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A veteran leader, James Michael Lafferty is the CEO of Fine Hygienic Holding. James has a long career spanning decades, serving multiple positions across different verticals at renowned companies. He is the Retired CEO of Procter & Gamble, a Former CEO of Coca-Cola, and a former CEO of British American Tobacco.
James’ life story is a story of overcoming challenges. A professional track and field coach, James started in Procter & Gamble as a fitness instructor, before making his way into P&G’s famed “Brand Management” program, where he worked for 24 years, rising rapidly through the ranks to become, among other things, the first-ever General Manager for P&G’s “Near East” business—and set up the initial distribution models in these challenging markets that exist to this day and have made P&G the market leader by a wide margin. James was subsequently CEO of P&G’s operations in Poland/Baltics, Philippines, and Western European Paper.
With showing no signs of stopping and not content to rest on his laurels, James is an active CEO who is also constantly training others how to achieve massive success. He’s conducted seminars and training for the world’s leading corporations, including P&G, Coca-Cola, HP, Newell Rubbermaid, Nestle, Microsoft, GE, Hershey’s, HSBC, Wal-Mart, Target, Intuit, and many other global organizations.
James is a big believer in serendipity, meaning you don’t know how life turns out. When he was finishing his education, he was a very good youth track and field coach, and all he wanted to do was be a teacher, coach track, and make no money whatsoever.
However, life had other plans for him. He had a baby at 21 years old. To make ends meet, he started his business in the wellness space and was contracted by Procter and Gamble to teach executives how to lose weight and get fit.
At that time, he was paid $5/hour and he loved it. One day, serendipity came! He had a client who was a brand manager and he says to James, “You have talent, you can do what I do”. And that moment changed James’ life. He pursued brand management, went through all the tests and interviews, and eventually was hired in 1985 as an entry-level marketer. This led to an amazing career over the past 37 years with senior roles in P&G, Coca-Cola, BAT, and now Fine Hygienic Holding across five continents.
Old-School with a Gold Soul
As a person, James is old-fashioned and believes in concepts and values that have become passe in many respects. He believes in honor, and in doing the right thing. Moral compass for him is the single-most important attribute. For James, it has never been about just “making a profit”. It has been about making the world a better place. And doing this via business and commerce.
Leading by the true example of a leader, who believes in putting others above ourselves and truly serving others. He is not a major proponent of the “Airplane Analogy” in which we justify putting ourselves first because that’s what they tell us on an airplane if we are in a position of having to adjust our oxygen mask.
James states, “It’s a convenient way for many I see to justify putting themselves ahead of others, of abandoning their team. If I am ever on a plane and such an incident happens, I will hold my breath, which I am capable of doing for well over a minute, and I will ensure my family and those around me are ok. This is what a true servant leader would do. I live by the principle, “I’m third”. God and others are first and second. I am at best, third. And this is old—fashioned in today’s world. Because we live in a world where it is fashionable to take care of ourselves first.“
About Fine Hygienic Holding
Fine Hygienic Holding (FHH) is a 70-year-old company that has thrived by putting consumers first and giving them good value for money. That’s what has sustained them and will continue to sustain them for the next 70 years. It looks for little and distinctive ways to delight consumers.
A great example is, it sterilizes its tissues when nearly none of its competitors do. When you look at how tissue is made, in high-humidity environments, and where tissues touch us—nose, mouth, eyes—the gateways for germs into our body. James adds, “Knowing what I know I would never use a non-sterile tissue! We take that extra step for discriminating against consumers. This is what sets us apart. “A tissue is not a tissue is not a tissue” we always say!“
FHH’s core businesses are consumer tissue products, and baby and adult diapers. Initially, it started by entering the wellness space with science-based supplements under the Motiva and Eon brand names. James and FHH are very proud because it continues its mission to improve lives and improve the wellness of the world’s consumers.
Defining Success and Principles, the James Way
Success is in the eyes of the beholder. James cannot define success for anyone else. If someone is happy and they feel they have maximized their potential and their life, then they have been successful. What he thinks has no bearing on it. Everyone has their version of success and as long as it gives them a sense of satisfaction it is a win-win situation.
As a leader with decades of decadent experience, James always inspires young people to do two things. The first is to take risks. We have become very risk-averse as a society and we love living in “comfort”. Comfort is the enemy! Important things only happen in times of discomfort. Try new things. Learn new skills. Move and change locations. Move to a new country, and learn a new language! Life is not a dress rehearsal. We get only one shot at it. He adds, “Yesterday I was in my 20s with young kids. Today, I am 60 and my oldest kids are approaching 40. It goes by quickly. So, go out and do things and don’t procrastinate.“
Secondly, James has lived his life on a simple truism: “A principle is not a principle until it costs you something.”
Every principle has a price. Let’s take for example accepting a bribe. Everyone says, “I won’t take a bribe.” This is easy to say when nobody is offering you the money. We are all honest when there is nothing at stake. Then one day you are offered a bribe. Big money! And now we will see what your principles are. Everyone has principles. The real question is, “What are your principles?”.
If you have a principle of doing the right thing, and never taking a bribe, this is great. But, you pay a price. You don’t get the money.
If your principle is, “I will do what is in my best interests, even if dishonest”, well ok it’s a principle. Maybe not a good one, but it is a principle. You take the bribe. And now you also pay a price even if you have the extra money. You are a thief and you know it and others know it. And you have to live with this price.
Hence, James encourages young people to understand this truism and to define the principles they will lead their life with. A principle is not a principle until it costs you something. Get clear on this, and get clear on your principles, and life gets quite a bit easier and clear.