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A powerful woman at P&G on the rise

by Jessica Shambora

We’re toiling away on this year’s Fortune Most Powerful Women in Business list, due out September 10. Anything can happen up to the minute we go to press, and this news today caused us to shuffle those yet-to be-unveiled rankings: Procter & Gamble’s Melanie Healey is moving up to head the company’s enormous North American business, effective October 1.

No. 37 on last year’s MPWomen list, Healey currently heads global feminine & health care, a $9 billion business that includes Tampax, Vicks and Prilosec OTC. Her new purview brings in 40% of P&G’s total revenue. That’s $32 billion in sales.

Actually, Healey, 48, was destined to be a global operator. She was born in Rio de Janeiro to a British father and a Chilean mother. She went to college in the U.S.–graduating from the University of Richmond–but began her career back in Brazil with  S.C. Johnson and then Johnson & Johnson . She joined P&G in 1990. Over the next 11 years until she got worldwide responsibilities, she helped build the company in Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela.

Healey’s promotion follows a raft of management changes at the consumer-goods giant. In March, Susan Arnold, president of global business units and No.7 on Fortune‘s 2008 Most Powerful Women list, announced she was leaving. She was a contender to succeed CEO A.G. Lafley. Soon after came the news that COO Robert McDonald would replace Lafley. That transition happened in July.

Healey’s promotion, says P&G spokesman Paul Fox, is simply part of the company’s leadership development program. (She’s swapping jobs with Steven Bishop, who held the top North America post and will now run global feminine care.) Clearly, though, Healey’s new job sets her up to be part of the next generation of P&G leadership.

Whatever the future holds for her, Healey has a claim to fame that’s practically unmatched. Last year at a late-night bridge tournament at the  Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, she beat Warren Buffett.