archives in Hull.
‘It was amazing. You have all these incredible brands that people just don’t understand. Every brand has its own story. For example, Dettol was launched in 1932 as a cure for childhood sepsis and has been helping to protect families ever since,’ he explains.
Air Wick talks about being connected to nature, and is partnering with the WWF to help restore biodiversity and wildflower habitats. It has also launched a brand called Botanica by Airwich, which uses responsibly sourced key ingredients and recyclable packaging.
The story of Durex is one of sexual health and sexual wellbeing. ‘Every single day, one million people contract a sexually transmittable disease: that’s 350 million people a year,’ explains Veiga Pestana. ‘If you own a condom brand like Durex, educating people about why using it is important also helps grow your market share. You have a purpose which is very clear, and it does a societal good.’ Reckitt has conducted research in Thailand that demonstrates how increasing the use of condoms could save its health system £192 million a year.
You have all these incredible brands that people just don’t understand. Every brand has its own story
‘You are actually stopping somebody from getting a life-threatening disease which impacts families, but you are saving a huge amount of cost in the health system, which can be utilised in other places,’ he says. ‘We’ve been really careful to think this through, and all our sustainability ambitions are tied to our brands playing that role.’
‘It’s responding to a consumer desire for products that are better. But at the same time, it is also allowing the corporate brand to do things in a bigger way. We are telling these stories to help ensure the Reckitt name is synonymous with brands that make a societal impact. When you understand the motivations and drivers of each brand, it creates a stronger affinity and builds a sense of pride. And if you look at the full package of those brands taken together, it creates a sense of pride in the company that owns those brands. [The Reckitt name] has a richness of purpose built in.’
The new symbol of Reckitt is a shell, with an R at its core. A shell heals, protects and nurtures [which is at the core of Reckitt’s purpose]. ‘It’s the embedded energy across our brand assets which is all about the relentless pursuit. We want our brand to be relevant for the future for the digital age. More people will encounter brands digitally, so it needs to be something that is not static but rather multi-dimensional and functional. It needs to be visually compelling. But when you see it visually, it is moving.’
Veiga Pestana’s ambition is for the symbol to become so recognisable that people will just know it is Reckitt. But his ambition for the journey that Reckitt has embarked upon is to deliver sustainable business growth – and where the parent brand has a role to play. ‘Who matters to us? Of course, it’s our investors. They care. It’s our customers. It’s our employees because they get paid by Reckitt not by Durex. If you want to attract talent, they’re going to come and work at Reckitt. If they don’t know what Reckitt is or what it stands for, then it’s not going to be easy to attract the right people. The corporate brand has to work on so many levels.’
He concludes: ‘This isn’t just some little moment where we change the logo. We have made a lot of progress over the past two years. We’re absolutely changing the DNA of our business. We’re recalibrating and trying to become a different company, and at the heart of that is our purpose, the fight, the compass, the behaviours, our sustainability, ambitions and our corporate brand. We are reframing the way we tell our story.’