Lessons Learned from an Enterprise Organization over 3 Decades: An Interview with Charlotte Otto (Part 1)

Charlotte Otto was the person, P&G leadership turned to for communication counsel in times of positive and negative stress. For 20 of her 33 years at the company, she was at the center of communications, working with 5 CEOs and many bold leaders. Charlotte describes her P&G career as an “amazing business education.” Her areas of responsibility included worldwide media relations, product publicity, consumer relations, employee, shareholder, regulatory and technical communications, government and community relations, and philanthropy. She personally led P&G executive communications.Today Charlotte is a Senior Corporate Strategist at Weber Shandwick. She’s keenly aware of bold leadership from the inside of a behemoth organization. Here’s what she learned.
Bold leaders say “no” and still win.

A Purdue graduate, Charlotte had no intention of staying in the Midwest after college. When P&G offered her a first post-college job, she says she told them of her intentions to only stay a couple of years.“I told them if they wanted to take back their offer, I would understand. They didn’t. 33 years later I retired from P&G, so grateful.”

She said “No, not for me” a second time after a number of years in P&G’s renowned marketing organization. Looking ahead she knew she did not want to move up to be General Manager of a division. “It was heretical for a marketing person to say they didn’t want to be a GM.” But move she did into public affairs where she says she found her true passion, “dealing with all the company stakeholders and telling the company story.”

Not all bold leaders are effective.

The discreet PR professional, Charlotte didn’t name names, but she did point to a few examples where leaders were bold – very bold – but also not very effective. Some moved on because they lacked the ability to accompany a bold vision with the operating skills and management view to make the change successful. Others were bold in execution but lacked the vision and ability to surround themselves with others that could complement them.

Bold leaders push people beyond their own limits.

As Charlotte and I wound down our conversation, we ended at a familiar place, talking about the personal challenge. The word “lonely” resonated. “It really is lonely. At the end of the day, the bold leader is the one that is going to have to push people beyond their own limits. If they don’t do it, the change won’t happen.” She agreed with what I’ve found: effective bold leaders are rare. And her personal reflection: “What I learned about myself through this is that my personal (galvanizing) purpose is helping people excel. That has been very centering, and why I now have taken on my Weber Shandwick role, because I could link it to my personal purpose.”

Do you have a “galvanizing” personal purpose? If so, what are your reflections on how it impacts the daily decisions you make?

As the first Aveusian to work in the U.S., Asia and Europe, Chris has a unique perspective on how leaders drive material and positive outcomes in today’s global marketplace.