A-Z Of Employers: Unilever

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The Independent Online

What does it do?

Given the ubiquity of the firm's products, which find their way into every crevice of our daily lives, you might expect the firm's name to be more widely known. The fact that it is not is due to the rigorous policy of marketing individual product brand names, rather than highlighting the corporate parent. Among the long list of food, cleaning and cosmetics products in Unilever's stable are Flora, Persil, PG Tips, Vaseline, Marmite, Coleman's and even Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Although now a genuine multinational, with factories and operating companies in every continent, its roots are firmly European, having been created in 1930 by the merger of a Dutch margarine producer called Margarine Unie and the British soap-maker, Lever Brothers. These days, the UK, with annual sales of well over £1.5bn, provides the firm's second biggest market, after the USA.

Vital Statistics

Around 234,000 people are employed in around 100 countries worldwide, 8,000 of them in the UK.

The office

There are about a dozen sites around the country, including research at Port Sunlight on Merseyside and manufacturing at Lowestoft in East Anglia, home to Europe's biggest frozen-food plant. The more desk-bound staff work at three head-office locations near London, all of which are due to move to a new headquarters in Leatherhead, Surrey, some time in 2008.

Is this you?

Nearly 50 graduates are taken on each year, split between six different areas. For supply chain, and innovation and technology, you'll need an engineering or science degree; for marketing, IT, finance and customer development, there are no subject requirements.

The recruitment process

Applications, made via www.unilever.co.uk/careers, are whittled down by telephone interviews and then two rounds at assessment centres. These lean heavily on case-study tasks, where applicants are given a large amount of information and then quizzed on their findings and proposed action. Training lasts for two years and involves an average of four internal placements, working alongside experienced colleagues and professional trainers, in surroundings ranging from the factory floor to the supermarkets where Unilever products sit on shelves. Most trainees also move around the country during this period.

Top Dollar?

All graduates start on £26,000, and there's a review of progress after 18 months, usually leading to promotion into a management job.

Beam me up Scotty?

After three or four years, you could be managing an individual brand, in charge of an export supply-chain, or looking after customers at one of the big supermarkets.

Who's the boss?

Dave Lewis has just taken up his position as chairman of Unilever's UK operation. He joined the company as a graduate trainee, with a degree in businesses studies, in 1987.

Little-known fact

How did we survive before 1969? Until then, the UK had no fabric conditioner on sale in its shops: a parlous state of affairs that was saved when Unilever launched Comfort, which it still trumpets as the "nation's favourite".