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My Summer at Unilever: Dan Seeney, R&D SP

About Me

Hi I’m Dan. I’m currently in my last month working in R&D at Unilever’s Seacroft site in Leeds as part of the summer internship scheme. After I finish my placement in September I will be going back to the University of Sheffield to complete a masters in molecular biology.

Unilever Leeds

Leeds is the GDC for Unilever’s deodorant portfolio. One of its most recent high profile inventions has been the development of compressed aerosol technology which has revolutionised aerosols making them more sustainable for the future and drastically cutting wastage and CO2 emissions which is such a crucial part of Unilever’s sustainability plan.

dove compressed deodorant

A positive about working at this site has been the access to the live factory that produces more than half a billion deodorants a year for global brands including Axe, Dove, Rexona, Vaseline, and Impulse. This access allows you to gain first hand appreciation of how the work you do here can impact the production, as well be giving perspective on the scale of the project you are handling.

My Placement

My placement in packaging development exposed me to new projects that are highly confidential and very interesting. As you can imagine packaging development isn’t at all related to my degree which at first was a little daunting, but after getting in to my projects and being brought up to speed I found myself adapting quickly.

I’ve found myself working mostly in the office, but I have also spent time in the labs. This has really suited me because I would like to move in to a managerial role in the future. Working in packaging is also a very diverse environment with a vast array of projects going on all the time which has given me great exposure to the business side of R&D too.

I have been put in control of organising and driving projects which have enabled me to make contacts all over the world. This exposure to international businessmen/businesswomen from a variety of disciplines has enabled me to grow a more global view of the business and has forced me to adapt the way I engage with people in order to ensure that information is transferred effectively and a common outlook is retained.

Thoughts on the placement

One thing I am amazed at is the level of detail that the company goes to in order to ensure linearity across their suppliers worldwide. The team is constantly travelling to suppliers to ensure they are keeping within the acceptable ranges expected by Unilever. Further to this I also never appreciated how much effort is put in to develop packaging, and how much goes on to drive sustainability that consumers would probably never realise.

Something I have really enjoyed during my placement is the level of responsibility given to me from day one. Within the first few days of starting I was given tasks to complete for a major project within the team. I then got the chance to present my findings to senior stakeholders, which was a great experience to have so early in my placement. As the placement goes on the work level increase as does the level of responsibility, which is a real test as you are always learning new skills rather than on some other placements where you can find yourself shadowing people a lot.

The timing of my placement here was very fortunate with the first few weeks being very busy with the ‘R&D summer event’ where everyone from the site came together to celebrate a successful year. Further to this I was lucky enough to be here for the visit of Alan Jope (President of Unilever’s Personal Care), David Blanchard (Chief R&D Officer), Santiago Iturralde (SVP Deodorants), who gave a great Q&A session, it was interesting to learn about their careers and their opinions on the future of Unilever and was a great way to start the placement. Further to this I’ve also been lucky enough to talk with Alan Palmer (Global Vice President R&D, Deodorants) and former UFLP graduates (some who are now managers) within the company and getting some very valuable advice on careers in Unilever. Being able to network with people in these positions from very early on has given me great insight in to what I can expect from a career in Unilever as well as how to get the most out of it and reach my goals.

Top Tip

My top tips for working at Unilever would definitely be to meet as many people as possible from the start. Throw yourself in to your projects and make as many new contacts as possible. If you can get involved with training, or other projects that aren’t directly related to your goals then do because it gives you a more rounded view of what goes on in R&D. Further to this, don’t shy away from any responsibility, I remember on my first day my line manager told me to ‘fill my boots’ and I have tried my best to do just that, throwing myself in wherever possible.

The best tip though, is to simply enjoy it. Everyone here is really welcoming and friendly and is a testament to the recruitment process that everyone fits in to the team so well. It’s coming to the end of my placement now and I don’t want it to end, I feel settled in to the team and enjoying my work. It will be a huge shame to not see some of the long term projects through.

My Favourite thing about Unilever

My favourite thing about Unilever has to be the social atmosphere. The relaxed nature of the company has allowed me to feel relaxed and able to thrive in this fairly different environment. I have found the sociable nature of my colleagues really helpful as I know that if I require any help then everyone is available and more than happy to help, or point me in the direction of someone else who could help.

Closing Remarks

I hope to apply to the graduate scheme after my placement and take advantage of the fast track on to the UFLP which is a very attractive prospect for me. I look forward to the selection process again as I thoroughly enjoyed the experience last time, and hopefully this placement won’t be the last time I work within Unilever.

I recommend this placement to everybody. Unilever is well deserving in its rank as one of the best graduate employers and you will be able to tell from day one that their goal is to not only test you, but to improve you as well. I didn’t know the FMCG industry particularly well before I joined, I now see it as a potential long term career path.

Thanks for reading and I wish you the best of luck with your applications and potential career in Unilever.

Programmes

So you work in a lab right…? Adam Crossley,…

“So you work in a lab right…?

This is the 6th time I was asked that question on the same night. The night specifically was the 2012 Cambridge Senior Leadership Presentation which I helped to organise along with the rest of the Cambridge campus management team. In truth, I had probably asked this same question when I went to similar presentations in my final year of University. Such is the misunderstanding of a career in R&D that even scientists don’t quite know what to expect. You will even see me in a lab coat in the new recruitment posters (wasn’t my mother proud!). After 3 placements on the UFLP, I feel that I can now try to set the record straight.

Firstly, an introduction. My name is Adam and I joined the UFLP R&D programme in 2012 after studying Biomedical Science at the University of Warwick. In honesty, I didn’t want to be a scientist. I have always been interested in science, but I didn’t want to be a scientist. I joined the scheme hoping to work my way up within the consumer goods business, and get some exposure to some fun science at the same time. I am currently in my 3rd placement of the program, which I have chosen to be an “out of function” placement, where I am having the fantastic experience of working in marketing in our London office. But before this I did two proper R&D placements. Let me tell you a bit about them…

My first placement was in Leeds at the Deodorants R&D site in the formulation team. The formulation team are responsible for the amazing chemistry that makes our products, in this case our antiperspirants.  When I arrived at Leeds I very quickly realised that my job would not be as I expected. My job revolved primarily around fragrance. I worked with European fragrance houses on a weekly basis spending hours sniffing strips of paper making comments such as “it’s a bit too fruity”, whilst 5 people next to me nodded in agreement. Where was the science? Well my platform was the incredible technology of encapsulated fragrances which are released under different stimuli, water, heat, friction etc. I found it fascinating. I wore a lab coat no more than 5 times in my 6 months there.

In my second placement I asked to work in R&D packaging. I made friends with a number of the packaging team when working in Leeds and I developed a fascination about consumer goods packaging. I relocated to Port Sunlight and joined the Laundry packaging team working on Persil. More startling than the change of role was the change in culture. I could now wear a t-shirt to work if I wished (a sad departure from the jacket I now wear in London) and there were far fewer meetings. Instead of fragrance houses, I was now responsible for delivering projects through a set of prototype tool builders and plastic resin supply companies. The work was hands on, fast paced and open for me to make my own mark and I was given unprecedented levels of independence (and responsibility) on my project. This is the work that you will you will see me nattering about in the R&D poster. Instead of sniffing strips, my days started to revolve around negotiating prices with suppliers, agonising over the smallest details of how plastic fits together and collecting small pieces of my newly engineered pack on my desk. By the end of my 6 months my desk looked like a child’s Lego kit. I loved it. I wore a lab coat 8 times in this placement.

Whilst this gives you an overly simplified version of my career thus far, this is by no means a prescribed structure for R&D. Had I wanted to at the time, there was an entire world of Discover to explore where one could really delve deep into the science behind our products, and see what we have planned for the next 10 years of innovation. Some of this stuff would be a real privilege to see as it is largely hidden from the rest of the business. Whilst my journey has not involved too many labs, you have the freedom to find them if that is your wish. The moral of the story is two-fold. Firstly, there are so many different things that you can do in R&D. We can cover any ground from the front lines of the business to planning for the future of innovation. You can truly sculpt your own path based on what suits you. Secondly, don’t think that the science tag pinned on R&D means that it is out of reach without those hardcore science qualifications. I was not a chemist but I loved my time at Leeds. I was not an engineer but I made a real impact in Port Sunlight. Nothing is too much to learn.

So, to answer my question, no I don’t work in a lab, but I certainly could if I wanted to!

Research & Development

R&D Packaging Packaging Programme

What were your typical responsibilities as a UFLP placement?:

The greatest selling point of the UFLP is that you are given a good amount of responsibility from the 1st day! You are assigned to projects which have a large business impact and give you the chance to really make a name for yourself. My roles have typically consisted of working as a project leader in smaller projects, responsible for delivering all technical delivery, and acting as work stream leader for larger big impact projects. My roles have covered both product launches and technical capabilities. For example, my current placement was set with the responsibility that by the end I will have designed a completely new pack for one of our biggest brands, and developed working prototypes to present to stakeholders. Having this great responsibility has given me the chance to experience making tough decisions under pressure, building relationships with other areas of the business, leading and managing teams and stakeholder management. This sets you in great stead for your future role as an R&D manager.

 

 Describe a typical day

A typical day starts for me at approximately 8:15 when I arrive at the office. I then spend the next hour or so with a cup of coffee sorting through my emails and meeting requests from colleagues and contacts at 3rd parties. In the morning I like to dedicate time to meet with members of my team to catch up on their progress with different parts of the project and work together to plan what needs to be done for the rest of the week. The rest of the day is then normally spent jotting between my desk to make calls to suppliers and keep track of budgets/timings or in meetings.

This is the plan for how my work day should be in theory. The truth is that every day is different with Unilever. The offices are dynamic and the people you work with are engaging. I often get pulled into new things, help colleagues and end up abandoning everything to solve the latest crisis. Exciting stuff!

 

 What’s been your biggest achievement while on the scheme?:

 My biggest achievement so far in my 8 months with Unilever has come in the past few weeks. In just 4 weeks since starting my second placement I have taken our new Persil pack design from preliminary drawings through multiple revisions into a complex, elegant, functional system which has been given the seal of approval by my stakeholders. When working in Unilever you learn that you have to hit the ground running, and I don’t feel like I have stopped since I started this role. The achievement here comes from taking this new format, not used before in any of our products, and developing it to an approvable stage in such a short amount of time.

 

Why choose Unilever Future Leaders Programme in Packaging Development?:

There is something quite special about packaging. In our industry, packaging is the one direct interface with the consumer. If it doesn’t look right, the consumer won’t even pick up our products. If it doesn’t feel right, the consumer won’t put it in their shopping baskets. If it doesn’t perform well enough, then the consumer will not buy it again! The importance of intelligently designed, robust and iconic packaging cannot be understated. It’s the biggest differentiator between us and our competitors and it is something that Unilever is placing more emphasis on every day. I have loved my second placement in packaging and it is an exciting place to be right now in Unilever.

 

Research & Development

Packaging

Welcome back!

Last time I gave you an insight into what makes me tick. This week I will begin to try and explain what life as a packaging technician really entails. Almost two months into the role, (that’s 1/3 of the way through already!) I find myself emerging from the chaos that is starting a completely unfamiliar job (I have neither a background in packaging nor foods) to beginning to contribute effectively towards the projects I’m working on. So here’s a whirlwind tour of some of the things I’ve been up to, and a feel for how manic life can be at the start.

Week 1: After weeks of growing excitement at the prospect of living in Germany, I arrived to be met by the sudden realisation that the 12.5 hours of Unilever-funded German lessons I’d taken had not left me quite as fluent as I’d once believed they would. Having survived the weekend I started work on Monday with a bit more apprehension than a week previous. This dissolved quickly as my line manger began to introduce me to a sea of friendly looking faces, all of whom capable and more than willing to greet me in English. On Tuesday there was a workshop to discuss ways to improve the sustainability and value of our packaging while on Friday I travelled to one of our suppliers to talk about the future of our flexible materials.

The workshop: With a wealth of packaging experience having travelled from across Europe to attend I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous due to my complete lack of packaging expertise. The opportunity to say something stupid definitely seemed too great for my liking despite being reassured that my fresh perspective would be invaluable. In the morning we split into groups of 5 with each group looking at a specific area of packaging, for example flexible materials, cardboard, etc.. and in the afternoon we came back together to share our ideas and develop them further. The day was over before I’d realised it and it had been a lot of fun. I had a glimpse of how much there was to learn in packaging and manage to avoid saying anything notably stupid. More importantly, as a group we’d managed to generate a lot of ideas, some of which I’m now beginning to see implemented.

The supplier visit: Another eye opener for me that helped to really set the scene for the placement. In the morning I was given a tour of their plant showing me how the materials we use are made; this helped to make sense of many of the things we had discussed in the office. In the afternoon we discussed ways to improve our current packaging materials, looking both at what we had the knowledge and capability to do now as well as where we’re like to get to in the future. The day all in all was a great chance to see first hand how we can work together with our suppliers as partners to improve our products.

Developing new pouches for Knorr is part of the role

Since then my knowledge of the packaging world has exploded as I’ve met with more suppliers, worked in the pilot plant, attended new material trials in a factory, visited Interpack (a global packaging fair that occurs only once every 3 years) and also gone about my day to day tasks.

So there it is, my first two months in a nutshell and I still haven’t really explained what a packaging technician does (fail). Ok, next time I’ll tell you what an “average” day could be like unless something comes up in the coming week, I guess you’ll just have to wait and see 😉

Tschüss.

Duncan

 

 

Research & Development

Willkommen Zu Meinem Blog!

Willkommen zu meinem blog, or for the English, ‘welcome’, and don’t worry, that is about as far as my German goes for now (Google translate is a life saver).  I’ll be giving you some insights into my life since joining the Unilever Future Leader’s programme (UFLP) as a Research & Development trainee. I thought I’d start with a brief introduction.

I joined Unilever in 2009, prior to which I spent 4 years (well 3, as one I spent in Arizona) studying chemistry in Nottingham. Outside of work or study I love to play hockey, listen to music, party and any combination of the previous. I also have a small addiction to xbox live, but the shakes don’t come so often when I leave my xbox any more.

After just over a year and a half on the UFLP and I find my self on my final placement having spent time researching new antibacterials, building a business case for Comfort (the fabric conditioner not the sensation) and helping to grow Dove Men+ Care as a marketer. Now snugly settled into the uncannily familiar setting of Heilbronn (it’s a south German town near Stuttgart, who knew) I have become a packaging technician working principally on Knorr. But what does that actually mean? A good question and one I aim to answer over the coming weeks.

Just enough time left to give you my first impressions of life out here. Moving to another country is never easy even if you’re assisted but it is a fantastic opportunity.   The first month has been interesting, and I’m beginning to settle now. My colleagues have been fantastic, none more so than my boss who has gone out of his way to make me feel welcome, even taking me on a cycle tour of the local villages (sold with the promise of beer and ice cream). The job also looks good with a big sustainability focus and a lot to learn, but more on this next time.

If you have any questions or want to hear about anything in particular please let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

Tschüss.

Duncan