This has to be one of the best experiences I have had so far on the UFLP; it was a UFLP connect event in Unilever’s Rotterdam head office that involved 160 graduates across all multi-country organisations in Europe.
Still only 5 months into the scheme, the novelty of travelling on business has not worn off and so I was more than excited to head off to Luton airport on a freezing Wednesday evening after a long day in the office. After bumping into other UK grads at the airport, we headed off to our hotel for the 2 day congress in Rotterdam. I am a R&D UFLP based in Colworth, UK and so it was great to catch up with other UK grads to find out what they had all been up to; particularly as the last time we had been all together was during our induction week.
After hitting the bars of Rotterdam on Wednesday evening, we had a fairly relaxed 11 am start in the office allowing us to meet and talk to all the grads over a morning coffee. This highlighted the enormity and diversity of the UFLP due to the sheer number of us, all from different countries and with different backgrounds and interests. We were then given a welcome from Tina Steck, the Learning & Organisation European Director, and our objectives for the whole programme. Jan Zijderveld, the European President, then gave a truly inspiring and informative speech on the European FMCG market and ways in which we should be thinking to build a dynamic career within Unilever. After a lunch of networking and fabulous food, we were then given talks on Global Shopper Insights, Winning with Brands in Retail and Winning with Customer Development and Marketing. With a background in chemistry, I found these talks exceptionally useful to build a greater understanding of other functions and the consumer goods industry. Followed by more coffee and even more food, we then started a Thrive workshop on well-being and the importance of sleep. Unilever strongly believes in building great people in a great workplace and puts significant importance on maintaining a healthy work-life balance. The workshop was all about identifying what really matters to us, finding ways to feel positive and confident in facing the challenges that life throws at us, managing our mental choices and looking after our health and well-being. We then finished a day with a tour of the Weena office, where free ice cream was in high abundance.
The working day was over but after a quick 30 minute break at the hotel, we were back in the office for a networking evening dinner with senior leaders across all functions and the ambiguously named Unilever has Talent. This was a great chance to discuss business and have all our questions answered by experienced and knowledgeable Unilever bosses. The fun then really began with our very own talent competition, which involved some excellent singing and controversial comedy.
Day 2 began rather cruelly at 8 am, particularly as it started with a 160 person group photo where a significant proportion of us were definitely not looking our best. We then had a 3 hour Battle of the Brands group challenge that was designed to get us thinking strategically and competitively, whilst also coming up with some creative and innovative concepts. An open discussion forum was then set up where we discussed the UFLP Employer Brand and how to further engage with students across Europe. After even more top-quality food, we then moved on to a personal reflective session and a senior leadership carousel, which was basically speed dating with the senior leaders. This was my favourite thing about the whole event because it enabled us to openly talk and question the people that make this company great. Their passion, love and commitment to Unilever was really inspiring and was a fantastic note to end on.
So the work was over but we were adamant to keep up the high spirits and bring the fun over to Amsterdam for a highly enjoyable break in the Netherlands’ capital city. The majority of us saw the weekend out in style, making Monday morning quite the challenge but the tiredness was well worth it!