Carlos Linares: An Agile Leader Driving Innovation

Church and Dwight’s Carlos Linares has reinvented himself as an expert in innovating R&D

Carlos Linares, EVP of Research and Development, Church and DwightPhoto: Vincent Calabrese, courtesy of Church and Dwight

Carlos Linares spoke to Hispanic Executive in 2013 after deciding to take a serious career leap. He had amassed twenty years of R&D experience at global companies like Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble, then elected to take on a new challenge: organizational transformation. That meant moving to leaner, more entrepreneurially spirited companies and a world less familiar to the executive.

That leap was six years and two organizations ago. In that short time, Linares has ushered in an amazing second act to his career, reinventing himself as an expert in organizational transformation. After successful rebuilds at Alberto Culver Company and Sun Products, Linares is two years into his newest role: executive vice president of R&D at Church and Dwight, where the executive combines his transformational and R&D expertise to drive business results.

His Focus

Linares believes that his breadth of work in a variety of different organizational models has developed his adaptability to virtually any setting.

“When I look at my own skill set, it’s not just from a technical perspective,” Linares says. “It’s not necessarily about the depth of science, but the breadth of approaching innovation in a variety of different models over the years—without being married to one.” The EVP has operated within both regional and global brands, and both private label as well as brands people encounter every day. He has found a way to drive success in any situation.

As his R&D career progressed, Linares says his focus has shifted from individual products to wider organizational success. “I began to understand that changing and transforming an R&D organization can be exciting and fulfilling in a way that goes beyond developing great products,” Linares says. “It was a natural progression after already having such a rewarding career.”

Along with this shift in focus, so too shifted his leadership. “Today, I really think my role is to set the strategy,” Linares says. “I work hard to create a vision that’s both aspirational and informed. Great teams will then help cocreate and deliver the vision.”

“My role is to set the strategy. I work hard to create a vision that’s both aspirational and informed. Great teams will then help cocreate and deliver the vision.”

That means inspiring people but also maintaining credibility. That difficult balancing act is where Linares’s experience and adaptability are key. A leadership vision may have universal principles, but the EVP says that each company’s unique DNA makes tailoring that vision with a degree of flexibility absolutely essential.

“Carlos is a visionary leader in the competitive consumer-products market,” says Joy Atkinson, president of the Body Home Care North America division of Firmenich. “He inspires the scientists and his expanded partners to challenge themselves and think out of the box, while always keeping consumers’ desires at the forefront of innovation.”

His Initiatives

When he came to Church and Dwight, Linares says he was able to get right to work. “We’ve run fast and put in our new functional R&D strategy that’s aligned with the corporate strategy. We’ve also been building a new team, and right now we’re finalizing the leadership team by making the right moves both through external hires and internal promotions,” Linares says. “Those positive results are already starting to show in the team’s motivation and in their portfolio of new technologies.”   

Linares came in with a mandate that was made evident even before the interview process began. “I was told that Church and Dwight wanted to create a new strategy that would turn R&D into a driver of stronger innovation,” Linares says. “But one of the things I’ve learned in driving transformation is you have to do everything you can to confirm that’s actually what you’re being asked to come in and do.”

Linares did his due diligence, probing for calls for change that would be abandoned as soon as it actually began to occur. The mandate from the CEO and management team, it turns out, was very real.

Spurring innovation in R&D was particularly alluring for Linares because of Church and Dwight’s diverse portfolio. “We have a great diversity of scientists, including biologists, chemists, engineers, and designers,” Linares says. “We needed to break down the silos to connect these diverse disciplines and make the innovation process very collaborative.” Enacting that cultural shift has meant building and designing products within a department and increasing interdepartmental cross-collaboration that serves as a creative multiplier.

“We have a great diversity of scientists, including biologists, chemists, engineers, and designers. We needed to break down the silos to connect these diverse disciplines and make the innovation process very collaborative.”

The diversity of Church and Dwight’s portfolio has also deeply affected the way the company operates. Eleven of the company’s twelve most popular brands came via acquisitions. “The level of change that comes along with that sort of mind-set is very dynamic,” Linares says. “There’s always new opportunities to grow and make an impact.” That dynamic has also impacted company values.

Culture is key for Linares, who believes culture can be built. “That’s why you have to be so careful about what you build,” Linares says. “We want the competition to be outside the organization, and we want to be hiring with that mind-set so anyone coming on board adds to that experience.”

His Approach

As he readies himself for the third targeted transformation on his watch, Linares says the Church and Dwight experience is occurring much faster than the two previous. “I think that’s a testament to the management team that we have here,” Linares says. “I’ve also had a little more practice now, but the key has been our R&D team. Their capabilities and adaptability have greatly accelerated our organizational change.”

Church and Dwight, Linares believes, already has a strong foundation to build upon. “We’re a midsized company with a midsized advantage,” Linares says. “We’re able to compete with much larger organizations while being able to operate with much more agility.”

The EVP says the company tends to view itself with a much more blue-collar underdog mindset. As a first-generation Cuban American whose parents were willing to do whatever it took to help their children get ahead, Linares says that scrappy and spirited approach is inherently appealing.

Recognizing Church and Dwight’s outlook is central to Linares’ leadership approach. “Once you know who you really are, you can find the place that matches your values and your interests,” Linares says. “That’s why I ask candidates in interviews who they are as leaders at their core.  It is important to get to know yourself as a leader early in your career.”

Linares says that matching one’s personal strengths with a company that reflects those skills and values is when a corporate career inevitably flourishes.

Linares’ own personal success has birthed a desire to mentor Latin-American scientists and executives, who were far too few in Linares’s own career. “I want to help pave a path for more Latin Americans interested in the sciences.”

And while the EVP didn’t have many Latin American role models in the industry to look up to during his own rise, times are changing. “The good news is that there are many more Hispanic executives today in technical organizations than when I started,” Linares says.

First motivated to make his parents proud, Linares says he now feels responsible to his heritage, helping others where he can. “I’m very proud of where we’ve come from and where we’re all going.”

 


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