Kirk Perry, Google President of Brand Solutions — Called to the Bay Area

Recently, I had the chance to sit down with Kirk Perry, president of brand solutions at Google. Perry was formerly president of family care at Procter & Gamble and moved to the Bay Area less than a year ago.  He will be the speaker at the upcoming Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast on March 13, 2015. Kirk has an inspiring journey of faith. He shared with me some of his story and how he has learned to entrust his life and decisions to God.

Skip:     Kirk, tell me about your business background and how you came to the Bay Area.

Kirk:      I began my career at Procter & Gamble. Coming out of university, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was interviewing in finance, consulting, and a number of different industries. I had an undergraduate professor who talked about the premier marketing and general management company in the world, P&G. That sounded interesting and the rest is history.

I thought I’d be there three years and then ultimately end up going back to get my MBA. That didn’t happen because I absolutely loved the marketing and holistic general manager training at P&G. And I hoped that one day I’d have the opportunity to work globally and work as a general manager, having all the functions — marketing, manufacturing, and engineering and R&D — reporting into me.

Skip:     I understand those opportunities came.

Kirk:     In 1996, I thought I was going to leave the company. I stayed when I was told, “We can show you what a small company is like within the company. We want you to go international.” We moved to South Korea which was an eye opening, life changing experience in many ways – both personally and professionally. I was working in a different culture, and from a business standpoint it was a startup. It tested every one of my leadership, marketing and business capabilities. My family loved the international experience so much that we ended up going to Japan for three years after Korea, which again was life altering.

I was promoted to general manager when I was in Japan and came back to the US to run one of P&G’s largest businesses in North America, baby care. After 5 years I was tapped to run the US operations group – which included all media and marketing. In 2011, I was promoted to be president of the family care business unit. I was fortunate to be on a very fast track and had some incredible experiences.

I was in my mid-40s and was incredibly happy. However, I had a nagging feeling that I was at an inflection point in my life.  I could choose to continue the path I was on and have a legitimate shot at being CEO of Procter & Gamble, or I could try something totally different. Seems that it was God planting those thoughts and that’s when He showed me the way.

I believe God led me to the Bay Area. It’s been an amazing journey. I’ve been able to leverage all of my P&G experience at Google, which is an incredible company – a world changing company.

Skip:     I understand that you shared your faith with a few senior leaders at Google while you were in the job interview process.

Kirk:     I said, “Okay, if God really wants me to take this job, then being a faithful follower of Him means that I’m not going to put my faith under a box. I’m going to be who I am all the time.”

For me, sharing my faith isn’t about standing up in a meeting and saying, “I believe in Jesus.” Rather, I want people to say, “What’s different about him? He seems a little bit different to me. He doesn’t operate in the way other people operate.” I want to have people ask me, “Why do you do this? Why do you believe the things you do?” It opens up dialogue that wouldn’t have occurred. I’ve had that happen over the course of my faith journey many times.

As I was torn about coming out to the Bay Area, I felt God prompting me to be bold in my faith and to test whether or not this was a good fit. I sent one of the hiring panel members my previous summer’s sermon from Crossroads [Church in Cincinnati]. I thought this is either going to scare them away or it’s going to cause a different kind of conversation. I got a note back relatively quickly that said, “This is wonderful. You’d love Google. Google would love you.”

The great thing about Google is they allow very disparate points of view to try to come up with interesting dialogue that will move the discussion forward.

It was one of those incredible things where every step of the way, God was there. There is a senior business partner I work with who also has a child who was going through cancer (one of the things I mentioned in my talk) and it created these great opportunities for dialogue.

Skip:     Tell me about how you came to faith.  I understand that a pivotal point was your experience when your young daughter had cancer.

Kirk:     For much of my life, I just mentally believed in God. From a heart and relationship standpoint, I really didn’t have a close relationship with Him. When I was growing up, my family and I were “Chr-easters.” You know — Christmas and Easter only Christians — what some call “CEOs.” We’d go to church when there were crises in our lives – like when my dad lost his job or when something bad was going on. Then when things got better, we’d stop. It was always this up and down kind of thing.

Skip:     That was true during the first years of your marriage as well?

Kirk:     Yeah. Through the first 7 or 9 years of our marriage, we’d go regularly to church because we thought it was important for our kids. My wife has always been a faithful follower of God. She was so patient with me. I’d go because I wanted to honor her. In my heart of hearts, I was just a Christian intellectually. I didn’t really have a relationship with Christ.

When my daughter got sick, it fundamentally spun everything that I thought about or believed on its head.

But after the anger, and the pain, God used that experience to show me how much He loves me.  I was forced to rely on Him, and He showed me, in incredibly clear ways and at very specific moments, that He was there for me every step of the way.

I fall short every day. I tell people that all the time. I’m far from the man I want to be. God has just set me on fire for Him. Through that experience He showed me how much He loves me. Fortunately – or unfortunately — we had to go through the shock.

Skip:     How did your life change after you came to faith?

Kirk:     When I started turning things over to God, my career took off. My relationship with my family got better. My relationship with my wife got better. My ability to forgive, my ability to coach people, my ability to be humble and empathetic –all those things changed.

Before my faith experience – and I hate to say it – my family was secondary. My career was the most important thing in my life. I justified it by saying, “If I do well, then my family will do well.” I was missing the bigger point. That isn’t what life’s about. Life is about relationships. At the end of life, whether you worked at Google or P&G or anywhere else, people 30 years from now aren’t going to remember how much you sold or what your margins were. People won’t remember how successful you were in business. They’ll remember their relationship with you. Did you inspire them to do something bigger and better, and did you leave an imprint on their heart?

Skip:     You plan to speak at the Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast in March 2015. What do you plan to say?

Kirk:     I plan to share my faith story and how it relates to work. For me, sharing my faith enables people to see the depth of God’s love. Every time I look at my kids, every time I close my eyes and picture those moments when my daughter was in the hospital, I realize how much God loves me and loves all of us in a fallen world. I’m not going to live a life without bumps. That’s what it is like in a fallen world. God will redeem every fallen moment in my life and I hope to use it to glorify Him.

Hear more of Perry’s story at the Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast on March 13, 2015.  For more information, see Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast. Reservations is now open for table hosts and sponsors.

7 thoughts on “Kirk Perry, Google President of Brand Solutions — Called to the Bay Area”

  1. Dear Skip,
    What an inspiring interview! I pray God will bless this special event and through it others will draw nearer to Him. Kirk has an amazing story of Faith. I wonder if you’ll be able to videotape it? I know I won’t make it… 3 kids to get off to school… plus I’m in San Ramon. Kirk’s story reminds me of what I went through with my own child with cancer. I call cancer our blessing because through it God grew our faith and today, is using me to give hope to others; a mission within a business. There is no other more humbling experience than to be used by Him. I’ve recently shared my testimony to the women of my church. Share the peace and hope! God bless you for what you’re doing and for blessing so many others.
    -joyce

    1. Joyce, Yes there will be a video of the Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast. Following the event, we will have a link to Kirk’s talk from this site and there will be at link at the Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast site — http://www.svpb.net/

  2. Hi Skip and Charles,

    I love the honest and sincere dialog.

    In recent years a quote by C.S. Lewis stuck out to me: “We’re not humans having a spiritual experience, we’re spiritual beings having a human experience”. Many people miss that Eternal Life really begins every day here and now when we have secured it with a Savior like Christ. In a sense it’s the “quality” of our life and Worldview that impacts all areas every day like marriage, family, work and life calling. But it has to start with knowing where our eternal destiny is and understanding how much we are loved by the Lord who proved it via the cross.

    The basic Gospel message is one of faith in Christ, who died for our sins and is the only one who could atone for us. He is the only one because he is the forever God-man (100% percent God, 100% percent man). One of my mentors always said to fully understand that is life-long mission, non-the-less still true. Faith is only as strong as the object or person in which it is placed. Often the word repentance is mis-understood, it means changing ones’ mind but it also means a 180 degree turn away from our old life and by turning to God. (just talk to Him and ask Him to show you)

    A campus ministry has many resources to address all kinds of common questions which can be found here: http://www.cru.org/how-to-know-god/would-you-like-to-know-god-personally.html

    I’d love to explore being a part of these conversations and learn together. Have a blessed Thanksgiving!!

  3. Charles McCormack

    Another inspiring story, Skip. There are two things I’d be interested in learning more about when you publish these stories: what specifically did Kirk (and others like him) actually do when he/they decided to turn his life over to God (did he pray intensely, go talk to someone, meditate, do something physically challenging, etc.); and,, how does he/they distinguish between a “call from God” and the other influences that many people feel naturally at certain points in their lives, like ambition,dissatisfaction/ boredom/impatience in their current lives, or just feeling the urge to try something completely different?

    1. You asked two great questions. First, what do you do when we turn our lives over to God? You might look at what I wrote in the FAQ section of this Website — Relationship with Christ. Essentially three things happen:

      1) Accepting that we are separated from God – a sinner (a simple definition of sin is to be self-centered, rather than God-centered)
      2) Acknowledging that Christ came to repair that separation by sacrificing himself for us
      3) Accepting Christ as our savior – which means we are not in control but need to rely on God.

      Turning our lives over to Christ is not just to believe in Him, but to put our trust in him. Accepting Christ often happens in a prayer, but can also happen over time. Once we put our trust in Christ, we try to live to emulate and honor Him.

      In the example of Kirk Perry, God penetrated his thinking when his young daughter got seriously sick. He realized that he could not control the outcome, but prayed fervently for her healing. He had an overwhelming feeling for God’s love for him. Not only did God heal his daughter, but radically changed Kirk’s thinking about who God is and his relationship with Jesus.

      My sense with Kirk is that he would have turned his life over to Christ whether or not his daughter died. There are examples of stories from others who did just that in spite of tragedy in their lives.
      Second – distinguishing a call from God. This is not always easy, but is associated with prayer – communication with God. Some get a direct message from God – possibly an audible message. More often the message comes as a thought that enters our consciousness. This may happen while praying, reading the Bible, in a quiet moment, or when we sense God in our circumstances. Sometimes messages come from other people who may indicate that God put a message on their minds for you.

      A pastor friend defined calling as “where our deep gladness and our deep hunger meet.” One’s calling should be tested. Is it consistent with the biblical principles? Does it resonate somehow with your heart’s desire, or with what breaks your heart and what you would like to help rectify? God’s call is often ambiguous. When one’s calling is not clear, it is good to continue to wrestle in prayer with our call, and to seek advice from trusted friends. Taking a step in the direction of the calling is necessary. Our call may become clear and confirmed when we take that step, or we may have to adjust and go in a different direction. Generally, if we experience a deep peace and joy, our calling is confirmed.

      For Kirk Perry, it appears that several things influenced his calling. During a visit to Google while at P&G he sensed God talking to him about a possible opportunity there. Significant was an interviewer’s reaction to his sermon he sent. And prayer and discussions with his wife and friends helped confirmed the call.

      In my case, I put my trust in Christ after first walking away from the faith for almost 20 years. God got my attention through several incidents and people. That caused me to investigate the claims of Christianity, including the divinity of Christ and the resurrection. And what I learned resonated with what I observed in the world. Once intellectually satisfied, I had a profound sense of gratitude for Christ and what He had done for me. Sometime after my commitment to follow Christ, my calling became clear. I sensed God calling me to help people on their faith journey and to get to know the joy that comes from knowing Christ. My call has several dimensions – to be a godly husband and father, to live as He would have me live, and to live out my faith in work. I also felt that God called me to use the platforms he gave me to be an example and try to live out my faith daily (admittedly far from perfectly) to help reach others — in business, through tennis, chairing the Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast, and now with this blog and book I am writing and with speaking appearances.

      Are there comments from others on what it means to turn your life over to God and to discern your calling?

      1. Hi Skip … I came across this wonderful article after my brother-in-law (who is also a dot-com executive) sent it to me. It was particularly relevant to me as I also started my business career in brand management at P&G.

        At the end of your reply to a post, you asked for comments from others on what it means to turn your life over to God and to discern your calling.

        I turned my life over to Christ about 13 years ago at the age of 38, after going through a difficult divorce. The pain of that experience broke me out of my intellectual battles over God, as God drew me into relationship with Him through Jesus. As I grew to love Him more — and to realize the depth of His love for me — I wanted to be more like Christ and to serve him gladly with everything I had.

        About 10 years ago, He put it on my heart to be a missionary. This was very surprising. He provided no specifics, just a very clear sense that He wanted me to move in that direction. The depth of my new faith was shallow, so I enrolled in seminary part-time, while continuing in my day job as a mid-level manager at a Fortune 500 tech firm. By this time I was also re-married, with four kids in a blended family. Despite having many plates in the air, I loved school and loved learning more about God.

        About two years ago, God called my wife and me to start a new church in the Bay Area, and about a year ago, He made clear that it would be in the Redwood City area. Space doesn’t allow me to share the many, many ways He confirmed this direction, but as you noted, He spoke through prayer, Bible reading, the counsel of more mature believers, and even a person out there who came to know Jesus through me, and whom I recently baptized in Anderson Lake in Morgan Hill. We will be moving to the Bay Area this coming April, looking to launch the new church in early 2016

        I am so pleased to find this website and to see the devotion of Christ followers in the Bay Area. Can’t wait to join you all out there to make an impact for Him!

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