Hello there, dear readers, back from taking the longest hiatus yet to participate at Unilever Business Week 2016. and then to catch up on everything we missed at school because of Unilever Business Week.
It was a profoundly wild ride that caused me, to not only be super behind in school work but also, dropped me to a 1.7 aka a D in my Theology class because my prof gave 2 quizzes knowing I’d cut lol.
10/10 would do it all over again though, because Unilever Business Week 2016 was amazing.
And I’m not just saying that just because they gave me fresh watermelon slices at every free meal in the Marriott for our 4 days and 4 nights stay.
Just to be clear though, Unilever Business Week doesn’t have to hurt your grades, provided you talk to all your professors in advance with the right excuse letters.
And they accept your excuse letters (which my Theo prof didn’t lol).
Most people can get excused from academic requirements. I just really don’t have a nice professor, and I’d like to take this time to chronicle that.
While we all received a bunch of wonderful perks, we all also definitely learned a lot from what is probably the most intense week of our lives at this point in time. Hence I partnered with Betina Ong, another Unilever Business Week-er to write the
10 Things We Learned at Unilever Business Week 2016
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A late appreciation post for #BusinessWeek2016. I had to fly out the day after the crazy 4 day experience. I will always have these mementos to go back to – the jacket, polo, ID, pens, notepad, bag, the heartwarming letters from new friends, certificates for being part of and for winning two modules [on the last day], and the medal for unexpectedly winning the BW challenge with Team Chuck Knorris! Excited to see them again at Forever Summer. But most importantly, the memories and lessons that come with every one of these tokens. #Unilever
One of our fellow Business Weekers took a pic of all the goodies we got!
*From here on out, I shall be writing as J and she shall be B.
J: A word about this post’s featured image before we begin: it’s a homage to our friendship. I usually say “Let’s do something stupid!!!!!!!” and Betina always humors me. This results in wacky, fun adventures she’d never have without me. So we should all be thankful that people like Betina are always game to humor me.
If reading about our exploits at Unilever Business Week isn’t your thing, then feel free to tour TBC’s archives for internship, resume, and interview tips!
Won’t keep you waiting any longer. Thanks for reading and hope we wrote something useful for you!
Good companies work hard and play harder. Great companies work and play equally hard.
Justine: The culture at Unilever was immensely different from what I was expecting; you don’t see adults inviting college kids to join them for drinks later on the veranda everyday.
Betina: Drinking. Every. Day.
I don’t know how on earth they did it because we would all go to sleep past midnight and I would see them at the breakfast buffet fully dressed and ready to work the next morning at 7am the next morning.
I remember on one of the few nights that we didn’t have a deliverable due the next day, I went downstairs to the veranda and ended up talking to one of Justine’s group mates (hi Alvaro).
He gave me his beer to drink and I was holding it when I saw my boss approaching us. I was like “Sir, it’s not my drink!!” then shoved the glass back in Alvaro’s direction. Sir told me that it was totally cool, we all needed to chill. And then ordered me my own glass of wine. HAHAHA
Going into Unilever I was already well aware that they didn’t have a whole lot of work-life balance.
I’d heard of the horror stories of people going into the company and becoming workaholics with zero time for a social life outside of Unilever. What I wasn’t counting on was that the employees probably don’t mind putting in all those crazy hours working because they weren’t always “working” 9-5 jobs behind desks. They also made it a point to have fun.
J: Everyone looked so genuinely happy to be there to help out with Unilever Business Week, that it seemed fake. Tons of people had their laptops and were typing furiously while we were doing our modules. But when it came to activity time, those same people were helping us out and cheering us on too.
It was jarring to find a company that was so outwardly supportive of a project intended to find interns who are future ready leaders. Aka people who might take over their jobs.
Thankfully, I have the good fortune of always saying what’s on my mind (even though it causes a ton of trouble too). And someone from Unilever overheard me. Her reply paraphrased was,
Here, we know everyone wins if a project succeeds. There are no losers. So, it’s really in everyone’s best interests to be supportive and besides, we get to go out on the field too!
Is there anywhere else on Earth that thinks like this???????????????
B: I actually grew up in Unilever cause my dad was pretty high up in global headquarters and I’ve always known that they have a warm company culture for a gigantic multinational. But it’s super rare to see a company that keeps that distinct culture all the way down to the management trainees in local offices, so that was really cool to see.
A lot of my favorite moments, beyond working with the coolest groupmates ever, were when I was hanging out with the managers and trainees. It felt a lot like hanging out with older org mates. They’re more experienced and you definitely look up to them, but they’re plenty approachable too.
Within 4 days I met over a dozen managers and got to talk to high-level employees. Given our crazy-productive year (P&G, Inkompass, Coca-Cola, L’Oreal. etc.), Justine and I are fairly unfazed by talking to such senior executives.
But of the dozens of managers we’ve met in the past year, I can say that the Unilever managers were the most hands-on, and the people I was least intimidated by.
J: My time on the veranda was spent in a heated argument with Unilever HR on what is the best white sneakers to wear with joggers or a dress. (Stan Smiths are the best but they’re not as comfy for walking in the long run, apparently.)
2. No matter how good you think you are, there’s always something new to learn. And that’s great!
J: Today’s society is a knowledge based one, and the best companies on Earth know that. So their focus isn’t selling products; it’s developing their people.
GE does it, Google does it, P&G does it, and Unilever most definitely does it. That’s how amazing companies will survive the earth-shaking shifts happening in the workplace. All thanks to millennials and Generation Z deciding they’re not going to play the workplace game the way our parents did.
Now how the hell does that connect to learning? Throughout our stay at the Marriott, all our activities were facilitated by Business Week alumni and notable members of Unilever Philippines. All introduced themselves with their career timeline, and I could feel my jaw drop so hard that I had to hold it shut for the rest of the day to keep anything from flying into it.
Everyone had a one-of-a-kind experience at Unilever that pushed them way out of their comfort zone, which I find exciting because learning new things is my vice.
In big FMCG’s like Unilever, you never stay in the same position for more than 3 years. You always get promoted vertically or laterally and it makes you a category expert in your field, which is key to an amazing, personalized career within the company.
(My current goal is to always have less than 5 people reporting to me, to be able to go off on international assignments plus be able to explore the city, and to be around great mentors no matter how old I am. Becoming a category expert is important for me to take on new projects, to keep future young people from thinking I’m a fossil, and lastly to keep senility at bay.)
People who thrive in the global stage are people who are OK with the fact that they don’t know everything. But they’re willing to learn the basics or better yet, find someone more knowledgeable to teach it to them. And that humility takes them farther than everyone else.
B: Justine covered almost everything, but I really emphasize that at Unilever, you will never be the most brilliant person in the room.
One of the core strengths of working with people from different backgrounds/ nationalities/areas of expertise is that everybody is brilliant in completely different ways.
Unilever knows this and makes it a point to push your own brilliance even further through formal learning (as in classroom setting training/seminars) but more importantly, by placing you in teams with people who will push you and your ideas to greater heights and not letting you get too comfortable, lest you get complacent.
3. Amazing companies, like Unilever, take care of their own.
J: For my group, Pond’s Stars’ last dinner at the Marriott, we were fortunate enough to have more than 5 members of the ETS team sit and talk to us about their Unilever journeys.
(ETS is a brand new function here at Unilever Philippines, formally created last December; they deal with pioneering tech solutions to everything they come across. It’s also the department I’m entering this August.)
One of them was an easily bored director for ETS; he gamely told us that every 6 months he’d be itching for a new job, so he’d go looking for something new, and Unilever took note of that.
That’s why every 6 months he gets a different set of assignments on his plate to spearhead while simultaneously training his successor in every project he leaves behind.
Another regional director told us how he spent the first 1/3rd of his career in the UK, until he realized he was probably going to die there if he didn’t do something about it.
He told Unilever, “I want to travel (with my wife coming along.)” And now, he’s gone to over 20 countries in the last 20 years with Unilever.
Again, this is crazy. These people spoke up about a personal preference, and Unilever took note. What’s even crazier is, Unilever delivered above and beyond what they asked for.
It’s proof that Unilever really listens to its employees and takes note of their wants too when charting out their careers. They take “a happy employee is a productive employee” to a whole new level.
B: Unilever was one of the first companies in the world to adopt a ‘pick and choose’ style compensation package for their employees. (Eg. If you don’t have kids, then free childcare is a useless benefit, so instead you can choose to put the budget into health insurance for your parents.)
Their HR practices really are world-class and their attention to individual preferences is so consistently on point.
When I was a kid, my dad decided to leave Unilever because he wanted to come back home to the Philippines (at the time we were living in Europe). To make the transition easier for our family, my dad got transferred to and worked at Unilever Philippines for 6 months first, before officially resigning.
My schooling was shouldered by Unilever since my dad was an expat. I had only been in my school (International School Manila) for one year when my dad officially left.
Unilever noticed this when they were making the resignation official and because “It’s not in the child’s best interest to leave a new school and new friends after only one year” they decided to pay for an extra year of tuition. For free. No strings attached or anything.
I went to the most expensive private international school in the country (tuition payment for one year goes into SEVEN digits PHP). And Unilever did this as my dad was quitting the company solely because it was in my best interest.
(I’m not even sure if I told my boss this story, but that is why Unilever is my dream company. They’re incredibly generous on a macro-scale, but they also make sure that the hard work of their employees is amply rewarded.)
4. There is nothing more empowering than being surrounded by equally high performers.
J: Ever been in one of those groups where you’re the only sensible, grade-conscious person, ergo, you’re the one who has to do all the work? Unilever Business Week wasn’t one of those times.
B: Definitely not.
I hate slackers. I can’t stand people who don’t contribute anything to the group. It can suck being the strongest link, because you end up having to compensate for everyone else’s weaknesses.
It’s also a burden knowing that the most dependable person in your group is yourself. I’ve actually done individual projects instead of working with groups in some of my classes because unless my groupmates are dependable, I can usually come up with a better output on my own.
So my amazing Business Week groupmates were like a breath of fresh air. We came from different functions and had different strengths to bring to the table, but EVERY SINGLE PERSON WAS BRILLIANT.
Everyone was a high performer so at no point did I feel like I was wasting my time. I also 1000% trusted their outputs, which took away so much of my stress. I also felt like I didn’t have to doubt my decisions so much. Because I completely trusted my groupmates to tell me if my ideas weren’t great or to come up with better ideas.
Getting to experience what it’s like to be on a team where everyone is brilliant, talented, skilled, hardworking, and consistently dependable was so life changing. It just makes me want to strive even harder so that I’m constantly surrounded by people who are that level of excellent.
J: Everyone was responsible. Everyone was incredibly efficient. And in my group, I was the slacker. Betina may have been with people she counts as “equally high performers” compared to herself. But I know for a fact that I was the weakest one in my group. I had the worst work ethic, and the least amount of useful technical knowledge in my group.
Being with people whose normal work exceeds my maximum level of effort made me feel small. At the same time, it forced me to confront a lot of issues I have with raising my opinions in environments where I feel I’m the weakest at the table.
Unilever Business Week was a very real growth experience for me. That kind of insight is invaluable to my development into a better version of current me. Nowhere else would I have learned this part of me other than Unilever Business Week. But most importantly.
It renewed my sense of purpose for The Border Collective.
If I, who is a consistent C+ student with no extraordinary talents or skills to speak of, can get into a program made for future ready leaders, then what is stopping you from achieving your dreams?
B: Experiences and programs like this are incredibly motivating because it reminds you that you have to keep striving in order to keep working with such amazingly inspiring people. The people I got to meet are truly #lifegoals.
5. My concept of time is changed forever.
J: I don’t know if we’ve said this before but 24 hours is a LOT of time. All you need to utilize those 24 hours effectively is
- to learn how to compartmentalize it right,
- have amazing work habits that stem from years of intense self-discipline,
- have deep insights towards your work ethic that allows you to take advantage of your biases, and
- create a supportive work environment to your efforts.
It’s incredibly hard and I haven’t even come close to mastering it. My self-discipline is notoriously low, just ask my blood sugar intake.
So, working with high performing peers on a collapsed time frame project was incredibly difficult and empowering at the same time. Compound that with the nagging feeling of all the school work I’d left behind to be there, and you have a recipe for a nervous breakdown.
But I didn’t break down, because of 2 things.
First, my wonderful, funny, and extremely different groupmates fed my competitive spirit. And second, time in Business Week is not an abstract concept.
Unilever Business Week applied the idea of collapsing a MBA program down to 4 days extremely well. Every hour spent there was well-utilized. From classes, called modules, to activity time, where we immediately applied what we learned, to brainstorming sessions, in our own conference rooms, snacks and drinks provided. And most especially to those few, precious hours of sleep we got.
I never felt like we weren’t given enough time to produce amazing output.
And I think that just indicates that time is never an excuse for mediocrity. It’s all people and skill levels. If you have a low skill level in writing, you need to allocate either more time for you to write or find a great editor to elevate your piece. Find solutions.
B: The day after Unilever Business Week I had to go to Ateneo to give a presentation at 4pm. Ordinarily, the idea of doing a major presentation from scratch and having 0% progress the night before would give me terrible anxiety.
After Unilever Business Week, a full day to work on a presentation felt like a luxury.
When you’re forced to come up with brilliant ideas, debate them, plan them out, and present them in a span of 1-2 hours, suddenly every single minute has to be ridiculously productive.
One key takeaway is to set deadlines, not just to-do lists. I push for perfect. A lot. But when time is an element, sometimes perfect really isn’t feasible within the allotted time.
Accepting that and saying “I will do the damn best I can within the next 4 hours then I will move on and work on something else.” really helped me work not only with more purpose, but also with far less stress.
6. Work doesn’t have to feel like work.
B: A usual day for us entailed waking up and having breakfast by 6:30am. Then a whole day’s worth of talks/activities/challenges/presentations starting at 8am. After which we were usually dismissed at around 9pm. The we broke out into the war room with our groups to work for tomorrow’s presentation until around 2am.
In literally any other scenario, that would be pure hell. But because it was Unilever Business Week, it was amazing and so worth it.
I actually remember talking to some people from the HR team during the party on the last night. And I said, “Is this what Unilever feels like? Staying up super late to work on projects, but not feeling it because it’s just so much fun??”
My groupmates were amazing. So warm and so funny, but also so dependable. We got so much done. But we had so much fun while we were at it. We were working hard throughout the week, but it didn’t feel like work.
My benchmark for whether I really am passionate about a project is whether I’ll feel bitter losing sleep to do it. At Unilever Business Week I literally lost so much sleep. But I hardly felt it because I woke up every morning so energized and so ready to just have fun.
J: I totally agree with Betina on the benchmark part. Sleep is the greatest way to measure how much you love something. And I loved Unilever Business Week enough to sleep for 5 hours a night.
And that’s saying a lot since I sleep 8 hours regularly, even when there’s tons of group works to do. I don’t stay up late for anyone or anything. So staying up to work means I truly love something, which is important in the coming years since that work might be what I’m doing for the rest of my life.
When you think of work as something that drags you to the pits of hell and Friday as the journey back to regular life, then of course work is going to feel like the worse thing on Earth. But if you like what you’re doing, life gets easier in an instant.
One of our Unilever Business Week coaches, who has been with Uni since his Business Week days, told us that some of his best friends are there at work.
He doesn’t mind staying until 1am in the office because the company (his friends at Uni, not Uni itself) he keeps is amazing. The support system they have in place is beyond enviable. They go abroad together!! That’s goals for me, guys. Going abroad with the people who know you best because you spend 8 hours upwards everyday together is up there on the #lifegoals list.
Can’t stress this enough to everyone reading, but find work you’re passionate about! Do things that excite you, that push you to be a better person, that make you go “why meeeeeee” before you go to bed but when you wake up you go “time to get to work!”
Find a job that lets you marry your passion, your vocation, and your skills. Those are 3 very different things that take most people years to figure out. Start now.
7. The best ideas come when you don’t over-think.
B: As an over-thinker, this one was really hard to pick up.
My group was probably dead-last on the first day of challenges. But we resolved to go to the war-room that night and just work for however long it would take for us to come up with a brilliant idea.
By 1am, we were just a bunch of scatter-brained idiots. But our breakthrough idea came out when we were being random and cracking jokes and making ridiculous puns.
We ended up winning back-to-back the Customer Development (Sales) and Advertising challenges the next day. I will never forget how good that felt. How much fun we had getting to that magical breakthrough moment.
Another aspect of overthinking is overcomplicating.
We already had a winning idea, but refining it sometimes made our plans way way way more complicated than it needed to be. That was the #1 feedback we kept on getting during the first days. The most brilliant ideas are simple. Truly brilliant ideas don’t need to be extrapolated to death.
J: Throughout the competition, my group was middle of the pack. We had a great dynamic that resulted in so-so work because we always decided on the most conventional route. The focus was on winning and it was making us lose.
We stopped thinking about winning. We “gave up” on trying our best to be first place. All we wanted was to put on a great show. And we ended up doing just that.
Our winning idea (my group was overall 2nd place out of the 5 groups cumulative of all challenges + the final presentation, which is winning to me) came about because we were joking around about what our mothers wanted the most.
We were talking about face masks and Snapchat selfies. Somehow we ended up with our idea of a face mask hybrid band aid that can heat, cool, or vibrate depending on your app usage. After that, Pond’s Stars was up and running at the speed of light towards victory!
The best ideas came out when we were being idiots together. We were dancing on chairs at midnight and that’s how we got our idea of doing an interpretive dance. Not just any dance, but one detailing the plight of the modern mom for the commercial portion of our final presentation.
We were talking about all the moms at Unilever are super #lifegoals and we ended up adding on an ad campaign using our #hashtags. I don’t think these are the kinds of ideas you stumble upon right away at a normal round table discussion. These are the kind that come about when you’re comfortable in sharing your thoughts and opinions in a safe, supportive environment.
And I remember thinking, “This is what it’s like to work at Unilever.”
After Unilever Business Week, I noticed more often that the ideas in group projects that got praise were stupid ideas we threw out during group meetings.
You refine the initially stupid ideas, and they have the potential to be groundbreaking ones.
Think about it. 5 years ago, would you have seriously thought about using mobile internet and an app on a phone with 120M times the processing power of the Apollo Space Shuttle to call a private car to come pick you up anytime anywhere??
8. To-do lists make the world go round.
J: This is more of Betina’s thing than mine.
I believe in to-do lists to keep me on track but she can explain better why this makes the world go round. I’m more of a “This guides my day. But I don’t have to finish everything on this list to make room for flexible arrangements in my sched.” girl.
B: The night before our final presentation, we walked into our war room at around 9pm with no expectations of sleep cause we still had so much work to do!
I wrote down all the components of the presentation, all the deliverables, everything that needed to be decided on a whiteboard. We broke down all the big tasks into smaller tasks and then assigned tasks to different people.
Many of the other groups really did not sleep at all that night. (As in I went down to the war rooms at 8:30am and I ran into a lot of people from the other groups still in their pajamas).
But I’m really proud of the fact that my group was mostly done by 2am! (I realize how insane that sentence is, but Unilever has this funny way of distorting your sense of time.) Thank god for my OC-ness and my 30-item to-do lists, because that really kept my group on track and focused.
During the last day, we wrote letters to our other groupmates. And I’m super proud of the fact that 11 different people (groupmates + team mentors + managers) mentioned how much they appreciated my drive to get shit done. (Unilever calls it ‘bias for action’.)
4 people specifically mentioned by To-Do lists HAHAHA.
I have this habit of pestering my groupmates into submitting stuff on time. Getting 9 people to agree to any one idea is really tough.
I’m usually that annoying person in the group who everybody ends up seen-zoning. But seeing how it was genuinely appreciated was so so fulfilling. It really made me value being super organized even more!
J: I … can personally attest to everything she just said. My roommate was her groupmate. So when I went to bed at 4am, Christine was just waiting for me to come up too.
She waited for 2 hours.
I felt horrible and jealous simultaneously because, hello, 2 HOURS OF EXTRA SLEEP. We ended up chatting a little before I fell asleep and she commented on Betina’s to-do lists and post-its as the reason she came up first. God Bless those insane lists she makes.
9. You don’t have to settle with whatever label people give you.
B: During our second day of Unilever Business Week, we tackled Customer Development (Sales) and Marketing. Which happen to be 2 of the functions where I shine most in.
My group won those challenges back-to-back.
My boss in HR talked to me later on that night, when a bunch of us were hanging out in the veranda. He asked me “Are you having second thoughts about HR? Cause I saw your presentation and you look like you’d have fun in marketing.”
I lament a lot about how I thought marketing was my one true calling. And it turns out it wasn’t. But maybe I gave up a little too fast.
Right now, I’m sticking with HR. But if the opportunity ever comes up, I’d love to get to work on the marketing side again.
One of my favorite things about the program is that we got to do cross-functional challenges.
I was the HR person in the group. But I got to be an equal contributor on the challenges that were waaaayyyy out of my function (eg.Finance and Sales). Even though I’m great at HR, I realized that I really really enjoy Marketing and Sales as well.
J: I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I also thought marketing was my end goal. And it turns out I was dead wrong. I love learning about marketing, but in practice it’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever encountered.
It’s fun, it’s glitzy, it’s glamorous. And it’s for people who can make razor sharp insights on consumer behavior aka not me.
I jump around between Sales and Tech a lot. Sales is my love since high school; I can sell anything, including people.
I can honestly say I’m great at sales.
My friends who went around career fair with me all have internships now because I talked them up in front of the recruiters. It was lovely to stretch out my pitching skills while helping my friends out.
But Tech, which has a different name in every company but you’ll know it when you see it, is the place to be.
It’s groundbreaking. It’s exciting.
And I know I have the extremely good fortune of knowing the latest happenings in Tech since my course is the marriage of business, communications, marketing, and technology.
So,at first glance, my circumstances and my preferences are telling me to go in 2 separate directions.
Today though, multinational corporations are creating cross-functional teams. Teams that encapsulate 2 or more different departments on a project.
We got a taste of it at Unilever Business Week, like Betina said.
This is the best news on Earth to me. I’m coming of age at a time when corporations are adapting to the needs of the younger workforce.
I don’t have to give up Sales or Tech. I can work on both. And things are going to get even better in the coming years.
So, don’t let yourself be labeled. Work outside of your comfort zone. Just make sure you’re interested in it.
10. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
B: I don’t have a lot of regrets about Unilever Business Week. But the one thing that really sticks out in my mind is that I wasn’t very hands-on during the Finance module. (Cause I suck at math, accounting, and finance in general.)
There was one particular time where I felt like I should speak up. But I didn’t cause I know full well that’s not my area of expertise. Turned out that what I was thinking was right!
I was so scared of possibly messing up in a function that I wasn’t comfortable in, that I let my fear override my instinct.
In hindsight I really should have said something and then trusted in the ultimate decision of those who know better. (Aka the Accountancy students in my group.). But at least I know that I spoke up and did what I could!
J: I faced the same thing during the Finance module too, since I felt I could give the least valuable input.
(But it was totally OK because my group won that challenge.)
What I did throughout the challenge was to play my strength of having a loud, irritating voice.
I was telling everyone how much time was left. I intervened when it was time to make a decision and everyone was shouting their arguments out. My role was roughly to say “shut up for 2 seconds, and decide by vote already” at the 30 second mark.
The converse of this learning is to know when and how to speak up. There’s a way of feeling out the situation to see if it merits pointing out stuff the experts may have overlooked or purposefully ignored.
I just don’t know how to put that feeling or how to use it into words. It’s a trial and error kind of skill that you pick up on your own time.
I knew I was pretty much useless during the Finance module. (When the module host, Jeggy, asked me for my thoughts afterwards my exact reply was: “I have never been more confident in my future in Human Resources”.)
But I did what I could to aid my team. I arranged all the information and synthesized the cards that we got. That way my teammates who did know what they were doing (aka the accounting majors), could make a decision faster.
You do what you can within your capabilities. Speak up if you must, then sit back and trust your teammates to do the rest.
And that’s it for our 10 Things We Learned at Unilever Business Week 2016! Thank you to Betina for helping out with her insights and writing for this.
In case you have no idea where you are, welcome to The Border Collective, where any question you’ve got on internships, resumes, or careers in the PH can and will be answered. I’m Justine, founder and writer of all things here.
Catch Up-Personal is a slot for me to share things that aren’t necessarily about careers or job hunting, but I still think it’s important for you guys to know. Humor me, please.
Today is all about my time at Unilever Business Week 2016. I had a blast, hope reading it gave you an idea of it too! If you’ve got any questions about it, feel free to drop them in the comments section down below!
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Hope you read something useful, til the next time I write something, bye~