Review of Playing to Win

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Playing to Win book summary


8 Overall

9 Applicability

8 Innovation

8 Style


This “playbook for winning” by A.G. Lafley – legendary former CEO of Procter & Gamble (P&G) – and Rotman School of Management former dean Roger L. Martin sets a new standard in the field of strategy. The authors explain that strategy demands making tough choices in a stressful and inescapably volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environment – the daily environment of business. Their tone is businesslike and direct. They don’t waste time complimenting themselves, and it’s hard to argue with their experience.

About the Authors

Now retired, A.G. Lafley served for many years as CEO, president and chairman of Procter & Gamble. Roger L. Martin was dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management from 1998–2013 and is an author of several business books.


If CEOs fail to make wise, difficult decisions, firms flounder. When A.G. Lafley joined P&G in 1977, he discovered an atmosphere of decision-making drift. The giant company wasn’t making successful choices. In 1986, after P&G’s “first major restructuring and write-off,” it called in strategic help, including guru Michael Porter. Lafley welcomed the famous consultant as “P&G’s first experience with business strategy,” but the results didn’t change P&G’s culture. The firm reverted to haphazard acquisitions and flawed products. By 2000, when Lafley became CEO the first time, P&G was in trouble. He believed only rigorous, superior strategy could help.

Working with Martin, Lafley built a “robust strategic process” and brought P&G back to profitable status and admirable growth. During his 2000 to 2009 tenure as CEO, sales and profits greatly increased, with share prices up 80% even when the S&P 500 fell. Since then, strategy has become and remains P&G’s secret sauce. Lafley reorganized internal processes and outsourced functions to “best-of-breed” suppliers, like Hewlett-Packard for IT and IBM Global Services for employee services. As it boosted these partners, P&G sought mutual dependencies.

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