Women to Watch

Sarah Jensen

By Published on .

Unilever might seem a scary place to work these days. After all, the $52 billion package-goods giant is reeling from a year that saw it miss most targets that its last five-year restructuring set. Its two chief executives have left or have announced plans to do so-though not fast enough to please some investors. And yet another slowly unfolding restructuring will send 15% of top managers packing and change reporting lines and duties of most everyone else.

But for Sarah Jensen, the experience is liberating, at least so far. She's the 32-year-old global haircare brand development director for Dove, Unilever's biggest and, in recent years, strongest global brand. And she's among the fastest-rising women in a company where gender diversity has been in decidedly short supply.

One of those exiting chief executives, Niall FitzGerald, acknowledged two years ago to The Financial Times that only one of Unilever's top 200 managers was a woman, which the newspaper said he discovered only when they all took a boat trip. Among Unilever consumers, 70% are women, and the outlook is getting brighter for young female marketing executives inside the company, with women now heading human resources for the new Americas regional group and brand development for Dove globally.

The new, streamlined management system already is making things easier for Ms. Jensen, whose job it is to develop and market new Dove haircare product mixes, tailored to local preferences, around the globe as quickly as possible.

"I am extremely happy about what I've seen so far [from the `One Unilever' restructuring] and been quite involved in the Dove portion of it," Ms. Jensen says. "For the first time in a long time, I can really see the change that's going to happen. ... for people who are working on global projects, it's going to be much simpler and quicker, and in the end I think that will lead to a lot of satisfaction."

Ms. Jensen, a Canadian, came to Unilever in 1995 after meeting Esther Lem, a judge in a business contest she was competing in who eventually hired Ms. Jensen. Ms. Lem today is VP-brand development for deodorants in the same Chicago office where Ms. Jensen is based. After working on skin- and haircare in Canada, Ms. Jensen came to the U.S., where she rose quickly to her global Dove assignment this year.

"Sarah is a wonderful mix of smart and really brave and lots of perseverance. She's like a bulldog," Ms. Lem says, adding, "People absolutely love working with her, and that makes a big difference in terms of how she manages through people. ... She's one of our bright stars within Unilever and continues to show us promise of getting ahead."

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