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Meet the leader: Fernando Fernandez
As part of our series of interviews with members of the Unilever Leadership Executive, we catch up with Fernando Fernandez, President of our Beauty & Wellbeing business group. Here’s why he’s confident the future is looking good for our brands.
Fernando was appointed President of Unilever’s €12 billion Beauty & Wellbeing business group in April 2022. The group comprises four key areas: Hair Care, Skin Care, Prestige Beauty and Health & Wellbeing (Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements).
Career and leadership
Fernando, have you always worked in the beauty and wellbeing sector?
No, I’ve worked across all our different businesses and actually started out as an economist before coming to Unilever.
I was born and raised in Argentina and graduated from the University of Buenos Aires before joining the business in 1988. Over the years, I moved from roles in economic analysis through to procurement, sales, marketing and eventually category and country leadership. Prior to my current role, I was Executive Vice President of Unilever across the Latin America region.
What attracted you to working at Unilever?
I love the incredible amount of learning potential that you have access to at Unilever if you wish to grab it. I was excited by the possibility of being exposed to so many cultures, geographies, markets (both developed and emerging), categories and brands. There aren’t many companies that have the same breadth and truly global reach.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
There are two ways to look at this question. Philosophically, it’s all about the professional development of my career. I’ve grown up a lot, both professionally and personally, since I came to Unilever at 21.
Day to day, it’s the daily challenges, working with the brands and collaborating with great people with different outlooks on life and business.
What’s your greatest ambition in this role?
My aim is to ensure we promote a positive approach to beauty and health in which joy prevails over anxiety, both for our consumers and our people. Simultaneously, I strive to dramatically step-change the growth rate of a business that is below the thresholds this sector allows.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I’m an enabler and a simplifier in service to the organisation and our people. I strive to make working in Beauty & Wellbeing simpler and more enjoyable.
Strategy, innovation and growth
What key differences has the Unilever reorganisation delivered?
There is a seamless integration between strategy and execution that assures sharper choices and more consistency. The changes drive speed, ownership and accountability at a completely different level.
Why was Unilever’s Beauty & Personal Care business group split into two in 2022: Beauty & Wellbeing and Personal Care?
Beauty & Wellbeing and Personal Care have fundamentally different business models with very different market structures. Personal Care is pretty concentrated in the grocery channel, has a smaller number of brands and is less fragmented in terms of benefit need.
We have a clear leading position in the Personal Care categories where we play. In Beauty & Wellbeing, our categories are defined by three factors: fragmentation, premiumisation and the shift to specialised and digital channels.
Beauty & Wellbeing is also the business group most impacted by the digital and information revolutions as regards consumers’ ability to access data about scientific formulations and their benefits. There are a lot of implications to the business in terms of digital expansion.
What does being a standalone business group mean for decision-making and innovation?
It’s important to have hero products that combine leading-edge science, compelling sensorial elements, and desirable packaging. We need to support the products over time with end-to-end innovation.
How do you see Unilever’s Beauty & Wellbeing business growing?
A ruthless focus on volume-led growth, a positive mix and a shift to high-growth channels. We are a structurally high-margin business. There is a single focus on top-level growth, meaning a positive mix driven by competitiveness and innovation.
We aim to consistently deliver top-line growth with modest margin expansion. We’ll achieve this by restoring competitiveness and accelerating growth in our core Hair and Skin business and sustaining Prestige and Health & Wellbeing growth rates while improving margins through top-line leverage and the capture of the significant synergies we have at reach.
Beauty & Wellbeing’s 2022 results
Were you pleased with Beauty & Wellbeing’s 2022 results?
Results were solid, but we always aim for excellence. They were solid because our business was competitive, and we delivered volume growth.
But we need to accelerate our competitiveness and double the growth rate in our core Skin Care and Hair Care categories. We have brands which are performing well that we will accelerate, and there are others that are in weaker positions and need to be fixed. There is no silver bullet for this, and it will take a lot of hard work.
Which were particular highlights for you?
I have three key highlights:
- The excellent performance from top brands like Vaseline and its premium Gluta-Hya roll-out in South-East Asia.
- Our accelerated hair care growth in Latin America, India and Turkey.
- And the continued double-digit growth from the global business units – Prestige, with strong contributions from Paula’s Choice and Hourglass, and Health & Wellbeing, led by the exponential growth of Liquid I.V. We also completed the acquisition of Nutrafol, which is now a part of Health & Wellbeing.
What role do Unilever’s biggest Beauty & Wellbeing brands play in the future of the business?
We will only succeed if our biggest brands succeed. We will have a ruthless focus on our core brands in our core geographies, which is a change in our strategy.
The Prestige Beauty business reported another year of double-digit growth in 2022. What contributed to this result?
We’ve put together a very strong portfolio of complementary brands that are authentic, transparent and inclusive, and perfectly fit with consumer needs.
The brands have a very powerful innovation programme that has allowed Prestige to deliver a very consistent growth rate.
How will you continue this growth story for Prestige?
We will continue our strategy of keeping authenticity in our brands and their relationship with their consumers, while continuing to build strong brands and produce hero products that are timeless.
Unilever’s new Health & Wellbeing category also achieved double-digit growth last year, and completed the acquisition of Nutrafol. What inspired Unilever to enter this sector?
This is a very attractive segment, driven by a consumer shift to health as a lifestyle pursuit, and increasing purchasing power in the market.
How do you see Health & Wellbeing growing in the future?
We have a portfolio of powerful brands playing in very complementary benefit spaces – Liquid I.V. in functional hydration, OLLY in sleep and mood, Onnit in nootropics, and Nutrafol in hair health. The intention is to dominate the right segments where we can establish leadership. This is where we will see success and where we’ve already seen success to some extent.
How important will this new area be for the business?
It’s very important. We have four key pillars in Beauty & Wellbeing – Core Hair Care, Core Skin Care, Prestige Beauty, and Health & Wellbeing. All of them have growth potential. Both Health & Wellbeing and Prestige are US-centric businesses with brands that have the potential to establish consistent and coherent global platforms. They are exciting growth engines.
What do you consider to be the next big trends in beauty and wellbeing?
We’ll continue to see authentic, transparent and inclusive products capture consumer preference in the next few years.
This is why our strategy is guided by a simple, yet powerful mantra – Purpose. Science. Desire. This means creating purposeful and meaningful brands that positively impact people and planet, using cutting-edge science and technology for superior products, and increasing the desirability of our brands to make them relevant and timeless.
Fast forward to 2030: what changes will we see in terms of portfolio, partnerships and products?
We will set the ship in the right direction, which will take time and won’t be an easy fix. With the Health & Wellbeing and Prestige businesses as well as the recent sale of Suave in North America, we are making fundamentally strategic shifts to shape our portfolio and will continue to evolve to achieve our long-term ambitions of dramatically step-changing our growth rate. The decisions won’t always be easy, but we should trust that all changes come back to our focus on delivering high growth across our four key pillars.
Prestige Beauty is consistently one of the fastest-growing parts of Unilever and last year topped €1 billion in turnover. Here we look at what lies behind that success and take a glimpse at what the future holds.
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