This beauty queen is no girly girl

July 13, 2011, 11:15 PM UTC

Gina Drosos

You might think that a woman who sells $20 billion worth of beauty products in a year would have been, in her youth, a girly girl.

Not Gina Drosos. “I was a total tomboy,” she says.

The top boss of Procter & Gamble’s global beauty division is, like quite a few of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women, a recovering jock. Growing up in Atlanta with a brother and a neighborhood packed with boys, Drosos was a basketball star. She played shooting guard for the Ridgeview High School girl’s team, which named her MVP. At P&G, where she started 24 years ago as a summer intern and marketed Spic ‘n Span floor cleaner early on, she has spent her spare time coaching basketball–her daughter’s grade-school team.

In fact, it was as coach of her daughter and a team of 6th grade girls, that Drosos learned her best lesson in balancing work and family. A couple years ago, when a mandatory business trip to Asia clashed with a basketball tournament, Drosos promised the kids that she would come home if they made it all the way to the championship. The team didn’t start out looking strong, but the girls got it together. And against all odds, they were in the finals.

So, as promised, Drosos jumped on a plane and rushed home to Cincinnati. She recalls flying 24 hours, making three stops, and arriving with no time to spare. “I made it 45 minutes before the game started and coached the girls,” she says.

“We won. We won the championship.”

A few hours later, on a Sunday night, Drosos was in her office at P&G headquarters leading a video conference with her team in Singapore,. They spent eight hours strategizing how to expand brands like Pantene and Olay and finally ended the meeting on Monday at 3 a.m.

Drosos was spent, but she showed where she stands on the work-family dilemma that stresses every working woman. Her decision to cut her trip short and coach her daughter Claire’s team “gave permission to other women to be able to do the same kind of thing,” she realized.

Claire just turned 13, is still playing basketball, and now gives her mom advice on Cover Girl products. Drosos, 48, whose husband is a consultant, has a son as well. Will turns 15 in August. “My son has for years given me advice on all the Old Spice products,” she says, smiling.

“A great secret of leadership and of being a great boss,” Drosos adds, “is to see things from other people’s perspective. Nobody tells you more than teenagers, who really want you to see it from their perspective.

“It’s what helps you be a great parent as well.”

Indeed, at a certain point, the kid becomes the coach. And the parent learns a big lesson of business and of life: Real power comes from giving it away.

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