A fortuitous meeting at a Monash University careers fair has led to a 28-year career at Unilever for alumna Berna Wake (BEc 1983).
Ms Wake is the current Vice-President Unilever Marketing Excellence for the AAC region (Asia, Africa, Middle East Turkey and Central Europe). She has had the opportunity to work in five different countries – 10 years of which were in the “exciting and vibrant markets of South East Asia.”
Growing up Ms Wake had dreams of becoming a narcotics officer, a lawyer or working in foreign affairs. But helping out at her parents’ milk bar she found she couldn’t wait to get behind the counter and start selling. She was captivated by the visiting sales representatives and their tales about company promotions and merchandising material.
“Although I didn’t consciously know it at the time, a career in marketing was most likely in my blood,” she said.
Ms Wake still remembers the name of the Unilever HR manager she met at Monash.
“I had that one-on-one career chat with John at Clayton,” she said. “His description of a Unilever Marketing Trainee sounded very exciting.”
After a formal interview process, she won the position, commencing at Unilever’s Melbourne-based Rosella Lipton operating company in October 1983.
From her trainee position Ms Wake steadily rose through the ranks. She held the roles of Brand Manager, Senior Brand Manager, Marketing Manager and Marketing Director and was responsible for some of Australia’s best known brands including Rosella, Continental, Raguletto and Lipton.
In 1999 she commenced her first expatriation with the company to Auckland, New Zealand. This set the path for managing director roles in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta over the next 10 years. She began her current role, based at the Unilever AAC Head Office in Singapore, in 2008.
Unilever is one of the world’s largest food, refreshment, personal and household care companies. Ms Wake’s jurisdiction (the AAC region) achieves more than 50 per cent of the company’s global turnover.
Berna said her career highlights include the opportunity to live and work alongside many different cultures and to work on brands that truly have a positive impact in terms of environmental, social and economic dimensions.
“It was particularly rewarding to develop brands with a purpose and meaning beyond purely the economical contribution,” Ms Wake said. “I had the opportunity to engage with the black soybean and coconut sugar farming communities, various women’s groups and underprivileged children during my roles in Malaysia and Indonesia.”
Feeling fortunate to receive a rich, rounded experience over her years at the company, Berna is proud to mentor a number of managers.
She learned her leadership style from her own mentor Tex Gunning. Berna carries with her his ideals that “ethical businesses have a responsibility to people, planet and profits”, “that leadership is a choice “and that “great leaders must first be great human beings.”