The smallest detail is sometimes telling.
Tamara Rogers—Unilever USA’s new executive vice president of Personal Care—lists at the bottom of her LinkedIn page that she attended The University of Edinburgh.
That also happens to be the alma mater of her hard-charging boss, Alan Jope—Singapore-based president of Unilever Personal Care.
“It is very strange, actually, because both of us set out to become doctors, and both of us changed our minds,” Rogers reflects recently, some 28 years later, from a penthouse conference room at Edelman, a Manhattan-based public relations agency for several Unilever brands.
“I wanted to be a pediatrician or a neuroscientist,” she recalls. “But at age 18, I suddenly thought that seven years seemed a very long time.”
Rogers’ love of science—still her “active passion” today—helps her with understanding products, she says.
And her desire for quick results makes her a suitable choice now to carry out Jope’s latest mandate, issued in October: Tack another 10 billion euros onto Unilever Personal Care’s existing 18 billion euro [$20.4 billion at current exchange] business, posthaste.
Roger that. The division finished out the year with 20.074 billion euros [$22.41 billion at current exchange] in sales, a 13.2% increase over 2014.
Personal Care represents the Anglo-Dutch multinational consumer-goods company’s largest sector, accounting for 38 percent of its turnover, and 48 percent of its operating profit in 2015.
Jope is confident that Rogers is up to the task.
“Tamara has all the qualities we look for in our most senior leaders—judgment, drive and the ability to lead others,” he says. “She has proven herself in local, regional and global roles. She was an easy choice to lead Unilever’s biggest Personal Care Market globally and we are lucky to have her in that role.”
Joining the company—co-headquartered in the Netherlands and her native England—straight out of college, Rogers moved swiftly from its Laundry division into Personal Care.
In her previous post as Unilever senior vice president of Global Deodorants, she overhauled the company’s entire deodorant portfolio, introducing innovative dry sprays that eliminate stickiness, drying time and clumpy white residue, across all brands including AXE, Degree, Dove and Suave.
While she describes herself as a “competitive” person who “loves to win,” Rogers’ edge lies in her soft skills — her passion for fragrance and design; her deft ability to tap into key consumer insights and respond with marketing campaigns that “tug at your heartstrings,” and maybe most importantly: her management style — which she likens to being a mother.
Responsible for Personal Care’s U.S. P&L, as well as strategic innovation for North America, Rogers is also part of the company’s Global Personal Care leadership, working closely with her counterparts across the world.
“We are global, with deep local roots,” she says. “We always thought [that trends travel from] Korea out, or Japan out, but we are doing a reverse right now, where Simple [a British sensitive skin-care brand] is landing in Korea, and doing well. Learning comes from everywhere.”
Indeed. Nearly one-third of Unilever’s $8 billion annual ad budget is now spent on digital media, Rogers says, adding, “We are also investing heavily in our supply chain, in algorithms to predict demand, in our ability to mine data from search and in our consumer insight research.
“I think that digital is fundamentally reshaping everything we do,” she states. To grow quickly, Rogers outlines ways to drive penetration of her core brands. It’s no small feat, given that a Dove product is already in one out of every three U.S. households and a Suave product is in one out of every two U.S. households. That’s more than regular Coca-Cola, per Nielson Panel Data ending in the first quarter of 2016.
“Our ability to understand consumers’ unmet needs using information that’s available today is phenomenal,” she says. “The ability to see what people really want, what they are searching for, what questions they have, what they are complaining about and what they are praising; This engagement means that you are much more likely to deliver to expectations.”
For example, on Dove, Unilever has found that its Shea Butter bar is favored by African Americans, whereas its Pink/Rosa bar is a hit with Hispanics.
“We live in a time where things are changing rapidly. We have more multi-ethnic families now than when I was growing up, where moms and dads are dealing with children’s hair that’s not like their own. For people with fine hair, we launched TRESemmé Beautiful Volume—a reverse system [where you condition before you shampoo]. If you have fine hair, you don’t want conditioner to weigh it down.”
“I am obsessed with aesthetics,” she exclaims. “I love fragrance. I love design. But we had to be overly heavy-handed here and put a big #1 and #2 on the packs. When you’re in the shower, you need to understand the lineup.”
The other way to log fast growth is, of course, through acquisitions.
In 2015, Unilever snapped up a slew of prestige skin-care brands in quick succession—REN in February, Kate Somerville in May, Dermalogica in June, Murad in July. The company also spent a reported $1 billion in cash for U.S. e-commerce start-up Dollar Shave Club in July of this year.
And the shopping spree is far from over. “We continue to be interested in acquisitions,” Rogers says.
The major learning from the latest buys, Rogers adds, is how these companies are able to “maneuver quickly.”
Her leadership style—“to be brutal with our critical account of reality”—enables Rogers to set the baseline, craft a clear strategy and move nimbly as well.
“We live in an amazingly networked world now—not a particularly hierarchical one,” she says. “So leadership today has to be able to influence a network without sending a signal down and then [waiting for] something to come back up for a decision. That’s too slow. If people are clear on the strategic direction, they can make decisions where decisions need to be made; they need to have the freedom, within a framework, to go and act.
“Having children teaches you this: You don’t learn unless you try, and fail…often,” she observes. “Providing that you are good at figuring out why you failed so that you don’t repeat it, that failure is going to teach you something hugely valuable and build your confidence.”
Confidence is a main theme at Unilever.
Rogers points to Dove’s wildly successful “Choose Beautiful” campaign, in which women are offered the choice of entering a building either through a door labeled “beautiful,” or one marked “average.” While many opt for the latter, some—feeling emboldened —choose the “beautiful” portal.
The campaign is part of Dove’s “Movement for Self-Esteem” which, over the past decade, has boosted brand sales from $2.5 billion to $4 billion, according to Ad Age, which also named it the best advertising of the 21st century.
The latest Dove initiative—dubbed Love Your Curls—was instigated when consumer research revealed that only 4 out of 10 girls like their curly hair.
“What you do as a mother affects your children,” says Rogers, the mother of two teenagers: Cecily, 15, and Gabriel, 13. “If they see you enjoying your beauty, they will be much more likely to be confident about their beauty.”
Aside from a commercial in which young girls are encouraged by their moms to love their curls, the brand also created a customizable book that Rogers says is now the number-one downloadable children’s book on Amazon. Her team has also created the first-ever curly hair emojis.
Having just relocated her family to New York in mid-July, Rogers is philosophical about her employer.
“When you think there are 19 million girls who have been touched by the Dove Self Esteem program, and billions of women who have seen our advertising, and our point of view on beauty, that is incredibly satisfying,” Rogers says. “I am able to stand up with great pride and talk to my family, my children, about what I do. I thought that being a doctor was the best way to give back to people, but actually, I found a way to do that in this job, and growing the business means that we can continue to do that.”