By Tessa Mauricio-Arriola The Sunday Times Magazine Editor
“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”
These words of ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle rang loud and true in present day Panggalusian Island, El Nido, Palawan one weekend in April, when a young and vibrant group of marketing executives from the world’s third largest consumer goods company held the very first personal care summit in the Philippines.
While the aim of the summit was to reintroduce a bevy of long established household brands in skincare, hair care and styling, and personal hygiene, what this highly talented and proficient team did not know was that much as they intended their respective products to take the spotlight, they were essentially the ones who shone brightest during the exclusive three-day affair.
Dubbed the “Unilever PC Summit,” the much talked about event of the summer put forward the faces behind the very familiar brands of Dove, Vaseline, Rexona, TRESemmé, Sunsilk, Ponds, Close up, Pepsodent, Axe, Master, Clear, and the only Filipino homegrown label among the pack, Creamsilk, which also happens to be the company’s best-selling personal care product to date.
The man who is in charge of this multimillion-peso hair-conditioning brand goes by the name of Carlos Corrales, and he is—believe it or not—all but 23 years old.
Very impressed, The Sunday Times Magazine teased the shy yet obviously driven and competent brand manager, “You must’ve been accelerated in school like Doogie Howser [a teenaged whiz kid doctor of a popular ‘90s sitcom];” and very politely, Corrales replied, “Yes, ma’am—twice.”
As it turns out, Unilever Philippines’ very own Doogie Howser is not an exception among the top executives of the company. Though he is the youngest, his peers are mostly in their 20s, 30s and very early 40s, namely Personal Care PR head, model-turned-corporate gal Apples Aberin; Dove’s Carlo Isla; Anna Mangilin, marketing director for hair care; Vaseline’s Jules Gollayan; Close-Up and Pepsodent’s John Imperial; brand manager for male grooming Jonathan Pua; and Clear’s Andrew Copuyoc.
As they each showed the members of the lifestyle media their products, marketing platforms, and latest technologies through the “PC Summit Experiential Discovery Tour” in beautiful villas around the island, Unilever Philippines’ Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Peter Cowan, a Britton, quietly watched from the sidelines with a look of approval and genuine trust in the young team.
Not only did they talk about how their products’ effects on the different parts of the body, but they eloquently disclosed the inspirations behind each new bottle, pot and tube that is found in 70 percent of Filipino homes.
These are stories such as devoted housewives or even single mothers who became better homemakers because they made the effort to take care of their looks and feel good; college graduates in need of a confidence boost to conquer the world as they go into interviews with better skin, hair, and a knock out smile; and even singletons who find love after learning how love their own selves.
As Unilever’s vice president for Personal Care, Gina Lorenzana, succinctly put it in her welcoming remarks, “Unilever Personal Care has the widest reach and greatest depth of brands that reaches Filipinos from all walks of life. As such, it is our responsibility to come up with products that can positively impact Filipino lives. In Unilever Personal Care, we aim to put people first.”
Later on in the weekend, The Sunday Times Magazine had the opportunity of meeting with Lorenzana, herself a very inspiring individual, and with the interview, it all became clear how such an ancient philosophy continues to exist today in such a colossal company as Unilever Philippines.
The Sunday Times Magazine: Unilever’s Personal Care brand managers are surprisingly and refreshingly very young. Was it a conscious effort to hire young individuals for the company’s top spots or just a coincidence?
Gina Lorenzana: Having young people in the team has always been a tradition at Unilever.
I remember being a young trainee myself many decades ago, where being a young 20-year-old you were already given responsibilities.
In fact, more than 20 years ago, I was six months into the job, and I was told, “Your task is to launch Dove Bar.” It was only being imported then, and to be young and to get given that responsibility, that’s the belief of Unilever in general. That if you give young people responsibilities, and give them continuous training, they grow up to be great leaders.
And so if you look at the leaders of the top corporations today, you’ll see that many of them are ex-Unilever employees, and it’s because of that kind of training that the company has been doing even back in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
STM: Where does the trust in such young individuals come from?
GL: The trust comes from two parts. The first is a culture of learning along with the culture of training. We believe that we have the best practices, and that’s also the way that we keep our company always at the leading edge. And then we share these best practices around the world.
If you are a young person, Unilever is a good training ground. This was my first job at 21 outside of university.
The second one is about stretching young people, and giving challenges. As a young person, you’d think, ‘Oh I wouldn’t be able to do that.’ But then you give a very clear role, objectives along with training, then you create confidence. I’ve seen this happen in my generation and I see it with the young guys today. It’s very, very encouraging. I’ve seen some of my directors who started out like Carlo—a young 22-year old who makes it to the top.
STM: During their presentations, the brand managers talked about going on immersion to learn more about the Filipino consumer. How often do they do this?
GL: I would say all the time. We used to do it once a quarter to go out there and meet people. But now we try to make it more intimate and grab every opportunity you get to talk to someone—whether it be a beauty advisor that we would have in charge of our shelves, or a storeowner to find out what their customers are looking for. It may even be a friend who talks about his or her own care needs.
However, sometimes what we need to do is to go to far-flung places, and we do that once every two months. We want to hear them—the consumers, the people that we serve. It’s only through immersions that we can really see them and you put a face on them.
STM: How does new media—the social networking sites on the internet—helped the company keep a closer look at customer satisfaction.
GL: It’s made everything easier but still very challenging. In today’s world, people just publish their thoughts, which heighten the responsibility of marketers and brand owners to make sure they really do deliver. Because, if somebody’s disappointed, it’s out there right away; and equally, if they are delighted, they would share that with all their friends. And I think that’s great thing. It gives the power back to the people so that it allows manufacturers like us to actually up our game.
STM: What sustainability programs are Unilever Philippines involved with today?
GL: In 2009, Unilever globally declared to all our shareholders that we actually want to double our business but reduce our global impact. The aim is to reduce our environmental impact as well as improve our social impact in the world. Several initiatives have happened since then and in particular, what we have done is that we’ve reduced the amount of packaging that we have in many of our products.
So for example, the roll-ons that we have now are the most environment-friendly roll-ons in the world because of the lightness of the packaging.
Specifically in the Philippines, we are embarking on this ambitious project on sachet recovery. In 2011, we were able to recover 10 million sachets and turned them into bricks and building materials. Our goal is to make the project even bigger and more successful and from the few homes we now have, we want to build a village.
We have redemption centers all around the country, and run a promo so that people will give the sachets back.
STM: How long have you worked for Unilever and what has kept your passion as strong as we see it today?
GL: I started at 20 years old. This is my first job and the only job I’ve had. I’ve been to different countries [China, Indonesia, and Malaysia] with Unilever, but everyday still feels like Day 1 to me because of all the new things that happen.
For the last eight years I was actually looking over the region so I was working with Japanese, Thai and Indonesian consumers. I felt that I do so much for all these other consumers everywhere and I saw myself wanting to do something for the Philippines.
I’m Filipino, my husband’s Filipino, and my whole family’s in the Philippines, so a few years ago, my husband and I decided to stop moving countries, and finally live here. And with our jobs that we love doing, we want to make a difference for this country.
The thing is I’m not one of those people who say I want to do charity work because I’ve also learned that doing charities is also not sustainable. And I am so passionate for what I do because I really believe in the values of Unilever; I believe that if we do good business, with good intentions, everything will follow, and will be a virtuous cycle of growth for everyone.
For the company to win, other people don’t have to lose. And that’s the kind of mindset that we want to get into. We want to grow our business but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the environment, it shouldn’t be at the expense of people, it shouldn’t be at the expense of competitors going down. The way we see ourselves growing the business is that we want to grow with our consumers.
In our marketing, we don’t only focus on the product’s benefits but you will see emotional benefits from the visuals and the way that we communicate with brand. Whether it be digital or the events that we create; whether it’s about the confidence, or the empowerment, or creating an aspiration.
Our team believes that more than just selling products that can give you better hair or better skin, it’s really the confidence using them will give you. If it empowers you, go for it.
STM: Which do you believe among your advertising campaigns have had the biggest effect of the Filipino market?
GL: The biggest one has to be Cream Silk. With all the Filipinas that we’ve spoken to around the Philippines, they feel “hanggang dito na lang ako,” “ganito talaga ang buhay,” or “hindi ko kayang maging maarte,” because of the hardships they face everyday.
But what Creamsilk does for them is inspire them, and tell, “Of course not, you can go out there and be unleashed from the shackles of your current life.” What Creamsilk does is empower them and help them improve their self-esteem.
We spent hours talking to on lady who is drowned in self pity. “Kawawa ako,” but we told her, “No, hindi mo kailangan maging kawawa.” And that gave her hope. If everybody just takes on that initiative, just imagine what will happen to this country.