Nancy joined the company in 2011 as a first-time Managing Director (MD). She was also the first woman MD for Unilever Zimbabwe. There was skepticism within the industry as to whether a woman could head a male-dominated business and succeed. Zimbabwe was coming out of a hyper-inflation environment and staff had a pessimistic view of what the future held, especially under a woman! The company was recovering, but not as fast as it could given the strength of its brands and the caliber of its employees. A shift was needed to kick-start the staff’s self-confidence and personal ambition if the company was going to drive the growth that it wanted.
Coming out of a hyper-inflationary and depressed economy, people still felt disempowered although the country had successfully navigated an important corner, meaning external conditions were now conducive to recovery. However, the disempowerment was now internal, fueled by negative and fearful talk – almost as though the company’s employees had forgotten how to think and dream big. Talk was always negative: staff would come to work with negative thoughts, meet friends and share negative thoughts, and they ended up amplifying the negative thoughts exponentially by the time they left work. The impact was that delivery and accountability were hindered because everyone was waiting for something and felt that someone else had to lead that change. Nancy wanted to change this mindset to one of personal accountability and leadership. She felt that if they could achieve this, they would also accelerate the rate of growth in the company.
Nancy completed Investment In Excellence alongside her husband and the Unilever executive team, also accompanied by their spouses. This was followed by training of the entire management team. The experience was truly transformational in that, even though IIE had been started as a means to solve business issues, personal and family lives were also impacted. People came out of the process with a more optimistic view of the future, took responsibility to make a positive impact and, most importantly, they just got on with doing what needed doing. It was as if they had been given a new lease on life; a license to start dreaming again, and a road map to make it happen. Initially, the company had agreed to provide the training to the executive team only, but when upon returning to work, it became apparent that the executive alone could not change the way the organization operated; the management team also needed this new license to dream, act and take responsibility. So the company also sent the management team along for training, and the results were equally impressive.
In the first year, the company increased its turnover by 73%. In the same year, Nancy went on to win the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) Businesswoman of the Year award. In the following two years, Unilver Zimbabwe’s average growth was been over 20% per annum. The company has been cited within the sub-region as an example of how a business should be run, particularly regarding the positive energy of the team and the way the team holds each other accountable. There is also personal accountability, and the net effect is that nobody wants to be the weak link.
My personal life motto is “be the change you want to see.”
This encapsulates what The Pacific Institute helps you to achieve: to drive change from within. Once you think like the person you want to be, you become that person and the people following you have no choice but to also change as they have a new leader.