Marc Engel, Unilever: “Supply chains will be at the heart of winning businesses in the future”

Marc Engel

For the second year in a row, Marc Engel has earned the title #1 Supply Chain Executive in Europe. The accolade is awarded annually by Supply Chain Media to a senior supply chain leader within a multinational company who inspires, innovates and succeeds in achieving consistently exceptional results. Engel was appointed Chief Supply Chain Officer and a member of the Unilever Leadership Executive in January 2016 after a career spanning some 25 years with the company. In addition to holding many senior supply chain and general management positions, he was pivotal in establishing Unilever’s strategic supplier programme called Partner to Win and led the development and implementation of the transformative Responsible Sourcing, Palm Oil, Paper & Board and Human Rights policies for Unilever. Engel has long championed the mantra ‘doing good’ rather than the less impactful ‘doing no harm’. The red thread through his career has been a deep desire to make a difference. “Every Friday I write down what difference I think I made during the past week and if I notice that I haven’t made enough impact, I change my calendar.”

Interview conducted by Martijn Lofvers and Edwin Tuyn, written by Helen Armstrong

For over a century, Unilever has thrived on a model based on mass production, mass distribution and mass marketing. Looking back, this model and a mission to improve the lives and well-being of consumers, was straightforward. Today’s world is complex, fragmented and consumers are highly informed when making choices about brands and have more options to shop.

However, the digitalisation that initiated the disruption of the traditional FMCG market is also likely to play a central part in the metamorphosis of the global giant. Technology is enabling direct engagement between consumers and makers, more distributed and shared manufacturing and precision marketing. To fulfil the hyper-segmented market, Unilever is engaging in new partnerships. “I believe we have to move away from a linear supply chain towards a supply circle in which Unilever is a digital hub in the centre. Traditional functional silos such as Sales, R&D, Marketing and supply chain are being replaced by three overriding processes; demand creation, demand fulfilment and innovation.”

Speaking from his office in London, Marc Engel talks about the challenges and what drives him to make a difference. “If you’re not doing a job that you enjoy, it’s unlikely that you’ll excel.”

Can you explain how you arrived in your position?

“It’s been a journey of 25 years, mostly at Unilever but also briefly at Shell. I started my career at Unilever at the Unox meat group in the Netherlands. Since that time, I have worked in Singapore, Scotland, England, Brazil, Switzerland, Kenya and now London. I have had various supply chain roles in factories, distribution, procurement, finance and strategy, and my previous role as General Manager in Kenya was a deliberate move to prepare me for leading Unilever’s supply chain. The experience in Kenya provided me with the opportunity to experience the global supply chain from a market perspective. In the last three years, I have been able to draw on my Africa experience to design a new purpose led, future fit supply chain.

I believe there are five things that are important in making a successful career. First, the element of luck. Let’s face it – being in the right place at the right time helps. But I do believe strongly that luck can also be earned. Second, go all in, work hard and deliver results that make a difference. Third, be authentic to your true self and to your purpose. My purpose is to make a difference to the important things that really matter. Fourth, have fun and enjoy what you do. Or change jobs. Life is too short. If you are not doing a job you enjoy, it is highly unlikely that you will excel. Lastly, have a small group of people around you who challenge and support you. They can be from your professional and private life. The important thing is that these are people who you respect for their honest feedback and are committed to your success. As you progress in your career, this group of people becomes more critical to achieve the right balance between being challenged and being supported.”

Who do you confide in?

“I have a few colleagues who have been with Unilever for a long time. And I stay in touch with a number of former Unilever colleagues. I also have a few friends, including one who goes back 40 years and I can call on a couple of external coaches who have helped me over the years. They need to be able to give you the good, the bad and the ugly because otherwise it is like getting a massage. It feels good at the time but doesn’t necessarily help you get better!”

… … …

Marc EngelWant to read more?

Subscribe to the digital subscription to read the full version >>


select one of our annual or digital subscriptions to receive the next issue >>

This article was first published in Supply Chain Movement 32 | Q1 – 2019