Sunday, 3 February 2013

Dinner at Unilever House Thursday 31st January

The Marketors headed off to dinner at Unilever House hosted by Liveryman Keith Weed, Unilever's Group Vice President and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer. Keith had been our guest speaker at the Bowden Charter Dinner last year.

The Company’s iconic building on the river at Victoria Embankment is the headquarters of an organisation that makes a difference to us all through providing personal hygiene and cleansing products, including soap, for over one third of the world’s population every day.

The building was of especial note. Completed in 1931 it was Grade II listed in 1977. Unilever had grown considerably over the years and in 2007 the Company wanted to be able to remain in the building and within the City of London but had operational requirements for a more modern flexible workplace than that provided by the building, which also had significant functional deficiencies. The refurbishment achieved a balance between retaining the important parts of the building’s historic facade and providing a transformed internal work place and spatial experience for the many visitors to the building with a vast open atrium, creating a strong sense of interconnection. The fit-out achieved the spirit of openness seen in the 1930s building archive and a transformed Unilever House gave the company a new lease of life within their own historic home with carbon emissions reduced by 25 per cent (far greater than regulations currently require).
We were hosted in the magnificent eighth floor Board Room with its incredible views across the River Thames.  Keith is a driving force behind Unilever’s plans for sustainable living and he reported to us on his time in Davos last week where he had attended the World Economic Forum. Since then he had spoken this Monday at the House of Commons Debating Group, sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Marketing, on the motion of Social responsibility claims by businesses amount to little more than posturing to gain commercial advantage”.
Keith’s energy was undiminished as, over a memorable culinary experience, he told us how he had recently dismantled Unilever’s CSR department and now challenged us to discuss how companies should and could build corporate social responsibility into all their working practices.  Vigorous debate ensued and, as is usual at Marketor events, the conversation illustrated the immense wealth and diversity of marketing experience and expertise around the table.  A great start to my Master’s theme of ‘Great Brands make Britain Great’.  We thanked our host for the superb service provided by the Unilever catering team.

On leaving the building and en route to Blackfriars station, I looked back at the floodlit building and reflected on last century’s many entrepreneurs and William Hesketh Lever, whose revolutionary product helped popularise cleanliness in Victorian England.  Sunlight Soap – quite a brand!

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