CIO Profile: Growing a new business environment at Unilever

An interview with Willem Eelman, CIO for consumer goods manufacturer Unilever is a discussion on a macro-economic scale.

Eelman confidently strides across the state of the economy to talk about how climate change is affecting Unilever, advertising, society and developing markets.

This is not to say he has no interest in technology, the opposite in fact, because it is Eelman’s wide-ranging view of the world that feeds his enthusiasm for the important role which technology plays at Unilever and in the wider world.

Unilever is one of top 20 largest companies in the world and the third largest consumer goods manufacturer behind Procter & Gamble and Nestlé, but the largest global ice cream maker.

The Anglo-Dutch giant produces a massive range of goods you’ve probably got lodged in the Regulars section of your online shopping order, including Marmite, Dove soap, Lynx and Sure deodorants, Persil, Magnum and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Cif, PG Tips, Bertolli olive oil products and Flora margarine.

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Eelman became CIO of Unilever in April 2010 having moved over from the finance division.

His remit was to bring IT closer to the business, and the business closer to IT.

“I don’t like to talk about the IT transformation, it’s a Unilever transformation under CEO Paul Polman,” he explains. Eelman, happy to be interviewed without PR handlers, is clear: business and technology transformation are the same thing.

“When we talk about transformation it is about being digital to win. Digitise the brands, the value chain, the routes to market and how we work as an organisation. So for me technology has to contribute to the value of the business.

“They asked me to take on this challenge to embed IT into the business. Unilever sees significant opportunity to drive competitive advantage through integrated business solutions in which technology is embedded.