The phrase, ‘time flies when you are having a good time’ couldn’t be truer for me and my time with Unilever. It started with a call from Keith Weed who was Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Unilever at the time, and a ‘what about coming over and working for us?’ conversation.
I was with Coca-Cola in Atlanta and the prospect of leaving a company where I had built great relationships was daunting. But the infectious energy of Keith eventually got to me. I flew across the pond for a round of interviews with senior leaders – and meeting them made me fall in love with the company and its culture. My final conversation with Paul Polman – then CEO – sealed the case for me. His passion for creating a purpose-led organisation was palpable and I wanted to be part of that journey.
Leaving a city where I have a lot of friends and family was not an easy decision. I was convinced that I would last no more than two years in a company where the people had all grown up together professionally. My wife was happy about the time-bound decision that we were making. How wrong we were in our calculations! Two years became three and before we realised it, we had spent six years in London.
By April 2019, the pull to return to Atlanta and our family was getting too strong to ignore, and I told Alan Jope, our CEO, that I wanted to retire so I could get back. His immediate reaction was “these two decisions are not connected. Go to Atlanta and do your global role from there. Let us give it a swirl for a year and see how it goes”.
This felt like a hugely empowering act, and made my resolve to make the arrangement work very strong. My last two years have been spent in Atlanta amid my family where I have been enjoying the arrival of our next generation.
I am retiring at the end of May. So this seems the right moment, after almost 40 years of working, to share my big learning: that it’s all about people…