Maria and Paul Polman2 Business areas

6 months down the line: Maria Snowden, Finance IP

Hi, I’m Maria. I study economics at the University of Bath and am currently an IP on the Finance scheme.

My last blog post was about my experiences in Brand Development for Homecare, which involved business partnering a marketing team and working on everything from
business cases to brand strategies. Over the past few weeks I’ve transitioned from that role to working as part of a project team with external consultants to streamline our cost recovery process. It’s been a strange feeling joining a new team and feeling totally clueless all over again! I’m still based in our Global HQ in Central London, which is a really buzzing office to work in- not to mention being in a perfect location for socializing after work.
Read more “6 months down the line: Maria Snowden, Finance IP”

Maria profile pic Finance

Finance, it’s not just sitting in an office all…

Hi- my name’s Maria and I’m three months into my Industrial Placement in the Finance Function. I work in Brand Development for Homecare, which is a really exciting global role that gives me a first look at some of the newest innovations coming out of Unilever. I’ve already been given lots of responsibility after just a short while- including leading a Strategic Plan for the Living Hygiene brand in Household Care, updating the quarterly results scorecard for the Homecare VP and creating a cost model to identify potential for margin improvement.

It was pretty daunting coming in for my first day working in central London. However, I was soon put at ease since everyone in my team was so welcoming; my manager even took me for lunch on the rooftop terrace on the first day! Day to day it’s not just creating and updating spread sheets- I’m also having conversations with people all over the world about some of the key issues affecting the Homecare category. I’m constantly liaising with new people, learning about different aspects of management accounting and problem solving, which definitely keeps me on my toes.

But it’s not been all about finance- I’ve also done had some additional voluntary work towards Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan. In September, through Unilever I got the opportunity to spend a day with a fantastic charity called Fareshare, who distribute surplus food from supermarkets to places that really need it- including homeless shelters, rehab and community centres. We spent the day delivering food all over London and meeting the people who benefit from their work. You can see us below (I’m second from the left) enjoying a cuppa before we set off on a hard day’s work!

Maria Finance

I also contributed to Dove’s Self Esteem Project by delivering a body confidence workshop to a group of Year 8 students. It was a pretty nerve wracking experience- and a long way from the days at the office that I’ve been used to! But it was incredibly rewarding to see how well the kids responded, and we even got some freebies at the end of the day.

I’ll soon be rotating to a new role, so I look forward to seeing what the next few months will bring!

Alex Walton profile Finance

My first few weeks as a finance UFLP: Alex…

Hi everyone,

I’m Alex and I’ll be writing a few blogs on my time in the graduate scheme (UFLP) at Unilever. I’m on the Financial Management programme and I’m currently based in Leatherhead on my first placement. I thought I’d give you a bit of an insight into my first month at the company, and let you know what I’ve been up to and what you can expect when you get here!

Read more “My first few weeks as a finance UFLP: Alex Walton”

amelia 1 Business areas

My First 6 Weeks in Finance: Amelia Swan, SP

Hello – I’m Amelia and I’m on the Finance Summer Placement. I’m going into my final year at Durham in October. Here are my highlights so far, things I’ve learnt and what I’ve been working on…

Some highlights…

  • Free Ben and Jerrys
  • Finance Sports Day (Should have seen me win the bouncy hopper race)
  • Living in London
  • Team away day to the Escape Rooms
  • The view from the rooftop garden at the central London office
  • Discounted Shop (Definitely making the most of it)
  • Lots of freebies!
  • After work drinks and meals out

amelia 1

Photo of the winning team of our Finance Office Olympic Games (I’m in the middle!).

I honestly had no finance knowledge/experience before I started (I’m studying Biology and Anthropology). This has not mattered at all and I feel like those studying Finance/economics related degrees had no head start at all.

Finance is a very diverse function – I’ve had nothing to do with any accounting in my placement. I’m working in a centralised finance team that provides financial insights to the category teams (i.e. Hair, Skin Care, Tea etc) and to those teams working with the customers (Tesco, Boots etc). It’s interesting seeing the monthly figures behind brands I use all the time and how they perform compared to competitors.

12 weeks seems like ages but means you can get into the role and make a difference. It goes quickly as you’re so busy with a work plan set on day 1. Sounds daunting but it’s cool to be able to get stuck into your own projects and feel useful.

Things I’ve been working on…

  1. Creating a file that compares the shelf price of products against our key competitors which updates every week, in each Customer (Learning to love Excel).
  2. Creating an Information Pack for New Joiners in CD Finance.
  3. Helping with the monthly sales forecasting process.
  4. My ‘Plus 1’ – Arranging a ‘Durham@Unilever’ Afternoon – Entrepreneurs Durham Society are coming to Unilever for an afternoon in September to find out about the company and careers.

So far it’s been challenging, rewarding, fun, and a very steep learning curve! The weeks have flown by and I’m looking forward to what the next 6 weeks will bring.

FNC Business areas

Finance Class of 2013!

Astrid
Name:
Astrid Barsk

Degree: Economic History (MSc)

University: London School of Economics

Based at: 100VE

First role: Global Financial Analytics

What attracted you to Unilever:  Last year I was working at the U.N. in Rome, but I knew that I wanted to move in to the private sector. I was interested in the strategic aspect of decision making within a company and wanted to gain exposure to this across a wide range of business areas.

I applied to Unilever because the finance function, as a whole, aims to address many of the strategic questions such as “Where do we have to position our business geographically to ensure strong growth in the future” or “How to navigate changing demographics in our consumer base?” that I was interested in learning about.

In the end, I chose Unilever because the UFLP programme structure means I wouldn’t be pigeon holed in to one role. Instead, over three years I would get a wide breadth of experience: from sales, marketing, or supply chain through business partnering to a very macro-level understanding from my current placement!

Daisy
Name: 
Daisy McElhinney

Degree:  Political Science (BA Hons)  Carbon Finance (MSc)

University: University of Birmingham and University of Edinburgh

Based at: 100VE

First Role: Global Sustainability Finance

What attracted me to Unilever: As someone from a sustainability and climate change background in my masters, the USLP was a huge influence in my decision to apply for the UFLP at Unilever.  The fact that I would be working for a company that not only did big business, but did it well and did it responsibly really stood out against a list of purely profit driven companies.  We also make PG tips, who doesn’t want to work for the company that makes PG tips?!Name: Samantha Kelly

Degree: Law (LLB)

University: University of Leeds

Based at: Kingston

First role: Global Operations IT Services – Enterprise and Technology Solutions

What attracted me to Unilever: There are few graduate schemes out there which provide you with the opportunity to become a manager within two to three years of starting with the business. I wanted to be challenged, given responsibility from the offset, and be provided with the opportunity to add real value to the role and team I would placed in. To date, the UFLP has exceeded my expectations in each of these areas. Furthermore, the roles within Finance are vastly varied – the rotations provide a broad range of experience which builds an excellent foundation upon which to start your career in Finance. On a lighter note, working for a business which owns brands such as Lynx and Ben & Jerry’s makes a much more interesting conversation than introducing yourself as an accountant!

Stephanie
Name: Stephanie Galliers

Degree: Criminology and Psychology (BA Hons)

University: University of Liverpool

Based at: 100VE Blackfriars (Global UK Office for Unilever)

First role: Global Business Partner for one of our 5 Global brands in Household Care

What attracted me to Unilever: I joined the programme as part of the Finance function along with 8 other graduates in September this year. What initially attracted me to Unilever was their reputation and global presence. Such a large organization has the ability to offer huge potentials for personal growth, and the possibility of international travel. After researching into the finance graduate opportunities I was further drawn to the prospects that were available and the clear investment that Unilever would make in terms of funding the CIMA qualification for each of us. Despite having worked here for almost 2 months, I am still grasping the variety of opportunities available and still amazed at the responsibility that I have already acquired in my role.

Stuart
Name:
Stuart Hoddinott

Degree: Government and Economics

University: LSE

Based at: 100 VE

First Role: Managing Russia and Ukraine for brand development deodorants

What attracted me to Unilever: I did a Summer Placement here last year and after a few weeks I decided that it was one of the best companies I could imagine working for. I had never done any kind of placement before where I was involved so heavily and given so much responsibility from the first day I walked through the door. After seeing the kind of work that year’s grads were doing, I was convinced that I wanted to come back and work here after Uni. Luckily for me, everything went to plan with the interview and here I am a year later doing an incredible role where I am constantly challenged.

Owen
Name:
Owen McMahon

Degree: Economics

University: University of Exeter

Based at: Leatherhead

First role: Customer Finance – Sainsbury’s and Waitrose

What attracted you to Unilever; Unilever’s exposure and success in emerging markets was what made them really stand out to me. I could see clearly that Unilever was a company that understood the importance of developing and emerging markets, and as a result of this they are extremely well positioned for the future.

Ravi
Name:
Ravi Pall

Degree: Physics MSci & ARCS

University: Imperial College London

Based at: UK&I HQ (Leatherhead)

First Role: Finance Business Partner UK&I Ice Cream

What attracted me to Unilever: The idea that I would have an opportunity to work for a leader in in an incredibly interesting industry (FMCG). Also, the Unilever graduate scheme offers amazing career prospects of becoming a leader in Finance after 2-3 years on the scheme and a qualification in CIMA. From the role profiles posted on the website and graduate blog, I realised that I would get the chance to make real tangible decisions in a company that impacts the lives of over 2 billion people every day.

Application Tips

Why did I even apply?

I’m currently a Finance graduate on the Unilever Future Leaders Program (UFLP). At Imperial I studied Physics (MSci) which isn’t necessarily the most intuitive career fit. Not really having any financial background hasn’t been a hindrance though, where the view is you can learn finance, but your attitude and approach is something you as an individual bring to the table. As I’m sure a lot of students find, when it comes to making your first career choice, it’s incredibly tempting to go and work for a big city bank or continue into further study. I personally wanted to work in an interesting sector that made a real tangible impact on peoples everyday lives. Not many companies can say over 2 billion people use one of their products on any given day. Unilever could, and that’s something I wanted to be a part of.

My first role on the UFLP is business partnering for Brand Building in Ice Cream. I’m going to say right now that this is literally the most fun thing I’ve ever done. I work with brand managers every day to make sure that the decisions we make together have the greatest impact they can, as if we were spending our own money. When you consider we own brands such as Ben & Jerry’s, Walls, Magnum etc you begin to realise that the responsibility you’re given from day one effects how well we do in such a competitive and large category. I cannot stress enough how much this job is basically the win win scenario of corporate finance but has lots more to offer.

When applying for the job, like any job, it’s important to highlight your strengths as a rounded individual. It’s hard to come across arrogant when you simply talk through a experience or story which you know like the back of your hand. It’s also important to relate these narratives to the core competencies of the company you’re applying for. Unilever has 5 and in every answer to a question I thought about not only how to answer the competency they’re asking for, but the other 4 as well. Many people are well rounded, especially if you’ve been active outside of academia, and it’s just as important to demonstrate this as it is to align with a company’s core competencies. As always it’s also a wise idea to read as much about the company as possible. I had google alerts set up just on the word “Unilever” for example. What’s also important is how you highlight that as a student you had a strong analytical reasoning and logical approach. In fact I’d say that this is the strongest thing my degree gave me, so be sure to draw from it.

In the future I look forward to working in different parts of the organisation, working on both a global and national level. There’s also potential to work abroad, which in itself bring a new challenge and breadth of experience. I’d highly recommend applying now if you’re interested in working on something different yet career building. Unilever invest a lot in you (for example paying for you to qualify in CIMA) and this in turn really helps place you in a great position by the end of the scheme, where you’re placed in a management position.

UnileverU Business & Technology Management (BTM)

Unilever UK & Ireland Locations

One of the questions we get asked most on our Facebook page is “Where will I be based?” and also “Can you guarantee my location?”. This post will hopefully answer all your location questions!

So, where might you be based? The UFLP is a geographically flexible scheme – meaning you move around for placements, making sure you get the best experience possible, working with lots of different teams and in different situations. Each function is slightly different, with different key sites where you’ll be working. You are supported by Unilever to move house each placement move 🙂

Industrial and Summer placements will have one location (usually) for the whole duration – and this will be confirmed when you are assigned a role. We don’t usually guarantee locations for anyone applying to the UFLP or Industrial and Summer Placement schemes.

Business & Technology Management (my function)

In BTM, you’re most likely to be working in:
– St. Davids Park (North Wales) – when working here grads tend to live in Chester or Liverpool. This site is closing and moving to Port Sunlight at the end of 2014, so you’re less likely to work here as more people move over to…
– Port Sunlight (Liverpool-ish) – again, working here people tend to live in Chester or Liverpool.
– Kingston (London) – our newly refurbished services centre, Kingston office is based right in Kingston town centre – trainees tend to live in Clapham or Wimbledon (or anywhere else in London) to work here.
– Those are the 3 most likely sites, but you can also do stints at Blackfriars (100VE), Leatherhead and Colworth. You do an out of function placement, and for that you will be based at a site for the relevant function.

Customer Management (Sales) and Marketing 

Customer Management & Marketing are mostly London-based placements. It’s quite rare that you’d be based at other offices right now. You’re most likely to be in:
– Leatherhead (Surrey) – Our UK Headquarters, where we have an awesome Ben & Jerry’s Bar. Most grads tend to live in Clapham or Wimbledon and commute out.
– Blackfriars (London) – 1 of our 2 Global Headquarters (the other one is in Rotterdam, NL) . Again, most people live in Clapham or Wimbledon, mostly so they don’t have to move house when moving between the two!
You could also be based at our Tigi or Ben & Jerrys HQs, which are also in London.

In Customer Management (Sales), there is also an opportunity to be based in Dublin (Our Irish HQ) for your 2nd Placement.

R&D

Research & Development are mostly based at our Research & Development sites. You’re also likely to do an out-of-function placement in Supply Chain, CD or Marketing, which will most likely be based in Leatherhead or Blackfriars.
– Leeds – We have an R&D site for Deos up in Leeds – most grads tend to live in Leeds itself.
– Colworth (Bedford) – Our Colworth site is where a lot of ice cream and tea is developed – most grads tend to live in Bedford
– Port Sunlight (Liverpool-ish) – Our Liverpool site is where a lot of personal care and home care research goes on. Most grads tend to live in Liverpool or Chester.

Supply Chain

In Supply Chain, you tend to do 4 placements – a planning role and a customer service role – usually both based at Leatherhead (or maybe Leeds), and then a project role and a factory shift management role – these roles could be based across the UK – the factories where you’re most likely to be based are:

– Norwich – The home of Colman’s mustard!
– Gloucester – Where you can taste the most delicious ice cream straight off the production line!
– Seacroft (Leeds) – Where the infamous Lynx is made, along with all of our other aerosols.
– Port Sunlight (Liverpool-ish) – Our Laundry Factories are all based on at Port Sunlight – most grads tend to live in Liverpool or Chester.
You could also be based at Crumlin, Purfleet, Slough, Doncaster, Burton, Trafford Park or Warrington.

Finance & HR

Financial Management and Human Resources Management trainees could be based pretty much at any of our sites! You tend to support different teams to get a breadth of experience. You will usually do at least one placement at Leatherhead or Blackfriars in both Finance and HR, and then you might go to any of our offices (the R&D sites, plus Kingston, Dublin and the TIGI & Ben & Jerrys HQs in London),  or any of our factories (see the supply chain list).

This list hopefully helps you to understand a bit more about where you’re likely to be based when working in the UK & Ireland – it’s not exhaustative unfortunately  but the majority of sites are mentioned above! Many of our schemes offer international placements when you could be based anywhere from Durban to Singapore to Sao Paulo. As a grad, you get used to going where you’re told as you know a really exciting placement is waiting for you there – and usually there will be at least a few other grads placed in the same location.

Let us know if you have any other questions – the best place to ask is on Facebook or Twitter!

Finance

My Year at Unilever: Alex Guest, Finance IP

What made you choose Unilever?

I came across the placement online and was instantly struck by the size and power of the brands in Unilever’s portfolio, as well as the size of the company as a whole. I had also been looking at some placements offered by the banks and accountancy firms, however something about the culture at Unilever really struck me and I think that was the real clincher.

Has it been how you expected it to be?

It has easily surpassed my expectations. Right from day one I was given real responsibility and was made to feel part of the team. The variety of the projects I have undertaken has been great (everything from designing a finance team newsletter to working on the financial forecasting and commodity price changes). The support structure here is also really good, you have an official mentor in your line manager, but everyone is willing to give advice and guidance whenever you need it. The size of the company is something you don’t fully appreciate until you are here. You learn something new every single day.

How has the Programme changed you?

I now have a real understanding of working life and have a much better idea of what I want to do when I finish university. It has given me a real business mindset and has made me much more driven. It has also matured me and made me much more employable than I would have been without the year out.

What have you enjoyed most?

The people. Unilever has an excellent culture and its employees are all supportive, friendly and willing to challenge you to see what you are capable of. From Analysts all the way up to Directors I have received support and advice. I have also made some great friends in my time here too.

How has it stretched you?

It encouraged me to face the things I felt I was weak at and improve on them. For example, prior to my time here, I wasn’t a very confident public speaker, however having been encouraged to give several presentations during my time here I am now much more confident at public speaking. It has also made me more organised and more time efficient (skills you need in order to meet tight deadlines)

Has anything surprised you about it?

How much responsibility you are given right from day one.

What were the people like?

All very supportive, encouraging, friendly and exceptionally good at what they do. They really have a passion for the company, which I think says a lot about the kind of place it is to work.

What have you learned? How quickly have you learned?

What haven’t I learnt? People skills, Excel and IT skills, things about myself, how a FTSE 100 company runs…

What are you doing now?

I am currently approaching the end of my year at Unilever; I am in my second role – in the Finance Controllers Department (my first being a finance business partnering role with the Ice Cream Category Team). After I finish I will be going back to university for my final year.

How are you putting into practice what you learned on the Programme?

I am using my analytical skills more effectively in the ‘outside world’. When I go back to university for my final year, I feel I will be in a much better position to do well in my finals.

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.

Finance

I’m going to present to the Chief Financial Officer

Now that we have the 18 months of work in 500 words introduction out of the way I’ll tell you some more about what I am currently doing.

This final placement is turning out to be both the most stretching and the most eye-opening.

I’m writing this blog at 8.30am less than 12 hours after I left the office last night.  Flexible working sometimes flexes the other way- unfortunately free ice-cream, working from home etc. has a flipside- when the CFO (Chief Financial Officer) wants a presentation by the end of the day you’re staying until its done.

Handily for me this is a double edged sword.  Though I don’t like preparing PowerPoint slides at 8pm I do appreciate the chance for 10 slides out of 40 going to be seen by the top people in the business having been designed by me personally, from scratch.

By definition Analytics (my dept) should not churn out normal stuff that Excel could do with a few macros.  However, the fact I have to create things, from scratch, that tell the most senior board members things they don’t already know is quite daunting.

My brief this month:

1) Growth of our customers.
2) Unilever performance vs. targets.
3) Customer service efficiency
4) Forecasting performance

You should bear in mind that I had no previous experience of forecasting, no real idea of which customers are driving the business (we sell in 180 countries remember), no idea of how we measure customer service (what do you think we measure?) etc.

You need to meet with all the relevant people who spend their entire day thinking about these things within Unilever.  But maybe some of those people work in the US, maybe some work from home and maybe you’ll be ill for three days out of 5 spending all your time asleep, coughing or trying not to asphyxiate on phlegm.

However, your asphyxiation, while not irrelevant, needs to be controlled.  You need to learn from those people, no matter how spread around the globe they may be.  Just because you go to bed as they are getting to the office doesn’t mean you don’t need to talk to them.  Maybe someone rings you from an airport.  Maybe someone rings you at 10pm. Maybe you spend Sunday afternoon brainstorming.

Anyway, then you go away and think about how to present what is someone’s full time job on a single PowerPoint slide that must contain a compelling message.

You have to build the slide. Get buy-in from the people who just a moment ago were your teachers. Good luck on that if there is anything negative you think needs to be highlighted for senior management to see.  Remember that while Analytics needs to present a true and fair view of the business you are not a finger pointer or judge, jury and executioner of your colleagues.

On the flipside the board don’t really care if everything is amazing in a certain area.  At any given time there are good and bad trends in every department in every company in the world.  But what do management need to see?

Don’t forget that your colleagues are actual human beings who are working every day all day to contribute towards the success of the company.  We are colleagues, not enemies.  They have given up their time to help you, to teach you.

How are you going to behave in light of that?  What happens next time you want to understand performance in their area?  Do they trust you to present an accurate and fair view of their work?  Or do they know you as the guy who loves his red highlighter and his dramatic slide titles a bit too much?

Anyway, that’s it for now.  My experience in the last two weeks is pretty much key to your success on UFLP: when it comes down to it, can you learn about different areas of the business in a stupidly short amount of time?  Can you chase people to teach you, distil all their thoughts into a compelling message and then sell it in a slide to the Financial Controller of the whole of Unilever?  Who then presents it to the Chief Financial Officer of the whole of Unilever?

I came into this role 8 weeks ago from the UK operating company.  That’s one country out of 174 that we have offices in.  I now prepare insight for someone who we paid €2.1m euros in 2010 (Jean Marc Huet).  Look him up on Google or here to see his career history.

What are you going to tell him?

1 slide, 1 massive topic that 2 weeks ago you had no idea about.  Do it 4 times.

I am getting married and going on safari for my honeymoon so I might not be able to blog again soon. Anyway, I’ll catch you later.

Jaime