Where do Erasmus University students end up? In this section, EUR graduates tell us about their lives, careers and what they have learned at uni and in their work. In so doing, they will provide a few tips on what to do and what not to do if you wish to build a successful career.
Name: Peter van der Wal
Studies & years of graduation: Completed a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in 2005 and a Master’s degree in Finance & Investment at RSM in 2008.
Current position: Customer Development Finance Manager at Unilever. “I’m financially responsible for a 25-person sales team. We enter into strategic arrangements with supermarkets, about promotion strategies and shopping activities, among other things.”
Career development: Did a work placement at Procter & Gamble (P&G) in Geneva, and returned to the company after obtaining his degree. Assumed the position of Finance Manager at the Rotterdam branch of P&G after nearly two years, then left P&G to join its arch rival, Unilever.
Motto: “If you’ve got it, it will show.”
What he learned while being a student: “Collaborating, discussing things and finding my way in a group of people. I was an exchange student in Singapore, which quickly taught me how to deal with people, even those from a different cultural background. I still have a good feel for how best to approach people.”
Serendipity: “I was sure I was going to end up at a bank after graduating, until I happened to see the announcement of a business course at P&G and signed up for it. Once I was there, I had a few interviews and decided to stay. I never considered the possibility of working in this industry while I was a student, but it’s very interesting. When I compare my job with my friends’ jobs at banks, I feel relieved. Banks would have bored me.”
Browsing through brochures: “The fun thing about my job is that my team and I have a direct effect on the way in which our products are promoted and sold. I mainly deal with strategies and their financial aspects. My team comes up with ideas for special actions, then arranges for these ideas to be implemented. The results may be visible in shops the next day, or in brochures or commercials the next week. When I’m sitting on my sofa at home, I’ll browse through many brochures, to see how our products are being presented and what the competition is doing.”
Stepping on the brake: “My team consists of real sales people. They really know how to sell things, but sometimes they want too much, too soon. At those times I’ll try to explain to them why it’s better to hit the brake for a moment. Sometimes I’ll be a friend to my team; at other times I’ll be the tough guy. I don’t mind that, because it’s my job to act like that. And if there is a clash, we’ll discuss it at once. That direct style of communication is characteristic of Unilever.”
Culture: “I get asked by nearly everyone how Unilever differs from P&G. They mainly differ in terms of culture, hierarchy and systems. Furthermore, I had to get used to the kind of language used at Unilever. Just switching to Dutch took some getting used to, because at P&G, the language of communication is English. Now I’m constantly hit with phrases like ‘be sharp’, ‘act boldly’ and ‘in all openness’. After a week I started using them myself.”