John Hawkins' business career has taken him a long way from his small-town Mississippi roots.

The owner of Blue Ash consulting firms Pathfinder Management Consulting and Management Performance International (MPI), Hawkins has managed and advised businesses from São Paulo, Brazil, to Montreal for Procter & Gamble Co., and other international companies in a nearly 30-year business career.

Along the way, he's developed a passion for the importance of multi-cultural marketing in an increasingly diverse world.

"I've lived a multi-cultural life, when you think about being born and raised in Mississippi, going to work for P&G, traveling around the world, living in South America and living in Canada. I'm not sure you get much more multi-cultural in terms of understanding," he says.

Hawkins says it's a mistake to think multi-cultural marketing is simply a matter of translating advertising into a foreign language.

About Relevance

"It isn't just speaking the language of the consumer, but speaking the language of the consumer in a way the consumer wants to hear it," he says. "People from different cultures want to be acknowledged in an authentic way. They want to be talked to in a way that's relevant to their culture."

For example, he says, "When you look at the Hispanic population in the United States, what are you talking about: Mexican? Haitians? South Americans? The mistake is treating them all the same."

That's important because that is where the consumer market is growing the most.

"Over the last 10 years, 80 percent of the growth in a number of key (product) categories has come from multi-cultural consumers. And over the next five years, 80 percent of the growth in a number of key categories will come from multi-cultural consumers, those who identify themselves as non-white."

Hawkins underscored the challenge in a recent blog post:

"Over the last 40 years, the U.S, population has increased by 106 million people. Seventy-four percent of that increase, 78 million people, came from the growth of the multi-cultural community. The reality is these growth trends will continue over the next 40 years. If U.S. companies expect to remain competitive globally we will need to embrace our diversity and use it as a source of competitive advantage."

Now Hawkins is building a world-class consulting firm by marrying Pathfinder, a consulting firm focused on shopper and multi-cultural marketing he started in 2009, and MPI, a 30-year-old human resources and organizational development consulting firm he acquired about a year and half ago.

Clear Vision

"We have a clear vision to be positioned as a preeminent, full-service consulting group focused on small and mid-cap companies, " he says.

Pathfinder and MPI have separate identities but share office space. They have about 200 clients, including Macy's, H.J. Heinz, PPG Industries and international candy and gum maker Perfetti Van Melle.

Hawkins says he's not aiming to compete with the consulting giants like Bain & Co. or McKinsey & Co.

"What we offer is experience and expertise to help clients solve problems. Our mantra is helping clients accelerate business performance," he says. "Because of our experience, we can help clients achieve what they want faster than on their own, often with more practical applications, because we have more experienced managers doing the work. We're not career consultants. We are business executives who have done the work and led the organizations that have done the work."

Growing up in Mississippi

Growing up in the small town of Water Valley, Miss., Hawkins was the third of nine children. In the midst of the integrating south in the late 1960s, Hawkins said his mother, Earline Hawkins, who passed away at 75 last spring, shaped his ambition and worldview.

"Despite having nine kids, she had a unique relationship with each child," says Hawkins. "With me, she knew I had big appetites and curiosity, and she challenged me to go into the world and become a citizen of the world. She was my best friend."

Hawkins enrolled in the University of Mississippi to study banking and finance and quickly became involved in African-American student activities and student government.

"One of the things my mother instilled in me was that there are good and bad people of all different races, colors and persuasions. Our orientation was always about treating people the way they deserved to be treated and respected," he says.

Recruited by P&G while still in college, Hawkins started as a sales representative, calling on 150 or so retail accounts.

From Ground Up

"It was a great way to learn the business from the ground up," he says. "In those days, before computers, we negotiated shelf space with the customer face-to-face with your competition right there. It was mano-a-mano, may the best person win."

After about four years, including time out to fulfill a commitment as an officer in the Army Reserve, Hawkins began moving up the corporate ladder at P&G and came to Cincinnati in 1989 as part of its corporate sales training organization.

"The Army teaches you a lot of things and I'd developed a reputation as a pretty good trainer," he says.

After assignments in manufacturing and category and brand management, Hawkins returned to sales as customer marketing manager in Brazil. At the time, in the late 1990s, P&G was just beginning to expand into South America.

"I spent a great 2 1/2 years in Brazil," he says. "Our two biggest brands were Vicks VapoRub and a diaper rash cream."

He helped introduce brands such as Pringles and Ariel, P&G's global detergent brand, in South America.

Returning to the U.S. in 2000, Hawkins was recruited by Kellogg's sales organization briefly and then went to Novartis Medical Nutrition as a senior vice president. That business was eventually sold to Nestle, and Hawkins made the jump into consulting, working for London-based Glendinning Management Consultants as vice president in the Americas.

In that role, Hawkins worked with hundreds of clients across a number of different industries. That led to being hired by one of his clients, Imperial Tobacco Canada, as head of trade marketing.

Life Balance

The years of travel took a toll on Hawkins' personal life, however. He's been married and divorced twice and has four children.

After about a year and half commuting from his home in Northern Kentucky to Montreal, he left the company to spend more time with his two youngest sons and launched Pathfinder.

Hawkins has been active in the R.C. Durr YMCA in Burlington and is its representative on the regional YMCA board.

"I love being a dad," he says.

"One of the downsides of being a citizen of the world is that I've been too married to my work. But I've got to the point where I want to bring more balance in my life."