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Unilever

Employee profile

Anthony Cockburn

IT Business Partner & Innovation Manager

With one of the world’s largest consumer brands companies, Anthony has enjoyed a wide-ranging IT career

I’d always been interested in technology and so I suppose it was only natural that I studied Information Management and Computing at Loughborough. The first two years gave me a good basic understanding but it was during my industrial placement in the third year that I got to understand what IT truly was in the real world and understand the complexities that you have to deal with.

I applied to Unilever for my placement and was lucky enough to be accepted. It was a really massive leap for me – just coming to grips with sheer scale of the organisation, was challenge enough. I got to see a lot of the back-end technology which gave me a really good grounding in understanding how the supply chain worked and how country operations differed.

Unilever is completely flextime and so an important learning for me was self-management. This was helped by the fact that throughout this time I had a line manager and a coach who helped me navigate the challenges, but perhaps more importantly helped me think about what might be possible after graduation. 

Because I had been on an industrial placement I didn’t have to complete all aspects of the graduate selection process, but it wasn’t in the bag either. I’d already created quite a strong network of other graduates I’d met during the placement and that definitely helped me with the recruitment process. But by the time I got back to Loughborough for my final year I’d been offered by Unilever and accepted.

At that time it was a two year programme with four placements. I started in North Wales and was then posted to Chester and ended up in the London area for the final two. In that time I built up experience of how we outsourced parts of our IT, forecasting – which involved looking at future IT trends, security issues and exposure to our front line marketing.

My first management role came at the end of the programme. This was a fascinating project to discover how much of our country-based IT we should outsource, and if we did, how we might do it. This involved me travelling to 14 countries and not only getting to understand their IT capabilities but also working with HR and in some cases, works councils, to review the potential impact on IT staff.

I then moved to a global change role in IT innovation – which was even further away from hands-on tech. We were going through big organisational change at the time and not only did we need to change the way we did things in IT, we needed to communicate that effectively with the rest of the organisation. Changing people’s behaviour is one of the toughest things to achieve and we had about 3,000 people in our part of the company.

It was a role which stood me in good stead for the future as I got to work closely with members of the senior team – it’s great visibility when you work with people who are far above your normal pay grade. After that I requested a move to the supply side of the business, responsible for much of the IT in our factories and introducing SAP to streamline processes and upgrade capabilities.

Next I joined the Marketing part of the organisation as a Business Partner responsible for how we can create IT tools which make the lives of our marketers easier and more effective – whether working with agency partners or communicating directly with our customers. Which today has led me to being the product owner for a tool which personalises our communications with customers and is used globally.

What I’ve learned in the past 11 years is that there’s no standard day to day role and that I’ve had an enormous opportunity to progress through the organisation – an organisation that even today I’m still impressed by it’s sheer scale and capability.

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