February 25, 2024

Unilever Chairman – Conversation With President

Marijin Decker demonstrates his backhand. Photo by Deepak Bardhan.

By Makayela Isbell ’20
Staff Reporter

On October 27, 2017 President Lindsay had a conversation with Unilever Chairman Marijin Deckers during Convocation.

Deckers has a degree in chemistry from Radboud University and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Eindhoven. Deckers began his career in 1985 as a research scientist at General Electric in the U.S.

In 2000 Deckers became a Chief Operating Officer at Thermo Electron Corporation, a leader in the manufacture of laboratory instruments, later renamed Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. In 2002 he became the company president and CEO. In 2010 Deckers joined Bayer AG in Germany as CEO until his retirement in 2016. Deckers also serves on the Board of Directors of General Electric. Deckers is also a member of Unilever’s Compensation Committee and the Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee.

Deckers gave students advice on a variety of issues.

When asked about attributes he looks for in a job applicant, he said that he “really look[s] at [if] somebody was really good at something.” He said “prove that you can do [something] well” and “if you do [something] well, you’re a little more self- confident.”

When asked about the recent controversy regarding an ad by Dove, a Unilever company, Deckers said that “everyone has an opinion.” He said this “was of course not intended.” And that “we [Unilever] did not manage that process [of cutting the commercial to 3 seconds] well.” He said that “things can’t be conveyed in 3 seconds.”

A student asked Deckers about challenges his daughters will face in the workforce due to generational differences or gender differences He responded,  “having to be globally competitive” is one thing they are facing, as “the world has become global.” He also said that there is, “constant pressure that a man is romantically interested” and, “that fine line gets crossed all the time by men.” When asked about his advice to women pursuing a Ph.D., he said “go do it.” He said “when you get a Ph.D., do it because you are really interested in the topic.”

When asked about the differences in business between the U.S. and Germany, Deckers said that in the U.S the “shareholder is the boss”. And in Germany there is “much more involvement with other stakeholders” and that “employees are more important [in the business structure] in Germany.” He also said that people “drive slowly and work quickly in the U.S.” and that people “drive quickly and work slowly in Germany.”

Deckers placed number 2 in the Dutch Youth tennis rankings. Deckers said that his “tennis career gave [him] a platform to learn German.” Which prepared him to become the CEO of Bayer in Germany. Deckers credits tennis to teaching him “management of [his] energy during the day.”

Deckers said his “favorite” Unilever brand is the “Dutch Unilever version of Hellman’s [mayonnaise].” He said that he would “illegally import [the mayonnaise] in his suitcase [while he was in the U.S.].” and that he would bring his mayonnaise to McDonalds while he was in the U.S. Deckers grew up in the Netherlands. He holds both U.S. and Dutch citizenship.

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