Julia Fentem interview Application Tips

Senior leader interview: Julia Fentem, Vice President SEAC

Julia is Head of Unilever’s Safety & Environmental Assurance Centre (SEAC) and has spanned a career within Unilever since 1998. With an academic background in biochemistry and a PhD in toxicology, she has also played a key role in shaping the R&D UFLP and so read about her career so far, tips for being successful on the scheme and maintaining that vital work-life balance: Read more “Senior leader interview: Julia Fentem, Vice President SEAC”

Paragliding-629x288 Interviews with Senior Leaders

Introducing Karl, Supply Chain Logistics Director & Ex-Graduate Trainee

Paragliding-629x288Only 5 years after joining Unilever as a Supply Chain Management graduate  and doing various project engineering and production management roles in UK, I moved to a a role in  Milan, Italy to manage one of Unilever’s Homecare Liquids factories. This was hugely daunting as I had never been to Italy before and my grasp of the Italian language didn’t extend much beyond “pizza, pasta and ciao”, but this is also typical of how Unilever continually gives you challenges and responsibility that drive you to grow and develop as a person.I arrived in Italy on the Sunday and on Monday assumed responsibility for the 150 factory operators, engineers and planners and the production of liquid products for sale across Europe under our brand names such as Persil, Surf, Svelto, Lysoform , Cif and Domestos. The first few months were difficult, as this saw me taking on a new job, in a new country with a new language, but building relationships in the factory and drawing on the support from the rest of Unilever’s European team, allowed me to get up and running very quickly. Being immersed in Italian, the language came to me after only a couple of months (albeit with an Irish accent and some pretty dubious grammar).Now, over a decade later, I look back on my time in Italy as one of the highlights of my career to-date. Not only was I given the opportunity to run my own factory very early in my career, during an exciting time where we installed a “hole-in-the-wall” bottle blowing operation to improve customer service, reduce costs and lower our carbon impact. I also got to lead a fantastic team of factory staff who knew their jobs and equipment well enough to deliver the efficiency improvements required. I also got to experience a different culture and learn a new language and I discovered that Milan is a great location to explore the rest of Europe,with many weekend road-trips to the rest of Italy, into the Alps and the neighbouring countries – a spot of skiing and paragliding is a great way of making those work pressures disappear!

Interviews with Senior Leaders

Interview – Global Director of Sustainability – Stefano Giolito

Name Stefano Giolito
Job Title
Global Director of Sustainability
Age
38
Nationality
Italian

Why did you choose to work in sustainability?

For several good reasons, first of all I genuinely have a passion for it.

Personally, I do believe that this generation has a unique opportunity to make a difference, if it is not this generation, the world as we know it will be a different place, in the next 20 years it will be too late.

As a business man, I am energized by the leadership that Unilever is taking in the area of Sustainability. Our CEO Paul Polman has said loud and clear that sustainability is an integral part of our business model and at the heart of the business strategy. I am confident that more companies will follow this lead in the years to come and will integrate sustainability at the heart of their business processes. It is an extremely exciting moment to work in sustainability!

Why do you work for Unilever? Why would you recommend starting a career at Unilever?

Why do I wake up every morning happy to go to work? First of all it is a great learning environment; you get to learn on the job and have opportunities to learn through formal training.

The second might sound a cliché, but it’s true- it’s more of a people company than a process company. Plans are born out of great individuals, not down to the processes. That is what really makes me happy at Unilever.

Obviously it’s also great because of the global reach. If you wish so there are opportunities to work abroad, to meet different cultures and different people. My team is a testament to this; there are barely two people from the same country in it. Yes, that is it, being in a global company, which is all about people, with brilliant opportunities for learning.

What’s your responsibility? How big is your team?

My team is relatively small, in total 5 people. The whole global sustainability team in total is only 12. However in reality the Unilever sustainability team is huge! In every country, in every category, in every R&D centre there are sustainability champions. But more than that, almost everyone in Unilever is involved in sustainability in some way. R&D find new sustainable technologies, marketers listen to consumers to help us make sustainable products consumers desire, supply chain implement our technologies and ideas in our factories, and ensure we source and manufacture in a sustainable way.

The size of my team is a testament that sustainability is not held in a corporate mysterious group, but is spread throughout the business. So you can work anywhere in Unilever and still contribute to our sustainability agenda, it is about a mindset not a business area.

What has been your biggest challenge in Unilever so far?

Whenever I start in a new job, at every level, joining Unilever to becoming a senior marketer, to becoming director of sustainability, has been a big challenge. When I joined Unilever, I came from a clear academic world where everything is geared towards exams, to a much more subtle environment where it’s about people. When you start a new job, you can read the job description, but the new challenges are always different to what you have done before and what you expected, but this is where you learn the most, through failures and through early successes.

When you come fresh to a new challenge you see things people who have been there for a while don’t see, call it the “naivety of new people” or “seeing with fresh eyes”. You have a unique opportunity to disrupt and put in new ideas. If you have the courage to mention these things then you are succeeding. If you sit quiet, then you have failed. It is important not to assume your ideas will be of any less value than those of someone who has been there a while.

What has been your favorite Unilever product innovation in the past 2 years?

I like them all, and I want to select one without upsetting the others! One I particularly like is

White Now, toothpaste which gives you immediate whitening results. It’s brilliant because it captures a real consumer need and challenges the convention, it doesn’t accept that to achieve whiteness you need dramatic and expensive treatments. It gives you everyday confidence by challenging the approach.

In an example related to sustainability, I really like the Dry Shampoos. I believe they are the perfect example of sustainable innovation, born out of a real consumer insight, (the need to refresh your hair, but you don’t have time to wash it), but executed in a way that is more sustainable (as it doesn’t need water to use). That is the role of sustainability, to understand a real insight, challenge the status quo, and deliver a real solution which is sustainable.

What one tip would you have for students to help them save money and be more sustainable?

Very simple. Be more mindful of the real cost of hot water! We take energy for granted, we leave the taps on, and we leave the shower on for too long before even getting in. You can save a lot just by doing that less. Not only will you save money, but also greenhouse gas emissions. I’m not saying colder or, shorter showers, but be careful of small things that are wasteful.

What does success look like for you in the future at Unilever?

We have laid the foundation of a brilliant plan, a vision to double our business and reduce our environment footprint. Success will be achieving this. People forget that 2 billion people use Unilever products every single day, so we have 2 billion opportunities everyday to make the world a little bit better, a little bit more sustainable.

Its difficulty to say what it is on a personal level. I think for me it is satisfying to be in a an ongoing position where I can leave my mark, a legacy and say that “product or that innovation, or that ad campaign” wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for me . At whatever level I am at, to be able to say, “I made an impact”.

Where is your next holiday taking you?

My next holiday, anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere, last winter I was so cold! So I am quite willing to explore the southern hemisphere, but I haven’t decided exactly where.

How many Unilever offices have you been to? Which one is your favorite?

I have been to dozens, across most continents. My favorite is the London office, (where I am based now). It has an open plan design and so it feels open. I like the open space; everyone is the same, equal space, equal voice. You walk amongst everyone, sitting in the same office, at the same desks, right up to senior executives. You feel empowerment, everyone can make a contribution, and everyone can make a difference. I like it especially important for my job as I need to meet with so many different business areas and categories, and most of them are represented here.

Which product do you use the most?

I use so many! The one I currently use the most is Dove for Men. I love the fragrance and the way my skin feels after I used it. It’s a great product, spot on for me, I couldn’t do without it.

Finance

60 Second Interview with Rachel Cook from Financial Management

 Name Rachel Cook
Job Title Finance Manager – Financial Planning & Analytics
Age
32

Why did you choose to work in your function?

Having studied Economics in Durham, I was always interested in numbers and finance. I wanted to understand how a company works and for me, Finance is at the heart of every business.

Why do you work for Unilever? Why would you recommend starting a career in Unilever?

I find it really exciting to see how a project moves through the full life-cycle. I love working with products that you use and see every day. It is very tangible, especially compared to other careers in Finance.

What has been your biggest challenge in Unilever so far?

For my first management role, I was working in a factory that was under review for potential closure where I was managing a team of 5 people who had been with Unilever for many years. I had just finished the grad scheme and my biggest challenge was to motivate people from very different age groups and backgrounds, knowing that the factory could be shutting down soon.

If you were a Unilever product, which one would it be & why?

As I worked in the ice-cream category for some time, it would be an ice-cream product. I live for the summer; ice cream is always fun, family focused and has good margins.

 Which product do you use the most?

Sure deodorant and my freezer is always filled with ice cream.

What’s your responsibility? How big is your team?

I am currently working on the Analytics team in the Global Headquarters. It is a small team with only 6 team members, where I am directly managing one person. My direct customers are the UEx (board) and Senior Finance leaders and my responsibility is to provide accurate and timely insights to these customers to drive decision making.

What has been your favourite (Unilever) invention in the past 2 years?

Knorr stock pots, I use them in nearly everything I cook.

Where is your next holiday taking you?

I have just come back from a long weekend in Boston.

What’s your ambition in Unilever?

I want to keep doing new jobs that are always a bit more interesting than the last one. Every job in Unilever is a new challenge – I want to keep making a difference and we will see where it takes me. Unilever and the industry are changing so fast so you never know what opportunities there might be in a couple of years.

How many Unilever offices have you been to? Which one is your favourite?

17 offices – my favourite one was the Toronto one even though I could see it from my kitchen window. It is a small office and the whole business is in one place, at the same time it is downtown so the perfect location.

Interviews with Senior Leaders

60 Second Interview: Keir Steinke, Vice President Research &…

Name:  Keir Steinke
Job Title:  VP R&D Operations Europe
Age: 51
Nationality:  South African (though I haven’t lived there for 12 years!)

Why did you choose to work in your function?By accident! I was offered a good job in packaging development, enjoyed it and stayed. My original plan was to give it a go, and if I didn’t like it to go and study medicine, but I loved it and stayed.

Why do you work for Unilever? Why would you recommend starting a career in Unilever? 

It’s a big, successful company. Though I did leave for 2 years, but returned by popular request! The great thing about Unilever is it allows me to do so much. My career has been more about breadth than depth and I have been able to work in 6 different countries, in different functions and in food as well as home and personal care (HPC) Even the R&D organisation is very diverse from blue sky research in “discover” through to wheels on the tarmac “deploy” in the local countries.

What’s your responsibility? How big is your team?I am VP R&D Operations Europe. My team is around 400 people from Lisbon to St. Petersburg. This means we are a virtual team which creates very exciting opportunities. How can you bind a team of 400 together for creating growth with that geographical spread who are working on everything from ice cream to toilet cleaner?

What has been your biggest challenge in Unilever so far?Well the comical response is “staying in one country for more than 3 years!” but seriously it is doing more with less. We need to do more and more with less and less, simplifying ways of working and getting people to operate in a more entrepreneurial way, acting as if they were the owners of the business.

What has been your favourite Unilever product innovation in the past 2 years? A cooking sauce in China called Mala Spicy Knorr Sauce, from Food Solutions. It is specific to the Chinese market, and designed by our teams in China, and it has a real kick to it. It is a great product if you like spicy food, and I do!

What does success look like for you in the future at Unilever?For me in particular – to help R&D contribute more to getting Europe to ongoing positive growth. We need to get the right can-do spirit and hunger to win. Unilever Europe is 1/3 of the business and is fuel on the fire of growth in Asia. How do we contribute to that in R&D?

Where is your next holiday taking you?

I’m not sure, I haven’t planned it yet, but either under the sea or on top of the mountains. I love diving and I love nature, especially right up in the mountains, so it will be somewhere between those extremes. It will probably be in Europe as I haven’t been on holiday here in a while. You probably won’t see me on holiday in the same place twice, I like to go somewhere new, and have a new adventure, every time I go on holiday.

How many Unilever offices have you been to? Which one is your favourite?

I’ve lost count, but most of them! I worked in Latin America which took me to all of the offices in North and South America. I’ve been to all of them in Asia, Central and Western Europe. Surprisingly I think the one’s I have visited the least are Africa, from South Africa, North.

My favourite office is probably Durban, South Africa. It is right above the sea, and you can sit at lunchtime, in the sunshine looking out over the ocean, that’s definitely one of the most “wow” experiences. But it’s a tough call; each office has its own mood and vibe.

Which product do you use the most?

Well, I use Dove body wash and body lotion every day I use a Unilever shampoo daily and a Unilever toothpaste (I don’t have a particular favourite brand for these and like to try new ones). The one I use most is probably Axe (Lynx) Dark Temptation.

 If you were a Unilever product, which one would it be & why? Magnum Gold. People buy them because they want to, not because they have to. An indulgent and enjoyable experience, sweet and simple!

Finance

60 Second Interview with James Bruce, VP Finance UK…

Name: James Bruce
Job Title: Vice President Finance UK & Ireland
Age: 45

 Why did you choose to work in your function?

When I graduated, I had the ambition to start my own business and Unilever is one of the best companies in the UK so I wanted to learn from them how they do business. Finance was the most useful discipline for me as it stretches across the whole business.

 Why do you work for Unilever? Why would you recommend starting a career in Unilever?

Unilever is and was one of the best companies to work for. Firstly because of the professionalism of how it is run. Secondly, Unilever is a company that makes a difference to people’s lives every day and it is great that you can connect to the products and be part of it. And an important point, the company’s value and culture fit very well with my own.

What has been your biggest challenge in Unilever so far?

The constant rate of change that you have to respond to by always learning new skills.

 If you were a Unilever product, which one would it be & why?

Magnum, hard on the outside but soft on the inside.

 Which product do you use the most?

Our laundry products like Comfort and Shampoo.

What’s your responsibility? How big is your team?

My responsibility is a 2.5 € business which is taking products to more than 90% of all households in the UK and Ireland. I also cover the whole of Europe and my team counts about 150 people.

 What has been your favourite (Unilever) invention in the past 2 years?

I have to admit, my favourite invention has been the iPad and for Unilever products Dove for Men.

Where is your next holiday taking you?

China.

What’s your ambition in Unilever?

To spend more time in the D&E markets.

How many Unilever offices have you been to? Which one is your favourite?

Around 40 all over the world. My favourite one has been Kenya because Africa is such an amazingly different continent in every way.

 

 

Human Resources

60 Second Interview: Alan Walters, VP Human Resources UK…

Name: Alan Walters
Job Title: Vice President Human Resources UK & Ireland
Age: ?

Why did you choose to work in your function?

While I was at University and was the President of a society there I got interested in what makes organisations tick and what helps people maximise their potential.  Going into HR gave me the opportunity to deepen this and get paid for it!

Why do you work for Unilever? Why would you recommend starting a career in Unilever?

(i) The opportunity to work with great brands that are loved by millions of people and with great people who want to make a difference.

(ii)  It’s a place where your talent can flourish, where you will be challenged & stretched, where you will work fantastic people and critically where you will help us find creative ways of enabling us to double our business whilst reducing our environmental impact. That’s making a real difference…

What’s your responsibility? How big is your team?

I’m the HR business partner for the UK & Ire operating business, and I also look after everything to do with HR policy, process & practice for everyone who works for Unilever in the UK & Ireland.  My direct team is about 30 people in total, but the broader HR team across the UK & Ireland is over 100.

What has been your biggest challenge in Unilever so far?

My current role… transforming the UK & Ire business and now playing my part in taking the business to the next level of performance.

What has been your favourite Unilever product innovation in the past 2 years? 

Dove Men+Care

What does success look like for you in the future at Unilever? 

Having worked in global, regional & local roles I’m really lucky to have had the chance to work right across the business.  Next I would really like to have a role at the top table of HR in Unilever, and ultimately I would like to become the top HR person in a business, whether that’s Unilever or not time will tell!

Where is your next holiday taking you?

Tenerife, with my family, in a few weeks…

How many Unilever offices have you been to? Which one is your favourite?

No idea how many offices I’ve actually been to, but a lot! Particularly in WE (Western Europe) & CEE (Central Eastern Europe).  My favourite one, apart from Leatherhead (which given I was Project Sponsor for I’m biased about!), is Hamburg, a fantastic space, an ice cream parlour and with cruise ships regularly parked outside!

Which product do you use the most?

Dove Men+Care, with Marmite a close second!

If you were a Unilever product, which one would it be & why? 

My 10 year old thinks that I should say Lynx Excite because even the angels fall… but I think he was being sarcastic!  I would say PG Tips – delivers consistently, with depth.

 

Alan Walters, VP HR UK & Ireland
Interviews with Senior Leaders

60 Second Interview: Keith Weed, Chief Marketing and Communications…

Name: Keith Weed
Job Title: Chief Marketing & Communications Officer
Age: ?

Why did you choose to work in your function?

Marketing sounded fun!

Why do you work for Unilever? Why would you recommend starting a career in Unilever?

I chose to work for Unilever because of the great training in Business and particularly Marketing offered.

The opportunity to learn & develop is still true, however in addition, I believe Unilever’s view on creating a new sustainability approach to business growth is inspiring and necessary.

 What’s your responsibility? How big is your team?

Chief Marketing & Communications Officer – responsible for Marketing function, Communications (Internal, External, CSR), Sustainability and Global Water business.  Well over one thousand people globally

What has been your biggest challenge in Unilever so far?

When I was the Category EVP for Laundry, Household Care, Oral Care & Water, reigniting the growth and winning in the Global Laundry business 5 years ago.

 What has been your favourite Unilever product innovation in the past 2 years?

Pureit Water Purifier which provides affordable, safe drinking water by removing bacteria, viruses & parasites to people in the most challenged environments like India, Indonesia, Bangladesh & Mexico.

 What does success look like for you in the future at Unilever?

Success is the combination of doubling the size of the business while reducing the environmental impact. To be able to combine a strong growth ambition with the stretching target to halve the per use environmental footprint of our products will create real leadership in the world.

Where is your next holiday taking you?

North Norfolk (over Easter)

Keith Weed, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer

How many Unilever offices have you been to? Which one is your favourite?

Approximately 80. The new Singapore office is great.

Which product do you use the most?

PG Tips

If you were a Unilever product, which one would it be & why?

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. It’s a great product with a good dash of sustainability and a lot of fun.

 

willem Business & Technology Management (BTM)

60 Second Interview: Willem Eelman, Chief Information Officer

willem

Name: Willem Eelman
Job Title: Chief Information Officer
Nationality: Dutch

Why did you choose to work in your function?

Actually I didn’t but the business chose me! I have been in various finance roles for some 20 years in Unilever ranging from controlling to Mergers and acquisitions cumulating in a role as regional CFO (Chief Financial Officer) in Europe. Having said this, at University I had significant exposure to IT (at the time this was learning coding !) and my first role when I started in Unilever was to implement a financial accounting package (Coda) and did a purchase automation and support IT project. In my role as CFO in Europe I played an extensive role in a major ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) implementation so would say that I had my relevant experience when I was asked to take on the role of CIO (Chief Information Officer) in 2010.

Why do you work for Unilever? Why would you recommend starting a career in Unilever?

I started Unilever in 1989 but actually got involved with the company already in 1987 through a number of student activities. My interest had always been in the CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) Industry but wanted also an international experience. As I got to know the company and met many people working in it, I felt that the company had the right set of values whilst fully offering me the opportunity for a challenging, interesting international career.

I have never been disappointed to date and the values that attracted me at the time still very much sit at the heart if the business.

What’s your responsibility? How big is your team?

I run Unilever’s IT innovation resource and are responsible for a innovation development budget of some 300m. I obviously don’t do this on my own and work with a team of some 1,000 people with a Unilever badge augmented with staff from suppliers and contractors.

What has been your biggest challenge in Unilever so far?

The acquisition of Bestfood was the biggest project that I was involved in. From inception of the idea to the deal execution to the actual integration was an exciting time.

What has been your favourite Unilever product innovation in the past 2 years?

I love the Knorr jelly stock pot. I am a passionate about home cooking, this product offers great taste and augments my cooking skills to make great soups. You need to know that particularly in the winter I tend to make a large pan of soup on Saturday that will see us through the weekend as we run from one commitment to the next, many sport related to one of our 4 children.

What does success look like for you in the future at Unilever?

Success will be when Unilever will be recognized as a high performing company that manages to do well and good at the same time. For me, the ambition to double our size whilst holding our environmental footprint the same is a highly motivating one.

Where is your next holiday taking you?

Our summer holidays, we will be in the States where we will be doing a two week tour in at the west coast visiting few National parks in California, Utah and Arizona. This is a trip I once did as an eighteen year old and I now want to show this to my family.

How many Unilever offices have you been to? Which one is your favourite?

Too many to count. My favourite one is in South Africa in Durban where Unilever has an office sitting at a hill range overlooking Durban and the Indian ocean. On a good day, and if you’re lucky, you may even spot a whale at sea!

Which product do you use the most?

Again, very much very much driven by the fact that we have four children of whom three play rugby at school and in a club. So Persil washing powder and softener are probably the single biggest category and Unilever product we use !

If you were a Unilever product, which one would it be & why?

I would be a a Magnum Classic. Full of energy, a hard outer but soft and smooth inner core. Why the classic ? Because I am already a bit older and the Magnum Classic was actually launched in the year in which I joined Unilever!