Tupperware Brands has a storied past in America. But its future is overseas. CEO Rick Goings sees himself as a global ambassador of capitalism


The New Party Line


BA-BC286A_CEO_p_DV_20130629013133 ON-BB392_SPOTLI_G_20130629020634

Tupperware Brands has a storied past in America. But its future is overseas. CEO Rick Goings sees himself as a global ambassador of capitalism.

The technology sector may have some of the most vocal (and controversial) women in business today, but a truer bastion of female empowerment in the workforce is much more old school—and led by a man. Tupperware pioneered the direct-marketing strategy in 1948 that allowed women in the post-World War II U.S. to maintain some of the financial independence to which they had grown accustomed. Current CEO Rick Goings has spent the past two decades steering the company—and its opportunities for women—overseas, creating a robust business and a multi-unit company, Tupperware Brands (ticker: TUP), with a $4.2 billion market value.

A youthful 67, Goings spends most of his time circling the globe, surveying Tupperware’s operations in the 82 countries in which it does business. Nearly 90% of Tupperware’s $2.6 billion in sales comes from outside of the U.S., including the nifty kitchen gadgets developed at its Orlando, Fla., headquarters and supported by the seven brands of beauty products sold primarily in Latin America, South Africa, and other regions.

Goings, a former Navy platoon leader and a commanding figure at 6 feet 1 inch, relishes his role as a global goodwill ambassador of capitalism. He firmly believes that Tupperware’s products—sold in places as far flung as Chennai, India, and Caracas, Venezuela—give the women who sell them a way out of poverty, while, of course, helping Tupperware’s bottom line. By turning its largely female force of 2.8 million independent dealers into successful entrepreneurs, Goings says, Tupperware’s salespeople don’t “talk about selling bowls; they talk about how we’re changing the world”—one SmartSteamer at a time.

Some 61% of sales last year came from the emerging markets, and Goings figures that Tupperware is still in less than 25% of the homes the company can target in heavily populated, upwardly mobile markets like Brazil, India, and Indonesia. The growing middle class in emerging markets like Asia—which alone is projected to have 1.7 billion people in the middle class by 2020—will fuel growth for years.

Barron’s first got acquainted with Goings in 2006, when we recommended buying Tupperware’s shares at $20. Since then, the stock has risen more than fourfold, recently trading at $78 and yielding 3.2%. (Tupperware has increased its dividend in double-digit increments in each of the past four years.) But Goings joined Tupperware as president of the then–Premark International unit in 1992; he became Tupperware’s CEO after the unit was spun off in 1996. Back then, the brand had certainly seen better days: 74% of its U.S. distributors were insolvent, and the company was casting about for its place in the world. Even its headquarters, a beautiful late-modern building designed by Edward Durell Stone, was about to be sold to the Country Music Association as a retirement home.

The tempo at the company was also at retirement speed, but Goings brought a sense of urgency to the place and encouraged what he calls “a covenantal relationship” based on a shared vision, a strong set of values, and trust among employees. He learned that tactic at Avon Products, where he helped develop markets in Europe and Asia shortly before joining Tupperware. Goings says Tupperware’s vision is “passionate about changing lives,” and its focus is on “empowering, enlightening, and educating women.”

When Goings arrived in 1992, nearly half of Tupperware’s dealers held other full-time jobs, and in a nod to the busy lives of its customers, it began to be a one-stop shop for household goods, branching out into baking equipment, cookbooks, toys, and other items. Goings has introduced online sales, and expanded the firm’s product line. Among its wares are its own brand of spices, water-filtration systems in China, and gourmet steamers in Paris. Next up: intelligent products that will compile a shopping list from the refrigerator based on the staples stored there.

Dealers demonstrate and sell the company’s array of household and personal-care products to family, neighbors, and friends. They are not expected to recruit other salespeople or purchase their own inventory; this is not a multilevel marketing system. The aspirational market is a sweet spot for Tupperware, whose low-cost sales model still relies heavily on word of mouth and social networking.

GOINGS DID NOT HAVE an easy start in life. He left home at 17 because of a conflict with his father, supporting himself while finishing high school by working at a men’s clothing store in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton. Goings says he learned the art of the sale from two of his retailing mentors, Bob Samberg and Dick Stockton, though Stockton says it came naturally to Goings, whom he describes as a consummate “people person.” One of Goings’ most important lessons from Stockton was interpersonal. “I would see what an elegant man he was and how he treated people,” says Goings. “I saw that the higher you go with people of real character, the nicer they become.” Goings has tried to embody this principle, even with those with whom he has conflicts. “I have a code,” he says. “The only people you ever want to get even with are the people who helped you.”

Back then, Goings, who required seven operations as a young adult to correct his vision, lacked confidence. That began to change when he joined the U.S. Navy in 1964, and was tapped as a first platoon leader on an antisubmarine destroyer, mainly tracking Russian subs. Behind the desk in his Orlando office, which is decorated with a big map of the world on one wall and an oversize portrait of Keith Richards on another, Goings has assembled an impressive collection of naval swords, which officers receive when they get their commission.

Goings studied history and pre-law at Guilford College in North Carolina on the G.I. Bill while holding down a full-time sales job, but left both before graduating to start his own fire-alarm business with a friend. Still shy about selling door to door—a vestige of an unhappy experience in encyclopedia sales as a young man—Goings hit on a model that would serve him well later in life: recruit college students and recent grads to market the products for him. He ran a successful business for 15 years; in 1985, when the market changed and the bigger players muscled in, he sold the company and moved to New York.

That’s when he landed a job at Avon, where he spent six years often working and living abroad, before finding his home at Tupperware.

GOINGS’S PERSONAL HISTORY and slow, upward climb has informed Tupperware’s ethos both internally and externally. The company’s business model remains dedicated to encouraging women (especially those with limited options) to cultivate relationships outside their immediate circle, develop and manage a business, and take charge of their personal finances and future. The story is the same inside the company, where a culture of self-improvement reigns. At Goings’ urging, Elinor Steele, a single mother who joined the company as a temp, got an M.B.A. without a college degree, and rose to Tupperware’s vice president of global communications and public relations. Melanne Verveer, a former U.S. ambassador for Global Women’s Issues and chief of staff to Hillary Clinton when she was the first lady, says Steele told her that she didn’t know where she’d be without Goings, who saw in her a strength she wasn’t even sure she had. Though Goings is “obviously extremely successful as a business person,” Verveer says, “he’s got a heart as big as an ocean.”

The middle child between two sisters who has thrived at women-oriented companies, Goings reflects on why so many members of his management team are female. Unlike men, he says, women are able to multitask. But perhaps more importantly, “Women generally read consumers better.” This is so, he says, because they are always looking for connections, to be part of a community.

Tupperware parties—which begin a mind-boggling every 1.4 seconds—offer a chance for people to interact face to face. While some question whether Tupperware’s brand of direct selling is outmoded (who can forget those parties and the resulting mint-green container where mom used to stash the beef stew?), Goings, who helped put the “Girls” in the Boys and Girls Clubs of America as its national chairman, thinks quite the opposite is true. “People are dying for affiliation,” he says. Goings and his team believe they are teaching people to become “social entrepreneurs,” demonstrating a path toward prosperity.

“There is a need for a new social contract for the world,” Goings says. In Europe, he adds, “the government is going broke,” and people are realizing that it can’t provide for all their needs. In the U.S., outmoded tax structures are contributing to a growing gap between rich and poor. And in the Middle East and Africa, which face enormous social and economic challenges, “this focus of leveraging the power of women is key,” Goings says.

BUT TALKING ABOUT CHANGE is different from making it, as Goings pointedly said during an interview at the World Economic Forum in January, and he’s not the kind to just talk. Goings “is a breakthrough guy, who has an abundance of courage and the will to act when he sees the need to,” says Roxanne Spillett, president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs.

Through Tupperware, Goings is helping build nations by “empowering women who have never been part of the economy to be the foundation for grass-roots capitalism,” says Lewis Duncan, president of Rollins College, in Winter Park, Fla., where Goings is a trustee. Goings has lectured at the World Economic Forum about “the Tupperware effect,” where the company provides microfinancing and free training to women, and assigns them coaches to help them build their businesses, all at no charge.

What women are gaining as Tupperware dealers is more valuable than just a living: A survey of Tupperware’s dealers in Mexico conducted by the Global Fairness Initiative found that 91% of the women polled said getting involved with Tupperware changed the trajectory of their lives, with a significant number able to rise out of poverty.

EVEN MORE DRAMATIC WAS that women repeatedly reported that “they went from being abused to appreciated to where their husbands started to support and help them,” Goings says. After a trip to Baghdad with Steele, they agreed that “one of the keys throughout the whole Middle East is the empowerment of women.”

But it isn’t just in the far reaches of the world where Goings’ influence is felt. The Orlando headquarters is teeming with friendly, smart, and successful women. Goings presides over the preparation of a delicious meal in an on-site kitchen, all created with Tupperware products, and then holds court at lunch with 10 or 11 of his executive staff, all of whom are women.

“Our people don’t leave,” says Goings. It’s easy to see what keeps them there. Goings is a lively and friendly presence, chatting in German with a sales associate who is visiting with her family from Germany.

It is all part of the Goings way. At the Boys & Girls Clubs, Goings collaborated with actor Denzel Washington to put together a book about mentoring called A Hand to Guide Me. Goings sent the book to his mentors and friends, including Gen. Colin Powell, the former U.S. secretary of state, who sat on the board of the nonprofit.

More executives would benefit “if they got more in touch with their feminine side,” Goings says. But he’s talking about strength, not softness. As Powell says, when Goings attacks a problem, “it isn’t going to be some wishy-washy effort; he’s coming in with all guns blazing.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: