Colgate-Palmolive Company - Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on Colgate-Palmolive Company

300 Park Avenue
New York, New York 10022-7499

Company Perspectives:

To meet the needs of this vast world, Colgate sets and attains the highest standards for our products and our company. Quality is the hallmark of everything we do. So, too, is consumer value. We continually work to understand consumers' changing needs, and then meet those needs with innovative products that are affordable to the greatest number of people.

We are also sensitive to our environment, and work to fulfill our business mission in ways that will not be harmful to the delicate world in which we live.

By balancing all these elements, we try to live up to our vision of becoming the best truly global consumer products company and a responsible and contributing member of the global community.

History of Colgate-Palmolive Company

Colgate-Palmolive Company's growth from a small candle and soap manufacturer to one of the most powerful consumer products giants in the world is the result of aggressive acquisition of other companies, persistent attempts to overtake its major U.S. competition, and an early emphasis on building a global presence overseas where little competition existed. Today the company is organized around five core segments--oral care, personal care, household surface care, fabric care, and pet nutrition--that market such well-known brands as Colgate toothpaste, Irish Spring soap, Softsoap liquid soap, Mennen deodorant, Palmolive dishwashing liquid, Fab laundry detergent, Soupline/Suavitel fabric softeners, and Hill's Science Diet dog food.


In 1806, when the company was founded by 23-year-old William Colgate, it concentrated exclusively on selling starch, soap, and candles from its New York City-based factory and shop. Upon entering his second year of business, Colgate became partners with Francis Smith, and the company became Smith and Colgate, a name it kept until 1812 when Colgate purchased Smith's share of the company and offered a partnership to his brother, Bowles Colgate. Now called William Colgate and Company, the firm expanded its manufacturing operations to a Jersey City, New Jersey, factory in 1820; this factory produced Colgate's two major products, Windsor toilet soaps and Pearl starch.

Upon its founder's death in 1857, the firm changed its name to Colgate & Company and was run by President Samuel Colgate until his death 40 years later. During his tenure several new products were developed, including perfumes, essences and perfumed soap. The manufacture of starch was discontinued in 1866 after a fire destroyed the factory.

In 1873 Colgate began selling toothpaste in a jar, followed 23 years later by the introduction of Colgate Ribbon Dental Cream, in the now familiar collapsible tube. By 1906 the company was also producing several varieties of laundry soap, toilet paper, and perfumes.

While the Colgate family managed its manufacturing operations in New York, soap factories were also opened in 1864 by B.J. Johnson in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and in 1872 by the three Peet brothers in Kansas City, Kansas. In 1898 Johnson's company introduced Palmolive soap, which soon became the best-selling soap in the world and led the firm to change its name to the Palmolive Company in 1916. The Peets, who sold laundry soap mainly in the Midwest and western states, merged their company with Palmolive in 1926. Two years later the company that resulted from that merger joined with Colgate & Company to form Colgate-Palmolive-Peet, with headquarters in Jersey City.

Although Palmolive's management initially assumed control of the combined organization, the Colgate family regained control of the company after the 1929 stock market crash and installed Bayard Colgate as president in 1933. The firm adopted its present name in 1953 and moved its offices for domestic and international operations to New York City in 1956.

International Expansion

Between 1914 and 1933 the company began establishing international operations, with subsidiaries in Canada, Australia, Europe, and Latin America. It also built upon its strategy of growth by acquisition, buying up a number of smaller consumer product companies over the next two decades. These acquisitions did little to close the gap between Colgate and its archrival, Procter & Gamble, a company that had been formed in the 1830s and had by now assumed a commanding lead over Colgate in selling detergent products in the United States.

In 1960 George H. Lesch was appointed Colgate's president in the hopes that his international experience would produce similar success in the domestic market. Under his leadership, the company embarked upon an extensive new product development program that created such brands as Cold Power laundry detergent, Palmolive dishwashing liquid, and Ultra Brite toothpaste. In an attempt to expand beyond these traditional, highly competitive businesses into new growth areas, Colgate also successfully introduced a new food wrap called Baggies in 1963. As a result of these product launches, the company's sales grew between eight and nine percent every year throughout the 1960s.

Lesch assumed the chairmanship of Colgate, and David Foster became president in 1970 and CEO in 1971. Foster was the son of the founder of Colgate-Palmolive's U.K. operations. He joined the company in 1946 as a management trainee and rose through the sales and marketing ranks both in the United States and overseas.

New Strategies for the 1970s

During the 1970s, as environmental concerns about phosphate and enzyme detergent products grew, the company faced additional pressure to diversify beyond the detergent business. In response to this pressure, Foster instituted a strategy that emphasized internal development via a specialized new venture group; joint ventures for marketing other companies' products; and outright acquisitions of businesses in which Colgate could gain a marketing advantage over Procter & Gamble. In 1971, for example, the company began selling British Wilkinson Sword Company razors and blades in the United States and other countries. In 1972 Colgate-Palmolive acquired Kendall & Company, a manufacturer of hospital and industrial supplies. It was originally hoped that the Kendall acquisition would bolster the pharmaceutical sales of Colgate's Lakeside Laboratories subsidiary, which had been acquired in 1960. The partnership never materialized, however, and Lakeside was sold in 1974. The Kendall business proved to be one of Foster's most successful acquisitions. Within two years, the subsidiary was producing sales and earnings results well above the company's targeted goals.

In 1971 the U.S. Federal Trade Commission enacted restrictions on in-store product promotions, such as couponing. In response to these restrictions, Foster began to employ other tactics designed to enhance Colgate's visibility in the marketplace. Two such programs awarded money to schools and local civic groups whose young people collected the most labels and boxtops from selected Colgate products. Under Foster, Colgate-Palmolive also began to sponsor a number of women's sporting events, including the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner's Circle, a women's professional golf tournament. Foster chose women's sports in an effort to appeal to Colgate-Palmolive's primarily female customer base. He even went so far as to have Colgate buy the tournament's home course, the Mission Hills Country Club in Palm Springs, California, so that he could supervise the maintenance of the greens.

In 1973 Colgate acquired Helena Rubinstein, a major cosmetics manufacturer with strong foreign sales but a weak U.S. presence. Believing that its marketing expertise could solve Rubinstein's problems, Colgate reduced both the number of products in the company's line and the number of employees in its workforce, increased advertising expenditures, and moved the products out of drugstores and into department stores. The following year the company acquired Ram Golf Corporation and Bancroft Racket Company, and in 1976 it bought Charles A. Eaton Company, a golf and tennis shoe manufacturer.

Although total U.S. sales of consumer products appeared to be slowing by the end of 1974, particularly in soaps and detergents, Colgate's international sales continued to carry the company forward. It maintained its leadership position abroad through new product development geared specifically to local tastes throughout Europe as well as through its involvement in the growing markets of less-developed countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

Setbacks Beginning in the Late 1970s

Foster's diversification strategy initially improved earnings, but Colgate's domestic sales, market share, and profit margins were beginning to soften. This was due, in large part, to an economic recession and an advertising cutback the company had made in an attempt to boost earnings. Colgate was consistently losing the marketing battle in personal care products to Procter & Gamble. It had no leading brands and few successful new product introductions because of reduced spending for research and development. In an effort to remedy this problem and broaden its product mix, Colgate moved into food marketing in 1976 with the acquisition of Riviana Foods, a major producer of Texas long-grain rice with its own subsidiaries in the pet food, kosher hot dog, and candies businesses. The Riviana acquisition, however, did not live up to the company's expectations. Along with purchasing a successful rice-milling business, Colgate found that it had also saddled itself with two unprofitable restaurant chains and a low-quality candy company. In 1977 declines in the price of rice seriously eroded Riviana's cash flow.

Helena Rubinstein created additional headaches. Whereas other cosmetic manufacturers had moved their products from department store distribution to higher-volume drugstores, Colgate's management elected to keep Rubinstein products in department stores even though stores' demands for marketing support eroded the company's margins so severely that it lost money on every cosmetic item sold. Colgate finally sold the business in 1980 to Albi Enterprises.

David Foster had become chairman in 1975. In 1979, embattled by a series of marketing failures and the pressures of an acquisition strategy that yielded more losers than winners, Foster suddenly resigned, citing ill health. Colgate President and Chief Operating Officer Keith Crane was appointed as Foster's successor. A 42-year Colgate employee, Crane quickly instituted a new management structure consisting of several group vice-presidents, reunited all domestic operations under one group, and realigned division managers in an attempt to promote a more cohesive organization. Consumer advertising and product research were given renewed emphasis to support the company's basic detergent and toothpaste lines.

Over the next two years, Crane sold a number of Foster's acquisitions that no longer fit with the company's long-term strategic plan, including Hebrew National Kosher Foods, which had been part of the Riviana purchase; Ram Golf; and the Bancroft Racket Company. Crane also put the Mission Hills Country Club up for sale and withdrew Colgate's sponsorship of the sporting events his predecessor had nurtured.

Also during the late 1970s and the 1980s, Colgate found itself named as a defendant in two lawsuits. In 1981 the company lost a suit brought by United Roasters, who successfully argued that Colgate had violated the terms of a contract between the two firms for Colgate to market Bambeanos, a soybean snack produced by United Roasters, and was awarded $950,000. The following year the company was sued by the federal government for alleged job discrimination. According to a complaint filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Colgate had failed or refused to hire people between the ages of 40 and 70 since 1978 and had also deprived employees in that age group of opportunities for promotion.

By the end of 1982 Crane also experienced problems at Colgate. Several attempts at new product development never made it out of the test-market stage. Increased advertising expenditures for a limited number of major brands produced only temporary gains in market share while slowly killing off other products receiving little or no media support. Even Fresh Start detergent, one of the most successful new products to come out of the Foster era, was having problems retaining market share. Thus while Procter & Gamble's sales and margins were increasing, Colgate's were on the decline. To make matters worse, the strong dollar overseas hurt Colgate's international sales, and changes in Medicare policy weakened Kendall's business.

Turnaround Under Reuben Mark

In 1983 Crane relinquished the title of president to Reuben Mark, one of the company's three executive vice-presidents and a member of Crane's management advisory team. Mark also assumed the position of chief operating officer at that time; one year later he succeeded Crane as CEO. Mark built upon his predecessor's restructuring efforts in an attempt to increase profits and shareholder value. Between 1984 and 1986 several inefficient plants were closed, hundreds of employees laid off, and noncore businesses sold, including the remnants of the Riviana Foods acquisition, except for the Hill's Pet Products subsidiary.

In an attempt to refocus the company's marketing and profitability, Mark developed a set of corporate initiatives intended to address business areas ranging from production-cost reduction to new product development, with a heavy emphasis on motivating employees and involving them in company decision making. In response to the implementation of these ideas, the company's U.S. toothpaste business enjoyed a boost with first-to-the-market introductions of a gel toothpaste and a pump-type dispenser bearing the Colgate brand name. Similar U.S. market share gains were earned by new and improved versions of its Palmolive and Dynamo detergents and Ajax cleaner.

With the company's turnaround firmly underway, business units managed by key executives were formed to develop plans for the company's major product categories. The purpose of each plan was to identify how products under development could be best introduced in domestic and international markets. Two years into this strategic reorganization, coinciding with Mark's appointment as chairman in 1986, Colgate confronted an embarrassing controversy.

Since the early 1920s Hawley & Hazel Chemical Company had marketed a product called Darkie Black and White Toothpaste in the Far East. Colgate had acquired a 50 percent interest in this company in 1985. The following year, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a coalition of Protestant and Roman Catholic groups, demanded that Colgate change what it deemed to be the product's racially offensive name and packaging, which depicted a likeness of Al Jolson in blackface. The company acknowledged the criticism and agreed to make the necessary changes.

Colgate also continued to seek out growth areas in its personal care product and detergent businesses. In 1987 it acquired a line of liquid soap products from Minnetonka Corporation, the first transaction the company had made in the personal care area in several years. Building upon its success in launching an automatic dishwashing detergent in liquid form ahead of its competitors, the company also beat Procter & Gamble to the market with a laundry detergent packaged in a throw-in pouch called Fab 1 Shot, although this product failed to sustain consumer interest or reach sales expectations over the long term.

Buoyed by product development breakthroughs and a renewed commitment to consumer products marketing, Colgate sold its Kendall subsidiary and related healthcare businesses in 1988 to Clayton & Dubilier. The sale enabled Colgate to retire some debt, sharpen its focus on its global consumer products businesses, and invest in new product categories. Moreover, Mark's global approach enabled the company to maintain its overall profitability despite not having a leadership position in the United States. Although Colgate lagged behind Procter & Gamble in the toothpaste category, for example, it held a commanding 40 percent share of the toothpaste market worldwide.

Mark's strategy appeared to pay off handsomely. By the end of the third quarter of 1989 Colgate's international operations performed strongly while the profitability of its U.S. operations rose, due mostly to manufacturing-cost economies and greater control over promotional and sales expenses. Not yet ready to concede the U.S. market for personal care products to Procter & Gamble, though, Colgate acquired Vipont Pharmaceutical, a manufacturer of oral-hygiene products, toward the end of that year. Vipont's products, several of which Colgate had already been marketing overseas, enabled Colgate to strengthen the market position it had recently established with the introduction of a new tartar-control formula toothpaste.

Major Acquisitions in the 1990s

Colgate continued to make significant acquisitions in the early and mid-1990s while it attempted to gear up its product development program, which had been unable to introduce more than a few new products each year. In 1991 Colgate acquired the Murphy-Phoenix Company (whose top brand was Murphy's Oil Soap) to bolster its household care segment. That same year, Mark initiated a restructuring aimed at improving the firm's profitability and gross margins, which lagged behind the industry leaders. A major part of the effort was the elimination or reconfiguration of 25 factories throughout the world and an eight percent reduction in the workforce. Consequently, Colgate took a $243 million charge in September 1991, which reduced significantly the firm's net income for the full year.

Colgate's most dramatic acquisition to date came in 1992 with the $670 million purchase of Mennen Co., which added to its personal care line the top U.S. deodorant brand, Mennen Speed Stick, and the number two baby-care brand, Baby Magic. In addition, Colgate gained footholds in skin-care and hair products, and the Mennen brands gained the power of Colgate's worldwide distribution and marketing reach. This major acquisition was followed in 1993 by the purchase of S.C. Johnson Wax's liquid hand and body soap brands, which enabled Colgate to become the worldwide leader in liquid soap.

Gross margins steadily improved in the early 1990s, reaching 48.4 percent by 1994 (up from 39.2 percent in 1984). This provided Colgate with additional funds for research and development and advertising. The North American sector also experienced gains in gross margins, which resulted in part from pricing increases on Colgate detergents. In turn, this cut into overall North American sales, which declined eight percent from 1993 to 1994. Mark's strategy was to turn North American sales around through new product introductions such as a variant of Irish Spring soap and an extension of the Murphy's Oil Soap brand into a Murphy's Kitchen Care line of all-purpose cleaners. Under the leadership of Lois D. Juliber, who formerly headed up new product development, the North American sector was able to introduce several products within a short span for the first time.

A hidden jewel within the Colgate empire in the 1990s has been its pet foods sector, Hill's Pet Nutrition. The worldwide leader in therapeutic and specialty wellness pet food, Hill's enjoyed a compound annual growth rate of 14.6 percent from 1989 to 1994. During this period the market for premium pet food increased dramatically in Europe and Japan, with Hill's snatching a substantial portion of this growth. Overall, pet foods were one of Colgate's leading profit generators, boasting gross margins of 55 to 60 percent.

Early in 1995 Colgate made another major acquisition with the $1.04 billion purchase of Kolynos Oral Care from American Home Products, which gained it the Kolynos toothpaste brand, the top brand in Brazil and a leader in several other Latin American countries. This purchase pushed Colgate's share of the Latin American oral-care market from 54 percent to 79 percent.

In September 1995 Colgate announced another major restructuring of its operations to close or reconfigure 24 additional factories and cut 3,000 more employees (more than eight percent of the workforce). Mark said the action was necessary to finance new growth initiatives; Colgate took a $369 million charge as a result. The results in 1995 were also affected by a deepening recession in Mexico, which had accounted for 11 percent of sales and 20 percent of profits in 1994.

Boosting Sales with the Introduction of Total

Beginning in the late 1980s, Colgate had begun development of a toothpaste that contained a gingivitis-fighting antimicrobial agent, triclosan. Researchers found a way to use polymers to bind triclosan to teeth for up to 14 hours, allowing users to fight bleeding gums and bad breath continuously with only two brushings a day. The company began marketing the product overseas in 1992 under the name Total, eventually distributing it to 100 countries. The toothpaste was a major success, and enabled Colgate to increase its worldwide share of that market segment.

In the United States, however, introduction of Total was held up by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which required extensive tests to prove the product's effectiveness before Colgate could make gingivitis-fighting claims on package labels. After some five years the agency granted final approval, and Total reached store shelves in December 1997. The company backed it with a $100 million marketing blitz, its largest product introduction to date.

The response was even stronger than anticipated, and cemented Colgate's place as leader of the U.S. toothpaste market, a position it had actually reached in the months prior to Total's introduction. This was the first time since 1962 that ACNielsen's rankings had shown Colgate on top. Following the successful launch, the company's profits and stock price climbed steadily. In December 1998 the FDA also approved a variant of Total, Total Fresh Stripe, which reached stores several months later. A year after Total's release it was the number one toothpaste brand in the United States. Competitors such as Procter and Gamble, which already marketed a triclosan-based toothpaste in Canada, were prevented from mounting a quick response by the lengthy FDA approval process. Powered by Total and the strong U.S. economy, Colgate continued to do well in 1999 and into 2000, with record earnings approaching the $1 billion mark.

As the 21st century dawned, Colgate's global presence as a consumer products company extended to over 200 countries, with leading positions for several of its key brands. Colgate will likely continue to aggressively defend these positions, increase market share of its trailing brands whenever possible, and seek additional brands and product types within its primary product sectors through acquisitions and a revitalized product development program.

Principal Subsidiaries: Alexandril S.A (Uruguay); Arkay Pty Limited (Australia); Asia Pioneer Co., Ltd. (Hong Kong); Barbados Cosmetics Products Limited (Barbados); Baser Kimya Sanayii Ve Ticaret Anonim Sirketi (Turkey); Baser Turketim Pazarlama Ve Ticaret Anonim Sirketi (Turkey); Bella, S.A. (France); Cachet Investments Limited (U.K.); Chemtech (BVI) Co. Ltd. (British Virgin Islands); Chet (Chemicals) (Proprietary) Limited (South Africa); CKS, Inc.; Cleaning Dimensions, Inc.; Colgate Flavors and Fragrances, Inc.; Colgate Music Direct; Colgate Oral Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Colgate Sports Foundation, Inc. (The Philippines); Colgate Venture Company, Inc.; Colgate-Palmolive (America), Inc.; Colgate-Palmolive Canada, Inc. (Canada); Colgate-Palmolive Charitable Foundation; Colgate-Palmolive Development Corp.; Colgate-Palmolive Enterprises, Inc.; Colgate-Palmolive Global Trading Company; Colgate-Palmolive Holding Inc.; Colgate-Palmolive International Incorporated; Colgate-Palmolive Investment Co., Inc.; Colgate-Palmolive Investments, Inc.; Colgate-Palmolive (Research & Development), Inc.; Colgate-Palmolive Transnational Inc.; Consumer Viewpoint Center, Inc.; CPC Funding Company; CPIF, Inc.; Delpha, S.A. (France); DF Soap Co.; Dimac Development Corp.; Direct Development, Inc.; EKIB, Inc.; Empresa de Maquilas, S.A. de C.V (Mexico); Global Trading and Supply Company; Hamol, Ltd.; Hawley & Hazel Chemical Co. (H.K.) Ltd. (Hong Kong); Herrick International Limited (British Virgin Islands); Hill's Funding Company; Hill's Pet Nutrition, Inc.; Hill's Pet Nutrition Sales, Inc.; Hill's-Colgate (Japan) Ltd. (Japan); HL Soap Co.; Hopro Liquidating Corp.; Inmobiliara Hills, S.A. de C.V (Mexico); Innovacion Creativa, S.A. de C.V (Mexico); Inter-Hamol, S.A. (Luxembourg); JG Soap Co.; JP Soap Co.; K.G. Caviar Im-Und Export, GmbH & Co. (Germany); Kolynos Corporation; Lournay Sales, Inc.; Mennen Interamerica Limited; Mennen Investments Inc.; Mennen Limited; Mission Hill's Property Corporation; New Science, Inc.; Norwood International Incorporated; ODOL Sociedad Anonima Industrial y Commercial (Argentina); Olive Music Publishing Corporation; Paramount Research, Inc.; Pet Chemicals Inc.; Princess House de Mexico, S.A. de C.V. (Mexico); Productors Halogenados Copalven, C.A. (Venezuela); Purity Holding Company; Purity Music Publishing Corporation; Refresh Company Limited (Dominican Republic); Samuel Taylor Holdings B.V. (Netherlands); Softsoap Enterprises, Inc.; Somerset Collections Inc.; Southhampton-Hamilton Company; The Lournay Company, Inc.; The Murphy-Phoenix Company; VCA, Inc.; Veterinary Companies of America, Inc.; Village Bath Products, Inc.; Vipont Pharmaceutical, Inc.; XEB, Inc.

Principal Competitors: Alberto-Culver Company; Amway Corp.; Avon Products, Inc.; Block Drug Company, Inc.; Carter-Wallace, Inc.; Chattem, Inc.; Church & Dwight Co., Inc.; The Clorox Company; Cosmair, Inc.; The Dial Corp.; The Gillette Company; H.J. Heinz Company; Henkel KGaA; Herbalife International, Inc.; The Iams Company; Johnson & Johnson; Mars, Inc.; Nestlé S.A.; Nu Skin Enterprises, Inc.; The Procter & Gamble Company; Ralston Purina Company; Reckitt Benckiser plc; S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc.; SmithKline Beecham plc; Unilever plc/Univlever N.V.; USA Detergents, Inc.; Warner-Lambert Company.


Additional Details

Further Reference

Foster, David R., The Story of Colgate-Palmolive: One Hundred and Sixty-Nine Years of Progress, New York: Newcomen Society in North America, 1975.Grant, Linda, 'Outmarketing P & G,' Fortune, January 12, 1998, p. 150.Hager, Bruce, 'Can Colgate Import Its Success from Overseas?,' Business Week, May 7, 1990, pp. 114, 116.------, 'Colgate: Oh What a Difference a Year Can Make,' Business Week, March 23, 1992, pp. 90-91.Kindel, Stephen, 'The Bundle Book: At Reuben Mark's Colgate, Attention to Small Details Creates Large Profits,' Financial World, January 5, 1993, pp. 34-35.Morgenson, Gretchen, 'Is Efficiency Enough?,' Forbes, March 18, 1991, pp. 108-09.Nayyar, Seema, 'Colgate Buys Its Way Back into the Game,' Adweek, February 17, 1992.Ono, Yumiko, 'Colgate Slates Cuts in Jobs and a Charge,' Wall Street Journal, September 21, 1995, p. A3.Parker-Pope, Tara, 'Colgate Places a Huge Bet on a Germ-Fighter,' Wall Street Journal, December 29, 1997, p. B1.------, 'Colgate Puts Lois Juliber in Line for Top,' Wall Street Journal, January 20, 1997, p. B1.Rudnitsky, Howard, 'Making His Mark,' Forbes, September 26, 1994, pp. 47-48.Sasseen, Jane A., and Zachary Schiller, 'For Colgate-Palmolive, It's Time for Trench Warfare,' Business Week, September 19, 1994, pp. 56-57.

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