The Person Behind the Brand
Laston Charriez is the Head of Marketing for Pilgrim’s, a retail, wholesale, and consumer products company, working with over 4,000 family farms throughout the U.S., Western Europe, and Mexico to bring a variety of food products to market. His career spans a diverse set of industries and brands across the U.S. and Latin America, including such luminaries as Procter & Gamble, Sara Lee, Western Union, and Denver Mattress.
Laston grew up in Puerto Rico of French descent, is a Purdue graduate, and an avid mountain biker. He currently lives in Denver, Colorado, with his wife and two children.
CMO Club—What was your first marketing experience?
Laston Charriez—“I worked for Proctor and Gamble straight out of college. It’s funny, my parents ran a drug store in Puerto Rico, and I’d worked in and been around pharmacy for a long while before I’d left for Purdue. P&G had just purchased Richardson-Vicks, and they named me the first Brand Assistant. Vicks had a one-hundred-year-old plant in the mountains of Cayey, Puerto Rico, that sold Vicks Vapor Rub. So they sent me into the mountains, into this old plant, and there were no marketing people there. Nothing. They literally had six boxes of files in a small closet. That was the marketing department. That was my first day.”
CMO Club—Wow, what a first day! What lessons did you learn from that experience?
Laston Charriez—“That you never take things at first blush. I thought I had this huge three-hundred and fifty million-dollar business where I would be advertising for Chloraseptic, for Vicks Formula 44, for Vicks Inhalers. I soon found out that we were actually doing half of that. Half of what was being produced was being shipped back to the U.S. because we were producing and selling it much cheaper than the U.S. It never even hit the Walgreens or the CVS. It went straight to the shipping containers, straight to Miami. We didn’t realize until much later what was happening. They called it “Diversion.” People were making a lot of money, not necessarily the company. We were actually undercutting ourselves. It took a long while to straighten out. Amazing.”
CMO Club—As your cross-industry career path indicates, you seem to pride yourself on the ability to morph and change on-the-fly. Is there any advice you can offer to other CMO’s about that ability to change?
Laston Charriez—“First is having style flexibility. You need to strive to learn something new every day. Part of that is understanding the same style over and over is not going to be conducive to learning in different industries. I’ve had to stop what I was doing so I could understand the crucial learning points and, second, you need to do it quickly. In a hundred days you have to know where the money is made, how it’s made, and where the short and long-term levers are to be able to start the snowball effect. You have to learn, but you still have to produce, get to the nitty-gritty if you will. Otherwise, they don’t need you.”
CMO Club—What do you look for in new marketing hires?
Laston Charriez—“Curiosity. Everyone I hire has to be Curious George. They have to be willing to learn and willing to make mistakes. Curious George breaks everything, but he learns from those mistakes. I want to be the man with the yellow hat.”
CMO Club—Mistakes. Get it. In that vein, if it were possible to go back in time and give your 22-year-old-self advice, what would you say?
Laston Charriez—“Be more self-aware of your energy. Let me explain. I get very passionate about things, very excited. Sometimes that can be overwhelming for people. It’s great to be around passionate people, but it can be too much sometimes.”
CMO Club—Outside of your work, what are you most passionate about?
Laston Charriez—“Of course, my family, but outside of my family, I’m a big mountain biker. I really, REALLY love mountain biking. I go somewhere beautiful every weekend. In Colorado, everywhere you look it’s amazing and every single weekend is an adventure. I was biking recently in Salida, Colorado. It’s a stunning and humbling place, just beautiful.”
CMO Club—You recently said that CMO’s should do something every day that scares them. What have you done that scared you?
Laston Charriez—“The company had a contest, and the contest was for a spot in the Super Bowl. P&G would pay for a brand to have the spot during the game. I had Charmin. I told my agency and my marketers that I wanted to win. They thought I was crazy, that it was toilet paper going against brands like Old Spice and Pepto-Bismol. Well, I produced the commercial, and we won a one-time spot. Had I not won, I would have had to trash the commercial without airing, which cost us $800,000.00 to produce. It was a big risk. I was super scared the day it aired as well. It was the first P&G commercial ever to air during the Super Bowl. There was a chance we would get brutalized but we didn’t, and it actually helped the brand.”
CMO Club—Is there something you can share with us that most people don’t know about you?
Laston Charriez—“I was awarded the Best High School Actor in all of Puerto Rico in my senior year.”
CMO Club—Can a CMO make the world a better place?
Laston Charriez—“Yes. I strongly believe you do that by passing it on, passing that passion to the next, younger generation of how you do your craft. Everywhere I’ve been, whether in Puerto Rico or Mexico, Chicago, Cincinnati, here in Denver, I get involved with the universities and I mentor the future marketers. It’s a crucial thing, to pass the craft.”
CMO Club—Any good, authentic Puerto Rican food in Denver?
Laston Charriez—“NO.” (laughter)