Career Advice / December 6, 2019

A Look Inside Colgate-Palmolive's Global Supply Chain Strategy

A Look Inside Colgate-Palmolive's Global Supply Chain Strategy

People everywhere know Colgate-Palmolive.  

The New York-based consumer products company is a leader around the globe. Its brands, among the world’s most recognizable household names, are sold in more than 200 countries and territories. In fact, the Colgate brand can be found in more than 62% of homes around the world – more than any other brand. Its Speed Stick, Lady Speed Stick, Palmolive, Ajax, Softsoap and Hill’s Pet Nutrition are trusted and relied upon by consumers.

Tanvi Lohani, M.S. Business Candidate, Class of 2019, recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mike Corbo, chief supply chain officer for Colgate-Palmolive, to talk about his 37 years of experience in supply chain and how he is leading supply chain transformation in today’s digital, dynamic economy.

Here is an edited excerpt from that conversation:

Lohani: I grew up in India, and all my life, the first thing that comes to mind when someone would mention toothpaste is Colgate. It is a staple product in every household. What would you say is the most important factor that shaped Colgate into the brand it is today?

Corbo: The key factor is consistency – it’s what the brand stands for. Regardless of whether you are using the product in India or anywhere else around the world, Colgate is committed to improving oral health. And as the world leader in oral care, Colgate has managed to deliver the same experience decade after decade. Being able to deliver a consistent product experience is why Colgate is the most common product found in households around the globe by a significant margin.

Lohani: Sustainability has become a critical factor for consumers when purchasing a product. Recently Colgate came out with a 100% recyclable tube and decided to share the tube technology freely with its competitors. How else does Colgate, from the supply chain management standpoint, manage sustainability?

Corbo: We've been moving toward sustainability for many years with regard to our supply chain strategy. We reduced water usage in 18 production facilities globally and we now have 15 TRUE Zero Waste manufacturing sites that are certified. Additionally, we reduced energy usage in all production facilities. We’re committed to using less plastic – and more recycled material – in our packaging. With the 100% recyclable tube, we intend to make the world a more sustainable place to live with tubes part of the circular economy, regardless of which brand of toothpaste consumers buy.

Lohani: There is always a tradeoff between offering customization through product proliferation and attaining efficiency in the supply chain through product rationalization. How does Colgate find balance between making sure customer needs are met while maintaining supply chain efficiency?

Corbo: On the manufacturing side, we standardize the production of all the products under one platform for up to 85% of production, only to customize the products in the last 15% of the manufacturing process. Standardizing so much of the production process allows us to improve manufacturing efficiency. We approach production rationalization through portfolio management. It all boils down to the dollar sales per SKU. If the dollar sales for a specific product in a portfolio are low and not treating a condition or catering to the need of a particular customer segment, then chances are that it's just another product, adding no significant addition to the portfolio. We identify these products and consider whether they truly provide value.

Lohani: It's rare to see someone work for a company for more than three decades. Why Colgate?

Corbo: I stay because of the people and our core values of Caring, Global Teamwork and Continuous Improvement. From the start of my career, I always looked for opportunities and ultimately always found the best opportunities to grow and learn here. There are so many people in our company that have been a part of Colgate for more than 30 years. Personal capital is crucial wherever you work. When you change jobs or move to another company, you must rebuild all over again. That does not mean you should let go of better possibilities, however. But building relationships is important.

I always found Colgate to be the place where I could learn and grow. In my global career, I have held multiple supply chain positions in Latin America, North America, Asia and Central Europe/Russia and have had enriching experiences. I have also been able to build relationships and credibility that hold a tremendous amount of lasting value.

Lohani: What advice would you give to students about to graduate and start their careers?

Corbo: Do your current job well; don’t always focus on the next step on the ladder. Just as important, however, is to make sure you stay open to all the opportunities and experiences available to you. The more you learn, the better you get at your job. Do not limit yourself to just one field or to one specialized role. You might start in supply chain and then try your hand at marketing. The knowledge of how to manage a supply chain may help you get there, but the skills you gain are transferable. So the more you learn, the more you can grow personally and professionally.

–Tanvi Lohani is a student in the Business & Management M.S. Program, graduating in December 2019.

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