When you have just graduated in energy engineering and jump in employment for the first time, chances are high you’re not really looking for a job but for an adventure…
That was the case for me, at least. I wanted to be facing energy puzzles, turn them around, lucidly spot the issue and eventually come up with just the right solution to make things more efficient, reduce energy waste, save power and make the world a better place.
It sounded quite ambitious to me, too. But amazingly, that’s exactly what I got when, 18 months ago, I set foot as an intern in Unilever’s Home Care Factory in Northern Italy.
Unilever has also an ambitious project: the Sustainable Living Plan, which aims to make the company’s supply chain carbon free by 2030. So my first task there, as a fresh graduate, was to analyse the energy consumption of the factory, understand it, and find a way to reduce it – exactly the adventure had been dreaming of.
Since the first day I had a clear task, and was expected to carry it on in complete autonomy. Thus, over the following months I got to work hands-on, on what I had only studied in theory, and had the chance to put forward my own ideas for practical improvement. I was thrilled to see that these suggestions were not only well received, but quickly brought forward for implementation. By the end of my 6-month internship, they had become 5 different projects funded by the Unilever Global Sustainability team.
If you found such a challenging and stimulating environment, and were given so much trust by chiefs and colleagues, what would you do? I chose to stay, and applied for Unilever’s three-year long Future Leadership Programme, the greatest opportunity for growth that the company offers at graduate entry level.
Thus I officially became a member of the Unilever family, and had the opportunity to continue my work as the project leader of all the 5 funded projects I had proposed. This meant that after only six months of experience I had to coordinate a team, deal with suppliers and contractors, and make implementation arrangements with technicians and production planners so as to avoid any production stoppage. Most importantly, I was accountable for the energy performance of the whole site – which is also a weighty point in the budget review.
When the first positive results began to arrive, another great opportunity followed: I was offered to get involved in the implementation of the WCM standards by becoming the factory’s Environment Pillar Leader.
Wait a minute, WC…what? What did that mean?
As I found out, the whole factory had started a profound revolution of its production method with the aim to optimize as much as possible all its different stages and achieve a World Class standard of Manufacturing (that’s what WCM stands for). This method embraces all the aspects of the site’s management, the ‘pillars’ of successful manufacturing, from Quality Assurance to Safety.
I became responsible for Environment, the aspect to which most of my work that far belonged, with the task to improve not only the energy performance, but the environmental impact of the site as a whole. It seemed a small step, but it meant a lot. If until then I had been cooperating with managers as an employee, now I needed to interact with them as a peer. My first taste of a managerial role after only 12 months!
Great excitement ensued, but also insecurity and concern. A lot of complex work had to be delivered in a relatively short time, and what’s more, the WCM function had not replaced my ordinary tasks: all my other duties were still there, and needed to be attended to just as usual. I had never done anything like that before, and the the challenge was tough.
The coaching of the WCM Europe team and the collaboration of the other managers and of my fellow pillar leaders working by my side have been invaluable. It was largely thanks to their support and their hints and tips that I finally hit my mark, scoring for the factory the first environment point.
With a great deal of work and a bit of luck, all the sustainability projects were also successfully implemented on time, enabling the factory to achieve significant savings in terms of energy expenses and C02 emssions in 2016.
Now that I am near the end of my first task, I can see how much I have grown and how Unilever gave me the opportunity to really give my contribution and apply my competences to achieve an important environmental and business goal. I’m looking forward to the next adventure.