What it does: Makes fast-moving consumer goods
Staff stats: Around 170,000 globally, 1600 locally
The good bits: Seeing your company’s products everywhere
The not so good bits: The fast pace isn’t for the faint-hearted
The Unilever story
The origin story of what’s now the world’s largest consumer goods multinational begins with a couple of Dutch margarine makers and a soap-manufacturing business owned by two British brothers. In 1882, Antoon Jurgens founded the Netherlands’ – and the world’s – first margarine factory in Oss. Six years later, another Oss-based entrepreneur called Samuel van den Bergh set up a rival margarine company. After decades of competition, the two margarine makers merged in 1927, forming a company called Margarine Unie (Dutch for ‘Margarine Union’).
In 1885, William and James Lever, after taking over their father’s small grocery business, got into the soap manufacturing game. Teaming up with a chemist called William Watson, the brothers launched various innovative soaps. These were a big hit with consumers. By the turn of the century, Lever Brothers soaps were being sold across the world with brands such as Lux on their way to becoming household names.
In 1930, Margarine Unie and Lever Brothers merged. This resulted in a dual-listed company. Unilever N.V. is based in Rotterdam and has a primary listing on the Amsterdam Exchange Index. Unilever plc is based in London and has a primary listing on the London Stock Exchange.
Long story short, through both acquisitions and organic growth, Unilever proceeded to grow into a leviathan. It now has a presence in almost every country in the world and a portfolio of over 400 brands. You’ve almost certainly consumed a food, drink or personal care product produced by Unilever in the last 24 hours, or used one of its cleaning agents. Some of the company’s better-known brands include Ben & Jerry’s, Bertolli, Lynx, Domestos, Dove, Omo, Flora, Lipton, Lux, Magnum, Ponds, Rexona, Streets, Sunsilk, Surf and Vaseline. In 2016, the company had revenues of $90 billion.
Unilever has had a presence in Australia for well over a century, with Lever Brothers having set up a soap-manufacturing facility in Balmain, Sydney in 1899. Unilever Australasia is the Australian and New Zealand subsidiary of the company and is headquartered in Epping, Sydney. It is divided into three divisions: Home & Personal Care; Foods and Ice Cream.
Unilever aspires to be an Employer of Choice and sees creating a diverse and inclusive environment as central to achieving that goal. The company believes “having a gender-balanced, engaged workforce that reflects our consumer base is a critical element of our long-term growth strategy.”
Diversity for Unilever means “giving full and fair consideration to all applicants and continuing development of all employees regardless of gender, nationality, race, creed, disability, style or sexuality” and creating an inclusive atmosphere “that enables all individuals to perform to their full potential, irrespective of who they are”.
Over the coming two decades, Unilever wants to double the size of its business while halving its environmental footprint. The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan seeks to decouple the business’s growth from its impact on the planet. The plan mandates ambitious goals, such as sourcing all energy renewably, removing harmful chemicals from its cleaning products, switching to 100 per cent recyclable plastic packaging and slashing the amount of staff travel.
Given the obesity crisis, the company is seeking to dramatically raise the nutritional value of its food and beverage products by 2020. It is doing this through initiatives such as eliminating trans fats, cutting back on saturated fats and sugar, cutting the amount of kilojoules in its ice creams and providing consumers with healthy eating information.
Unilever also aspires to make its products – soaps, toothpastes, toilet cleaners and water purifiers – accessible to a billion of the world’s poorest people by 2020. This should significantly improve sanitation thus reducing the incidence of life-threatening diseases.
The recruitment process
If you’re interested in a future career at Unilever, you may wish to apply for the 12-week Summer Leadership Internship the company offers. Graduates from all disciplines are welcome to apply for the Unilever Future Leaders Program. There are five business functions you can express an interest in: Marketing; Customer Development; Finance; HR and Supply Chain (you’ll need have studied accounting if you want to work in Finance).
The application process involves four stages. An online application, which is straightforward apart from needing to decide which function you wish to apply for (you’re limited to one choice). After this comes online testing, in the form of 12 quick games that assess your cognitive, emotional and social traits. If that goes well, you’ll do a digital interview. This involves using your phone or computer to record yourself solving “real-world problems using Unilever scenarios”. The final hurdle is a ‘Discovery Centre day’. This involves a project meeting with people from your chosen function, meeting with a senior manager to discuss a current business challenge, a one-on-one meeting with your (potential) line manager and a ‘team meeting’ with your fellow candidates.
The Future Leaders program goes for three years. It involves 4-5 rotations, one of which will see you spending six months working in South-East Asia. You’ll have access to a support network made up of a functional director, a buddy, a HR staffer and a senior manager who will provide leadership coaching.
Your experience will differ depending on what function you’re working in. But you can expect to get comprehensive exposure to your own function, some exposure to all the other functions, and the opportunity to develop all the technical and soft skills you require to succeed.
Unilever claims to offer “attractive reward and benefit packages” but doesn’t provide a lot of detail, possibly because these packages differ from country to country.
The company is big on building a “winning culture”. To facilitate this, it has a performance-based reward structure called ‘Total Reward’. This “recognises people who have delivered results and have the right values for our business”. The company seeks to offer staff “attractive incentives” and “pay for highly rated people making an exceptional contribution will be towards the top of the market range”.
Unilever, already an enormous multinational, is determined to double in size by 2030. That suggests there should be plenty of opportunities for promotions in the years to come. The company goes to great lengths to maintain its reputation as one of the world’s most admired employers. It devotes a lot of resources to creating a work environment where “individuals can achieve their goals, both professionally and personally”.
The vibe of the place
Unilever offers an “agile and dynamic workplace, often with flexible working hours and working from home options”. It claims to provide “a fun and engaging work culture, where you’re truly encouraged to be yourself”. There are also plenty of events that bring teams, or the entire office, together including “brand launches, social activities and volunteering opportunities”. And, if all that is not enticing enough for you, all Unilever’s offices are stocked with a never-ending supply of free ice cream.
From the Employer:
"With more than 400 brands focused on health and wellbeing, no company touches so many people’s lives in so many different ways.
Our portfolio ranges from nutritionally balanced foods to indulgent ice creams, affordable soaps, luxurious shampoos and everyday household care products. We produce world-leading brands including Lipton, Magnum and OMO alongside trusted local names such as Rexona, Continental and Streets Ice Cream.
Our purpose is to make sustainable living commonplace. We are developing new business practices that grow both our company and communities. We are meeting people’s ever-increasing desire for more sustainable products and creating a brighter future for everyone. Find out more about our Sustainable Living Plan."