Learning on the Unilever Future Leaders Programme

Explore the many benefits of learning to lead on Unilever’s graduate schemes and get an insight into the products and brands you could work on.

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What is it like to work at Unilever? Three young talents on the Unilever future leaders programme (UFLP) share their experiences so far. In each case, their varied career paths through Unilever’s well-known brands show how a career at Unilever develops graduates’ leadership skills and allow you to compare what each stream of the UFLP has to offer. And, if you are interested in applying, each future leader gives their own tips on how you can demonstrate your leadership potential.

Matthew McDonald

UFLP: R&D (research and development)

Role: technical project leader

Involved with: coordinating technical development work such as ingredient sourcing, product development and factory production trials for new Magnum products to be launched in 2023.

I’ve been given the opportunity to:

  • lead teams of scientists, engineers, safety experts and marketing colleagues through new product development
  • be entirely responsible for coordinating project work.

My training and support have included:

  • technical learning – for example, how laundry products work and how ice cream is made
  • inspiration sessions where (very!) senior leaders in Unilever share experiences and knowledge from their careers
  • colleagues who are always happy to talk about my work and offer advice.

My Unilever career highlight to date: being an inventor on a patent application for a new laundry product that repairs damaged clothes. This really innovative technology could lead to sustainable habits, making clothes last longer and reducing our dependence on fast fashion.

A challenge I have overcome: remote working, or teams where parts of the team work remotely. I have put a lot of effort into building a support network and, now we are starting to return to some office working, I appreciate how much you can learn just by being around your team in person.

Learning to be a Unilever leader: everyone at Unilever is an expert in something. My first step when joining a new team is to find out what someone’s expertise is and make time to learn from them. Demonstrate that you are prepared to work hard, be proactive and respect others, and responsibility will follow.

My tip for demonstrating leadership potential: good leaders recognise the talent of those around them and help nurture it. Start by thinking about how you get the best out of others.

Emma Sleep

UFLP: supply chain

Role: sustainable manufacturing assistant

Involved with: the water, waste, energy and carbon strategy for our owned and operated manufacturing sites as part of the sustainable manufacturing team. My role is working on projects to support cluster, country and site teams to reduce their water impact.

I’ve been given the opportunity to:

  • set water efficiency roadmaps, giving me oversight of our entire factory network
  • have a lot of exposure to senior leadership, learning how to influence priorities within a dynamic and fast-paced environment.

My training and support have included:

  • taking part in self- and externally led training programmes in a range of subjects, from data science to leadership and from wastewater treatment plant technologies to customer service
  • a great line manager who I have learned a lot from. I also have the support of my career sponsor and mentor. They help me gain an objective view of what I am doing and potential career paths it may lead me to.

My Unilever career highlight to date: completing a placement as a portfolio and innovation (P&I) planner during my first year and working on a project to relaunch our Persil liquids range. The project involved switching to a bottle made of more recycled plastic, a more concentrated formula and a smaller bottle. This was a highlight as it improved the sustainability of our product and meant that I was able to work closely with many teams within the UK&I business.

A challenge I have overcome: understanding that people in different parts of the business have different priorities, meaning you may need to adjust the way you communicate. This is challenging because you move roles so frequently as part of the graduate programme but it is a skill that can be taken forward into any role.

Learning to be a Unilever leader: talk to people and ask questions! The more quickly you can understand the priorities and challenges of your new team the more quickly you can start adding value.

My tip for demonstrating leadership potential: when answering application or interview questions, try to think about a time that you have been unhappy with the status quo and how you proactively went about improving the situation.

Joshua Hill

UFLP: marketing

Role: beauty & personal care category executive

Involved with: working with the value channel retailers (predominately B&M and Home Bargains) across Unilever’s beauty & personal care division. Providing impartial insights and analysis on its product categories, as well as advice on how it can best grow its market sector in a profitable and sustainable fashion.

I’ve been given the opportunity to:

  • be an assistant brand manager on Pot Noodle, developing marketing plans for the launches of all innovation projects
  • be the chief energy officer for the Unilever future careers digital development team, leading nine colleagues developing strategy and content for the Unilever Careers UK social media channels.

My Unilever career highlights to date:

  • going to Italy with the global Domestos brand team to visit our research and development team, on my undergraduate industrial placement year with Unilever. I was met with a large room with well over one hundred toilets in it, which are used to test our rim block products. It was a little surreal, but certainly not something I’ll easily forget!
  • creating a campaign to find Britain’s best celebrity doppelganger and award them with a Pot Noodle Black Card (and a load of Piri-Piri Chicken Pot Noodle too – we were launching the flavour). I was sent some of the most hilarious celebrity lookalike images and chatted over Teams to our eventual winner – a Taylor Swift lookalike.

A challenge I have overcome: making sure campaigns land on time and are the best they can be. Clear and effective communication is essential and all parties should know their roles and responsibilities. Even though things won’t always go exactly to plan, there’s an opportunity around every corner – you’ve just got to keep your eye open for it!

Learning to be a Unilever leader: leadership is just as much about listening as it is about talking. Show a willingness to sit back and take in people’s opinions and learn what they have to say before finding a consensus in the room.

My tip for demonstrating leadership potential: when applying for a leadership programme, know the company you are applying for and find out what excites you about the company. Enthusiasm is infectious. When you’re in the role, get stuck straight in to learning! Getting to know your wider team and how your role intersects with theirs always helps set the context for your own work and it allows you to understand their priorities.

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