P&G reports; Lafley doesn'tOctober 25, 2013: 11:34 AM ET
The CEO skips the quarterly earnings call. Does it make a difference?
By Jennifer Reingold, senior editor
FORTUNE -- There was only one thing missing from Procter & Gamble's (PG) first-quarter fiscal 2014 earnings call on Friday morning: The CEO and chairman of the company, A.G. Lafley. That was no surprise, as P&G had announced, earlier in the week, that Lafley would no longer be participating in quarterly earnings calls as the company tries to get off the hamster wheel of meeting or missing quarterly expectations. Still, it was unusual to hear only the CFO, Jon Moeller, during the Q&A: Analysts and journalists alike typically use this period as a way in which to evaluate -- fairly or not -- the energy and morale of the company through the proxy of its leader's voice.
It was hard to do that with Moeller, although, as a longtime pro and steady hand, he did his job of providing the numbers quite well. P&G -- which also has stopped providing quarterly guidance, following the lead of competitor Unilever (UL), which stopped years ago -- reaffirmed its full-year plans and posted organic sales up 4% and net sales up 2%, to $21.2 billion, roughly in line with expectations. He announced that P&G was gaining share in roughly two-thirds of its markets, an important indicator after much of the past year showed market share losses (he was rather vague when pressed on market share trends in the long-struggling beauty business, however). He presented the facts without too much "color," to use a favorite word of analysts, and, thankfully, not too much embellishment either.
To be fair, it was always something of a fiction anyhow to imbue the intonation heard on a phone call with the import of success or failure. Many, many CEOs have waxed eloquent on these calls about just how wonderful things are, only to get booted days later because they aren't. Some CEOs just aren't that articulate or enthusiastic to begin with. And I, for one, don't seem to possess any particular E.S.P. when it comes to divining the true meaning behind a chuckle or pause.
So would I have liked to hear A.G. on the call this morning? Absolutely. He is the boss, after all, and he's an inspiring speaker and leader. But -- assuming he does continue to engage with investors and journalists in other fora -- does it really make one bit of difference whether he speaks on the call or not? I say no, as long as he's using that time to better understand and grow the business. The stock market apparently agrees; P&G is flat today, at just under $80.