To the Desert and Back: The Story of One of the Most Dramatic Business Transformations on Record
Philip H. Mirvis, Karen Ayas, George Roth
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Dove, Lipton, Knorr, Ben & Jerry's, and Slim*Fast are a few of the brands that are part of the $66 billion global empire known as Unilever. When the story opens, one of its divisions is in deep trouble- declining volume, eroding margins, critical quality problems- and is close to being sold off. Then Tex Gunning, its visionary new division chairman, takes the stage, an expanding circle of young leaders takes charge, and once-skeptical workers embrace a challenging message of growth. The result? The division grows by double digits, year in and year out, and energizes Unilever's path to thrive around the globe.
To the Desert and Back tells the inside story of the transformation in the words of the people in all quarters of the company who made it happen. It documents five years of personal soul-searching, teamwork, companywide learning conferences, memorable journeys to the mountains and desert, and inspired promotions that show how these efforts produced a remarkable top-to-bottom turnaround. This story delivers authentic and convincing proof that a revitalized business is about personal growth.
The lessons learned from this dramatic business turnaround provide unexpected insights and encouraging inspiration for other companies and leaders ready to embark on their own remarkable journey of transformation, growth, and success.
been a director for eight years, a very respected person on the board who had played an important role in VdBN's transformation to date, Gunning recalled: As he talked, he was crying. This set the scene for me. Mine was the last story and I broke down too. An attendee was furious. She said, "There is a guy sitting there crying and you cannot even put your arms around him! You are a bunch of cold people." She was so shocked! I was shocked too, to realize how poor we were in the sense that we
for eleven years now and I've never had so much fun with my colleagues as last night." The View from the Top The third day, at last, was glorious. Exhausted from lack of sleep or worn down by partying, the various clans met at the foot of the Corrain, a famous mountain on the Isle of Skye. En masse, the team leaders embarked on a two-hour climb up a steep trail through the muddy and stony highlands terrain. Up and down, through gullies and up the sharp hills, many struggled to finish the
women in bikinis snacking away on noodles. Soon the product moved beyond the campus to factories, construction sites, and food carts and kiosks. The target market stretched to include bluecollar and office workers. The trade press credited Uno Noodles as the best product introduction of 1999. Over five and a half million noodle packages were sold that year. Certainly the bold advertising added sex appeal to what everyone agreed wasn't the best-tasting meal in the VdBN portfolio. But in looking
Employees would alternate as audience and actors at the all-company learning conferences, whether sharing life stories, working on team exercises, singing songs, or reflecting on camera about what they learned. And, at the Big Night events, grocers throughout Holland, from storeowners to shelf-stockers to cashiers, took their turns as customers of VdBN and contributors to its transformative events. Do Versus Act While doing and acting seem synonymous, acting as performance art has some
of Mindfulness (Berkeley, Calif.: Parallax Press, 1990). 13. See Jay Conger and Associates, Spirit at Work: Discovering the Spirituality in Leadership (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994); Lee Bolman and Terry Deal, Leading with Soul: An Uncommon Journey of Spirit (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995); and Joseph Jaworski, Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1996). On spiritual dimensions of contemporary leadership, see Robert Greenleaf, "The Leader as