Pulling the pieces together: Nancy Dawes

Posted: July 5, 2014

Nancy Dawes
Nancy Dawes (’81, chemical engineering)
What do Pringles potato chips, Duncan Hines Cookies and Olay Total Effects have in common? They’re three Procter & Gamble product lines that have benefited from the talents of skilled innovator and Buckeye chemical engineer Nancy Dawes. 

Described as one of the country’s foremost experts in the development of advanced skincare products, Dawes (’81, chemical engineering) has spent her entire 33-year career working in several P&G branches, from food product development to global beauty.

“I'm often amazed that I've been at P&G for 33 years, but it’s a big enough that I've basically been able to have multiple careers and assignments within the same company,” Dawes explained. 

Currently, she is a Research Fellow in P&G’s prestigious Victor Mills Society—a research and development organization that recognizes less than one percent of the company’s top technologists—working in global hair care on strategy and new product innovations for brands like Head & Shoulders and Pantene. 

While a love of chemistry led her to major in chemical engineering at Ohio State, it was the challenging curriculum that kept Dawes’ interest. She credits the university with preparing her well and instilling a skill critical to having a successful engineering career. 

“What Ohio State and chemical engineering taught me to do, was solve problems that didn’t have obvious answers,” she said.

After graduation, Dawes began solving problems in P&G’s food product development division where she worked on process development, packaging and products research for Duncan Hines Cookies and Pringles. There, she led work that helped establish key products and claims that tripled the size of Pringles’ U.S. business between 1989 and 1993. 

But it’s her work in P&G’s beauty care and global beauty divisions where Dawes’ knack for innovation is perhaps most apparent. That’s where she helped design key product and benefit platforms that drove Olay skin care brand to a billion dollar business, more than doubling Olay’s market share and fueling expansion into 15 plus global markets from 1995-2008. 

Innovation, as Dawes defines it, is all about combining disparate things into a new whole. It involves assessing the landscape, staying abreast of worldwide trends, gauging where consumers will be in three to five years and knowing which technologies being worked on in the lab are ripe for the market.

Pulling from her past experience with foods, Dawes helped develop new anti-aging products—including Olay Total Effects, Olay Regenerist and Olay Definity— that not only worked, but were enjoyable to use as well. Olay Total Effects and Regenerist products became best-selling products around the world.

Seeing the products she helped create sitting on the shelf is one of the most rewarding parts of her career, Dawes said. It’s something her family takes pride in as well. After Olay Total Effects debuted, a product introduced at twice the previous price point for drugstore skincare brands, her mother became one of the brand’s biggest champions.

“When we launched Total Effects, a $20 skincare product, my mother, bless her heart, became one of the strongest advocates for it,” Dawes said. “She'd say, ‘I was in the grocery store, and there was a woman looking at products and I said, you should buy this one, my daughter helped make it.'"

One of the biggest challenges about working in the consumer products industry is the constant drive to do better and continually top previous work, Dawes explained.

“After I had done Total Effects and launched a new form in the market at this dramatically different price point, you kind of say, gee, what am I going to do next?” she said. “Cause after you've reinvented creams and lotions, what do you do next? That's challenging.”

What came next was Olay Regenerist, a product that helped introduce the concept of concentrated facial serums to the U.S. market. Dawes was inspired by the idea of beauty serums while conducting research in Japan. The launch timing for Regenerist was unique for a drugstore brand and put P&G at the forefront of two key trends: beauty serums and regenerating skin’s appearance without chemical peels, lasers or surgery. 

Dawes has received numerous awards in recognition of her success, including the Ohio State College of Engineering’s Distinguished Alumna Award in 2012 and Texnikoi Outstanding Alumna Award in 1998. She was also named P&G R&D Recruiter of the Year in 1993.

But her work isn’t done in a vacuum and Dawes attributes much of her success to having a supportive environment, both at work and at home.

“P&G is an organization that supports its people. I’ve had managers, mentors and peers who have all been instrumental in supporting me,” she said. “From a personal standpoint, I've been married for over 30 years and the relationship with my husband in terms of sharing childcare responsibilities, the decisions that we've made and a support structure that allows flexibility has been huge.”

Throughout her career, Dawes has remained involved in the College of Engineering, first while recruiting for P&G, then by serving on the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Alumni Advisory Council. 

Part of her continued commitment to the university comes from a desire to see the rates of women going into engineering and other STEM disciplines increase. From her work with Girl Scouts, to giving classroom talks to her involvement on the college’s External Advisory Council, Dawes hopes to inspire a more diverse engineering workforce.

“We basically have 20% women in engineering, which is about the same that it was 30 years ago. How do we capture half of our future U.S. workforce into the science and engineering disciplines?” Dawes said. “Plus, engineering leadership both in the workforce and in colleges tends to be very male dominated. I believe that since I’ve been successful, I have a responsibility to try and articulate the point of view that I can represent.”

For Dawes, who describes herself as someone who likes to solve challenging puzzles, inspiring a more diverse engineering workforce is just one more problem in need of her innovative, engineering spirit.

Written by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, clevenger.87@osu.edu


Category: Alumni