Dmitry Plotkin - Finance Director at Unilever, Russia
Business is evolving. Across the world, we are experiencing a ‘new normal’ of volatility and face challenges greater than any we’ve faced before. Consumers are getting more price conscious; to support them in this difficult environment and unlock value for the company requires innovative approaches.
This dynamism is what makes my role as Unilever Russia’s Customer Development Finance Director so exciting. It’s never been as challenging to anticipate and react to change but I believe this kind of environment presents enormous opportunities.
When your products are used by millions of consumers and you are committed to forging a new path for sustainable business, you are uniquely placed to build a resilient, socially-conscious company. No matter how volatile an environment is, if you have a social purpose your company will thrive.
Growing sustainably with customers
If we can encourage the customer development teams we work with to take not only economically justifiable but also sustainable decisions, financiers will play a front-line role in forging the path to a brighter future.
At Unilever for example, the way we deal with our customers and suppliers needs to have a sustainable element. We ask: Can we improve the lives of people around us? Do our customers treat their salesforce in a safe and fair manner?
Our retail market is developing fast, with an ever-increasing share of modern trade. Such a fast pace of growth requires new models and different levels of cooperation between supplier and customer in all areas, in particular sustainability. Finance teams unlock these models by providing guidance on how to inspire win-win collaboration and create even more value for the company.
Innovating responsibly within your function is important but having an employer that lives these values is equally important.
There is plenty of room yet for innovation in this field. Customer development is generally still growing as a business area but not all companies are utilising it to its full potential. If we really want to support consumers and give the company more value, we need to reconsider our approach.
It’s time for business to innovate in the way it calculates and measures returns on customer development activities. At Unilever, we are afforded plenty of space to innovate in this regard – and not only are we doing good for the world and business, we’re having a lot of fun in the process.
Innovating responsibly within your function is important but having an employer that lives these values is equally important. Sustainability isn’t just something we ‘do’; it’s something we live. If we’re going to survive the new normal, sustainability has to run deep.
Investing in people
By investing in its people as soon as they are hired, Unilever is providing a great example of how big business can live its sustainability agenda. Inspired by Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, I joined as a graduate in August 2007 through the Unilever Future Leaders Programme. Rotating across business functions, I started as a trade representative and merchandiser before moving into marketing and then finance business partnering. Through that mass exposure, you really get an understanding of the attitude and function of different departments.
It was after just one-and-a-half years on the programme, when I took my first managerial position, that I received my ‘baptism of fire’ – becoming Treasury Manager for Russia, Ukraine and Belarus during the global financial crisis of 2008.
No matter how volatile an environment is, if you have a social purpose your company will thrive.
Even in uncertain times (and there aren’t any more uncertain than 2008), Unilever demonstrated their commitment and trust in me as a professional. For me, that’s why we’ve been able to evolve stakeholder behaviour, attracting people who genuinely care and who want to change things for the better.
It’s what makes Unilever special. We operate in an agile environment – but are evolving in tandem. By committing to innovation-driving sustainability, I know that we will continue to strengthen our relationships with communities and individuals around the world.