Fighting unwanted wetness at every age, Kimberly-Clark has brought some of the most widely recognized brands of personal care products to the marketplace. Founded in Neenah, WI in 1872 as a manufacturer of newsprint made from recycled linen and cotton rags, Kimberly-Clark introduced Kotex feminine pads in 1920, Kleenex facial tissues in 1924, and Huggies disposable diapers in 1978. Brilliant marketing and smart corporate thinking are credited with the company's successful challenge to diaper titan Procter & Gamble, the leader in diapers until the 1970s. In addition to its personal care and consumer tissue products, Kimberly-Clark manufactures newsprint, printing paper, and other professional health-care products.
The company's goal to beat out big-name competitor Procter & Gamble continues today, and propelled Kimberly-Clark through the company's 1995 historic merger with Scott Paper, the company that first sold rolled toilet paper. By combining its existing paper operations with Scott's, Kimberly-Clark has decreased operation costs while increasing its market share. The shrewd move sent Procter & Gamble to court, charging antitrust violations. In June 1996, Kimberly-Clark appeased regulators by selling its highly profitable Baby Fresh wipes for $220 million, to Procter & Gamble. Under the lead of Wayne Sanders, the company has been selling off other non-essential operations, including many of its languishing pulp and paper mills.
Flushing the past away
The company's focus for the future is on personal care and consumer tissue products, as well as its professional health-care line. The company's acquisition of Tecnol Medical Products has added muscle to its growing line of professional health-care products, which the company hopes to grow to $2 billion in a few years. To further this end, Kimberly-Clark acquired Safeskin Corp., making it the dominant player in the U.S. examination glove market, and Ballard Medical Products, which makes disposable medical devices. Included in Kimberly-Clark's cornucopia of medical wares are endoscopy devices, disposable defibrillator pads, surgical gowns, drapes, and sterilization wraps.
Ignoring the decades of cute and cautionary advertising for toilet paper, Kimberly-Clark has decided to cut to the chase. The company will discuss the "real" reason people use toilet paper. Kimberly-Clark intends to spend $100 million promoting the brand that simply wipes better. Ads from WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather in Chicago say that the new tissue's texture is "designed to leave you feeling clean and fresh." Will the new ads offend blushing consumers? "If we have news that's important for a consumer, then we can find a way to tastefully communicate it," assures Tom Falk, group president of Kimberly-Clark's North American business.
Kimberly-Clark also has a mystery product that is a new sort of "tissue wipe", the exact identity of which no one will share. In June 2000 the company announced that it is building a new plant to manufacture these wipes, but still gives no clue as to what exactly it is.
Bumps in the road
Kimberly-Clark faced economic hardships in 1997, cutting 5,000 jobs, or 7 percent of its global workforce. Facing acute competition in nearly all of its major markets, particularly from Procter & Gamble, the world's largest consumer products business, Kimberly-Clark was forced to slash product prices. In response to the distress, chief executive Wayne Sanders remarked in 1998, "We're off track, and we don't like it. I haven't delivered the predictability people were looking for, and my credibility is not real strong right now."
Financially, Kimberly-Clark has succeed in bringing the company around to a profitable business worthy of the title "a world leader in tissue, personal care, and health care products". The biggest problem currently facing the company is the infiltration of counterfeit Huggies in China, which currently make up about 30 percent of the diapers bearing the Huggies name. Undeterred by this situation, Kimberly-Clark vows to forge ahead into overseas markets and conquer China's market for disposable paper products.
The extremely competitive hiring process at Kimberly-Clark consists of on-campus interviews, interviews at the company headquarters, and interviews conducted at the particular location for which a candidate is being considered - all part of the company's "rigorous" "Targeted Selection" process. One employee described the interview process as "the most intensive I've seen." Positions in research, engineering, management information systems, logistics, and operations management require a minimum 3.0 G.P.A., while finance positions require a minimum of 3.2. Kimberly-Clark typically hires over 1,000 new employees each year, 50 to 60 percent of whom are new college graduates. To complete an online application, consult the company's employment Web site, located at www.kimberly-clark.com/join. Kimberly-Clark does not hire American college graduates for international positions.
Getting the job done
Insiders rave about the company's thorough training, flexible hours, and friendly atmosphere. Kimberly-Clark gives new employees "the tools we need to get the job done" through its initial job training and then makes sure that "those tools get sharpened regularly" through ongoing programs. The success of the company's training program has contributed to "an exceptionally low turnover rate," and many employees stay with Kimberly-Clark for more than 20 years. One 20-year veteran notes, "I have never come across a better company to build a career and spend a lifetime with." In fact, most employees reflect this dedicated attitude and team spirit. They appreciate the "helpful and supportive" company policies such as generous maternity leave, a childcare referral system, and flexible scheduling options. One reports, "K-C is usually considered one of the best places to work in every community that we have locations."
Not so stuffy
Many say Kimberly-Clark has maintained its friendly family environment, despite large-scale growth. "Everyone is on a first-name basis, right up to the CEO," notes one insider. "People know each other?'s ranks and respect their positions, but K-C is not a stuffy company." Work hours vary, though 9- to 10-hour days are typical. Many areas of the company offer "flex time," which allows employees to work hours other than the 8 to 5 norm, and in some cases, even work from home. Expect business dress with casual Fridays. Weekend workers often don jeans. Pay is in line with industry standards, or better, and employees praise the "great insurance, 401(k), and pension plans." Perks include tuition reimbursement, stock options, and occasional product giveaways. As another perk, employees can buy an added week of vacation, in addition to the two weeks they normally receive.
The one worry noted by insiders is that the company "tends to move people around to different locations - you need to be prepared to relocate." Though one contact notes, "I feel that most women are behind the men in pay," most say the "aggressive diversity efforts at network and senior management levels," are "showing progress." One insider reports, "There are lots of initiatives for minorities and women, including the Women's Interactive Network." "There are several women in key management positions," reports one female employee. "Being a female or minority is not an issue."
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