Thursday, 17 May 2012

Unilever Idea Trophy-Is it a con?

A team from Unilever visited the University of Nairobi School of business on a cold Thursday afternoon to meet the students. I was in the audience listening carefully to what they had to say this time. Last time I met a team from Unilever was during the Aspire Leadership when I speaking on social media etiquette, personal branding and job search and I shared the platform with Juliet Ziswa who is the Brand Building director HPC at Unilever among others.
 Over the last three months; Unilever has come to this campus or invited students from UoN  to meet them under the “Meet Unilever” campaign done by their HR to make the company attractive to the students seeking placement after school. As students complain of lack of jobs, Unilever seems to be in a dire need of great talent to join their famous leadership programme ,what is popularly known as graduate/ management trainee programme.
Their mission in campus this time was to pitch the Idea trophy; which according their website is a Unilever on-campus youth development initiative designed to create an "out-of-the-classroom" learning experience that focuses on the development of personal and entrepreneurial competencies amongst Kenya undergraduates. It is a challenging and creative experience, where students from different universities figure out how business works in real life while developing their own skills and competencies. This is where university students figure out how business works in real life.
Sounds cool, right? I have this love-hate relationship with MNC’s; one that isn’t about to end any time soon because of what I have learnt in the last three years. Having worked in the small & medium sized Kenyan enterprises and finally ending up in a digital agency that handled some of the biggest global brands that operate in Eastern Africa I would strongly advise any young graduate out there not to rush to these big firms. On one side of the coin I love what these MNC’s pay its staff but on the other hand I hate a few things about them that I am not going to discuss here today!
Back to the Idea Trophy; this is a very noble idea but here’s my analysis;
It’s a Rip off-
The idea trophy is a con; it’s a game because no matter how hard you work to win the prize they will not give you a chance to execute your idea as a team. That is where it fails first and hence becomes a rip off. Well if as at 2012 Unilever still bets on the strategy and not the people executing it then that is okay with me because they are about to learn some tough lessons from this first edition of the trophy. If our strategies as a team are implemented poorly by the team then P&G still carries the day in the game. When Microsoft did their Imagine Cup a few a go at Crowne Plaza the winners never got just prizes and this challenge appears a con; lure students with the S.A trip and the prizes to do all your market research & come up with ideas thus saving loads of cash that would have gone to Scangroup. I am not in way trying to dissuade you from participating but I think they should respect our "intellectual property" more.
It shouldn’t be handled by the HR
This is where they fail squarely; this challenge is all about ideas and creativity to come up with strategies to breathe life to one of their brands- Rexona. The whole team that visited the campus was from their HR department and at one point they taught us how to write CV’s to get internships at Unilever during the pitch and shared their ‘testimonies’ of how working for Unilever is the best thing have happened to them!!! Well that’s okay,  you got a few first years so excited by the way!!
I had a few questions for them about the Rexona brand eg on why they chose Wahu as the brand ambassador, what are Rexona’s LSMs , who does their creative & why they chose did a whole billboard showing a not so happy diva and such. To my amazement the team that was present knew nothing about what I was asking. I didn’t expect some answers I was given because I thought these management trainees were taken through all the departments including the marketing dept in the leadership programme during the three years. 
Too Much Focus on Grades
Apparently Unilever doesn’t just want ideas from anyone; they want the participants to have an average of 60+ points. The bulk of the media, PR, Experiential and advertising agencies are made up of brilliant guys who didn’t necessarily have the good grades to join the MNC’s. Do they deliver?? YES! No one went to campus and got A’s in creativity so it’s just sad when they emphasize on grades one has. I am not a dumb guy by the way, I have managed straight A’s & a few B’s in my 3rd and 4th year in campus but my transcripts haven’t really helped me get any job or contract so far. No one asks me for them because I have a track record in anything I touch because I fill roles that match my skills not my grades!
That was really boring until someone took it to another level by telling us how grades matter. Let me tell you why I hate an education system that emphasizes on what grades one gets. Just so that you see sense in what I am saying; is it not their rejects that join the agencies + media and become creatives thus breathe life to their brands while some of their well paid but very ‘uneducated’ hires sit in their marketing department just to rubber stamp all the ideas from these agencies?
Who said that creativity comes from being book smart?? I have met very many smart guys who never cleared school or who never passed well but posses a great set of skills; this is what matters!
If you are interested in participating in this challenge go to
 I will be participating so see you there!! Meanwhile you can follow me on twitter @KenyanMarketer for more analysis on this!


  1. I agree with you especially on that focus on grades point. I tell you it is such a bad culture that is embedded in the minds of very many employers. Grades, especially nowadays with all this internet around, could well be awarded to the student and Google, Wikipedia et al, (you know what I mean). They should focused on "can you do the job" and "how", not the pathetic "have you been taught how to do it".

    We love quantity, we disregard quality. A little off topic but related (at least as far as I am concerned) is the way even bosses at work want to see you just put in a gazillion hour to work. Few will worry about the conversion rate of the hours of work to actual result. I have had a boss who wanted to get a report of at least 10 calls to clients everyday but rarely asks if any call translated into a closed sale.

    Coming back to the point, employers, whether big or small should shift focus to the skills and abilities and the techniques of the job seekers. Actually, I think grades should only be used as the last resort when the numbers of job applicants has to be cut.

    1. Thank you so much for this...It is this same over emphasis on grades that has killed the education system in Kenya. Guys go through campus not to read and understand but merely to pass. You can read a week to the exam and still get an A, worse still with all the internet you can google answers and the Mwakenya's are still there. What MNC's are hiring through rigorous tests & procedures is purely W.I.P.
      Graduates from USIU, Daystar and Strathmore are doing better in the corporate world today because they got the skills and not just grades in school! If a whole MBA from some universities cannot write a good resume and get hired but he is a first class then what learning took place??? When Nelson Mandela said Education can change the world he never meant good grades, education does create economic citizens only if people understand what they were taught-that's why a lot of book smart guys can't do anything after graduation with their great papers.