Home » Leadership in a Changing World: Unilever and Lumière Business Solutions

Leadership in a Changing World: Unilever and Lumière Business Solutions

– Ayushi Limbachiya

The Power of a Clear Leadership Narrative
Leadership in a changing world – lessons from Unilever and Lumière Solutions
(Image source : MIT Sloan Management Review)

Alan Jope, the Chief Executive Officer of Unilever, gave a live keynote speech at Unilever’s FLL 2020 (Future Leaders League) on the subject: ‘Leadership in a Changing World.’

During my 12 weeks of internship at Lumière Business Solutions, I was able to draw many parallels between the Lumière culture, values, and leadership style, and those of Unilever that Alan discussed.


Alan built a historical context on the evolution of leadership. 

Centuries ago, society believed that leaders are born only into a higher class. “I command, you obey,” without consultation was the order of the day. 

Leadership Style: ‘Command and control’ was effective in military and crisis situations.

With Western Democratization came Decentralization of Power.
Leadership Style: ‘What and how’ assumed a dual responsibility and accountability to get results while keeping the followers on the side. 

Alan’s hero, Nelson Mandela, led the transition of South Africa with the power of forgiveness, dialogue and, by adopting a moral high ground.
Leadership style: ‘Adaptive’ / ’Situational leadership.’ 

The most recent style is that of Servant Leaders, who serve multiple stakeholders viz., employees, consumers, suppliers, shareholders, and the planet. Rather than command, putting others’ needs before self, being humble and sharing credit for success, stepping up to take the blame, being fearless and ruthless in making tough decisions.
Leadership Style: “Level 5” (Term: Jim Collins, ‘Good to Great’).

The interaction language at Lumière is positive, healthy, kind, and respectful. It encourages openness and fearlessness in dialogue. The “Thank you” and “Please” resonate with the Level 5 Leadership Style. The Resource Desk and Communications Desk ensure support, guidance, and elimination of bottlenecks. 

Unilever employs many standards of leadership. The leadership model employed currently is ‘Inner Game-Outer Game:’ to be a force for good.

The Inner Game is WHAT leaders need to BE. They are guided by a purpose, lead with humility and humanity, be their best self, contain high awareness of self and needs of others, have a high EQ and empathy. 

Once this is mastered, one can move to mastering the Outer Game, HOW the leaders need to solve difficult problems. A passion for performance, ability to inspire teams to deliver better results, a sense of personal responsibility, and an orientation and curiosity about the world.

In the first week, Lumière put me through the Gallup Strengths Assessment to help identify my top 5 talents. Over the next few weeks, I learned more about the “balconies and basements” of my top talents. These weekly workshops, Strengths training sessions, taught me to create my Personal brand statements, and apply Frameworks to help me lean into my journey towards self-awareness, to become a better version of myself. Awareness of 5 other team members taught me how to appreciate diverse talents to build positive relationships and teamwork.

Alan has learned from different leaders, heroes, and role models such as General William Slim, a British military commander, for his moral high ground, lending purpose and meaning to soldiers. From a business lens, he looks up to the new generation of leaders, like Emma Walmsley (GSK), Liv Garfield (Severn Trent), Satya Nadella (Microsoft), Shantanu Narayen (Adobe) and Doug McMillon (Walmart). 

He certainly does not admire leaders from the earlier generations, who ran with entourages, placed too much self-importance, and spoke more than they listened. “I think you can learn by saying; I don’t ever want to show up like that.”

Alan Jope – The Global Leader

Alan candidly answered a few questions from the viewers. 

He grew up in a modest home and never had upward ambition. He made sure to do a decent job in the assignment given to him. This “Reluctant CEO” recognizes the Great Privilege and Great Burden that is attached to his title. He is usually more worried about the employees than other stakeholders.

Alan says he has lived a “misspent youth.” However, he has learned the most from the dangerous sport of Rugby and his coaches. He learned physical toughness and to respect rules, teammates, opposition, and officials. “You don’t cheat at all.” It taught him to take setbacks and physical injuries graciously.

Alan advises: “Put yourself outside your comfort zone.” Some examples are: Traveling, seeking new experiences, volunteering, and spending time with those who are less privileged than you are. This helps build resilience and set values for yourself.

Alan finds pleasure in the zero monotony his 24*7, busy, fun, and diverse job offers. He works hard, between correspondence, meetings, etc. In the pre-COVID time, he typically spent 1/3rd of the day in-office, 1/3rd in another part of Unilever, and 1/3rd in external activity, handling multiple stakeholders. 

“You know they say that being a CEO is a degenerative disease. That people feed you a diet of synthesized nonsense and you get all the good news and none of the bad and eventually, you lose a sense of reality. I am very conscious of that and try to fight against it.”

Favorite Part of Working at Unilever

Alan is passionate about brands and working with young people. He cherishes the creativity of brands. He enjoys listening to and learning diverse opinions and misses the Thursday evening pop quizzes at the office. Engaging with celebrities is an added pleasure!

Work-life Balance

“I work to live, I don’t live to work,” Alan agrees. This committed family man, married to his college sweetheart, Rosie, father to three children, Amy (25), Cameron (23), Angus (21), says, Family is more important than Unilever. He has never canceled a family holiday and ruthlessly carves out time for himself. He plays football and goes on an annual adventure motorcycle trip.

“Don’t compromise on the really really important things.” Compromise in the right proportion, if need be.

At Lumière we are reminded to value our loved ones, ease the isolation brought by the pandemic and take responsibility to be there for them.

Biggest challenge and Lesson

Alan addressed that every job comes with its challenges, and as one grows, their capacity to deal with challenges also grows. His job has allowed him to spend a lot of time around the world. While leading Unilever’s Home and Personal Care business in North America at a very young age, he was installing a new ERP, a backbone IT system for the company that would go live on 1st July that year. July is a disruptive period for the business. The CFO informed Alan about a $300 million profit hole. Alan remembers feeling extremely stressed, with physical sensations taking over.

“No matter how bad it gets, there is always a way through.”

He engaged with the leadership team and ran a budget review and eventually covered the profit hole. There was a transition from the feeling of scarcity to the feeling of abundance. The optimistic CEO recognizes that sometimes we burden ourselves with scarcity whereas, in reality, especially at Unilever, there are unbelievable resources at our disposal.

At Lumière, I observed abundant opportunities to cross-skill and upskill. The HR manager or Designer may lead a research project, the Communications manager creates audio outputs, the Research manager creates visual ideas. We tap into the team’s openness to learn and grow which lets us feel abundant and resourceful. 

“In the end, we were privileged to work for a company that does great business but, you know, it is just, soap and ice-cream we are selling and we shouldn’t get too stressed about it at any time,” Alan notes for Unilever.

Important Traits in a Team Member

Unilever has many competency models, however, right now it advocates the Inner Game and Outer game approach. Alan seeks for:

  1. Smart People: Combination of IQ, Analytical strength, Creative strength.

Education is an outcome of access, rather than intellect.

  1. People who push through adversity. Drive, determination, and the ability to deal with setbacks are crucial because “business is hard.”
  2. A decent human being: “We can only get things in the world – including Unilever – if we can get it done through other people.” 

The ideal team: The right balance of men and women, nationalities, creative and analytical aptitude, the cup is half full and the cup is half empty people..

While the Lumière purpose is to provide back to work opportunities for women professionals, the core team is a mix of early jobbers, single women and a couple of men. 

“My personal purpose is to lead the adventure.” The unpredictability, uncertainty, and ambiguity of today’s time suit Alan.

The book circles around President Teddy Roosevelt losing the election and taking an epic adventure in South America, unchartered in Amazon full of challenging and even life-endangering hardships.

“But I think that it made him a better person going through that suffering and endurance, but also just that eye-opening.” 

“I think the definition of an adventure is a journey from which you may or may not return safely.”  The book epitomizes Alan’s thoughts. Further, it is well-written and provides insights into the politics of the beginning of the last century and Roosevelt’s incredible trip to South America.

Biggest lesson from his children

As a bad cop to his three kids, Alan approached parenting with discipline, toughness and ill consequences of their choices. However, he learned from his wife Rosie, forgiving good cop, that, “love conquers all.” He believes that the strength his kids have has come from feeling secure. 

This is true even in business and suggests the rule, “99 times the carrot and one time the stick.”

Consistent Learning

“I never stop learning, to be honest.” 

  1. He learned a great deal at Harvard Business School, in the second month of his job as Unilever’s (rookie) CEO and met great people who are now friends.
  2. Motorcycle maintenance is difficult.
  3. During lockdown, he has found that TikTok is an addictive application and has learned to unlearn it.

As a budding marketing professional, I learned about brands. My ideas were welcomed graciously, as outside-in approaches. This ‘share and learn’ kind of environment has built my confidence. At Lumière we never stop learning. The Lumière Learning Mondays have widened my view of the world. Lumière sponsors online courses for its team. Sharing of learning with the rest of the core team is part of the learning protocol. There is ample space to discuss perspectives and learnings mindfully. Detailed feedback is a boon!

Advice for people who are just starting their career

  1. When lucky enough to enter into a partnership, even if it is with family, “put your family ahead of your career.” “You can always get another job, but you shouldn’t change your family too often,” advises Alan.
  1. When given an assignment, do it to the best of your ability, and “opportunities will open up that you could never have dreamed of.”

I did my best at the assignment of writing blogs and I got the opportunity to interact with senior industry professionals that I had never even dreamed of. 

  1. Don’t operate under a strict road map for your career. Allow things to unfold.
  1. Be a kind human being. Alan believes in the principle of Karma. Treat people with equal respect and decency. “Treat the Chairman and the doorman exactly the same.”

Why work for Unilever?

Alan humbly explains that it will be Unilever’s privilege to have a young person come on board as their employee.
Alan’s reason is that among the many choices the company offers, it allows you to enjoy exploring the bigger world, multi-locationally or from one place.

Unilever Values: “We are a company that tries to treat each other with decency and respect. And we are very much purpose-led,” says Alan. Its mission is sustainability and is an extremely purposeful and values-driven organization. 

Very early on I was appointed Project Manager for a 5-day Research Sprint. The team mentored and supported me throughout the process with respect and kindness. 

Role of businesses – Today

Alan verbalized the ongoing, global, multiple crises. this year. The health crisis of Coronavirus, the social crisis of isolation and lockdown, the economic crisis of loss of jobs (which will make the inequality crisis worse), the racial justice crisis and the climate crisis. Therefore, this period calls for “a massive amount of leadership around the world,” from political, business, health and educational organizations. NGOs and charity organizations are already on the way.

Alan believes that the narrow ‘profit-maximization model’ will certainly fail. Now, businesses will be judged by their ability to serve all stakeholders.

Unilever has adopted the viable alternative, the ‘Multi-stakeholder Model.’ Understanding what the employees expect, consumers demand, and planet needs is critical. Soon, governments and regulators will start legislating this model for businesses. Able and excited men and women can operate in a world that is getting extremely complicated and changing extremely quickly. This “4th Industrial revolution” led by advances in technology and science presents an opportunity for businesses to be a force for good. 

I observed the Multi-Stakeholder approach by Lumière in the way they welcome associates to share their expertise, invite guests who are committed to serving the COVID hit society on their Torchbearer Thursday digital show, celebrate success and welcome dialogue to enhance results, cherish employees and partners and their contributions, commitments, and personal and professional achievements. They lead with the purpose of consumer-centricity in research processes, outputs, presentations, consultations. The discipline and consistency at Lumière are non-negotiable because they vow to live up to their promise. 

In the end, Alan restates that the world will go into a higher period of uncertainty and calls for kindness from and for humanity. 

At Lumière, the virtual morning and evening assembly is a way for the team to connect and interact.  The day begins with the three breaths ritual and closes with the same three breaths ritual of giving thanks for the day. Resilience, empathy, compassion, solution orientation to  problems and challenges is a way of life at Lumière.


Full Video of Alan Jope’s Keynote Speech: https://www.linkedin.com/video/live/urn:li:ugcPost:6687300860197789696/

Ayushi is a Market Research Intern. Her formal education in Marketing and English Literature has shaped her passion for writing.

Read other blogs written by members of our team at Lumière World :


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