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.