You are currently viewing Kees ‘Tielenius’ Kruythoff: A Journey of Loyalty & Perseverance
Kees Kruythoff, | Former President of Unilever

Kees ‘Tielenius’ Kruythoff: A Journey of Loyalty & Perseverance

It is said that a warrior’s path is a solitary one. Striding ahead towards success can be difficult, but most of the times the experiences gained from the journey are rewarding in its own way. Finding your path, ‘the right’ path is challenging and some decisions we make in our life stay with us for the rest of our days. To differentiate the good with the bad or to balance it per say, the will power and strong ethics prove to be the most driving factors and can become a way for a successful life. To move forward with a zeal and goals in your mind is what makes one different, able and most importantly an achiever. In today’s world where opportunities are relentless with newer set of chances being generated rapidly, capitalising on those opportunities have become somewhat, a trend. Making decisions based on individual level and not thinking about the collective wellness has

turned out to be humanity’s bane. Still, there are some people in this world who believe in collective growth and long term sustainability. These are the kind of people who set benchmark in perseverance with a hint of loyalty.

Kees Kruythoff, Former President of Unilever — Home Care Business, is an exemplary professional embedded with the traits required to reach the peak of success.  After completing his studies at the Erasmus University from Rotterdam in Economics, he had relentless excitement towards working with one of the global FMCG companies. He received two amazing offers, one from Unilever and other from Procter and Gamble. He made a life changing decision by choosing to work at Unilever, Holland in early 1993.

An Industry Disruptor

After undertaking various marketing and customer management roles, he remained joyous to be expatriated to South Africa. There he was appointed as Marketing Vice President for Unilever Foods. That was a special time in South Africa as President Mbeki just took over from President Mandela. The Mbeki administration asked Unilever and Kruythoff to participate in the development of the Brand South Africa. Expressing his feelings, Kees says, “I felt it was a rare opportunity for me to use my skills and give back to the country I am expatriated to.” Soon after serving in South Africa for almost four years, he was promoted as Executive Vice-President for Unilever Beverages in Shanghai, China. The boom in China prevailing at that time was inevitable and it provided the company with exponential growth. From there, he went on to become the CEO of Unilever Foods in South Africa, which again gave him the best experience till date. Kees says joyfully, “It was probably the best time of my career, we had the best business performance in the history of the company with the most diverse team ever.”

Then, he received an opportunity to be Executive Vice-President for Unilever Brasil, the second largest Unilever Business in the world. During his tenure there, the company grew the business with almost 60% in the span of 2007 to 2011. Despite the global crisis, that time period was considered good for Brasil and Unilever Brasil as well. After conquering the conquests in Brazil, Kees spearheaded Global Unilever Executive Team and was responsible for Unilever North America and the Global Customer Management. His latest role in Unilever comprised of leading one of the global divisions. Due to the purpose led and future fit strategy implemented by the team, it helped accelerating Home Care Division’s growth by 7.4% globally.

The Hurdles

According to Kees, “All industries are getting disrupted.” The current situation pertaining to the market is navigated by the young generation who are more tech-savvy and proficient in digital age. These are the group of individuals who are disrupting the market in a dynamic way. The new technology combined with the behaviour of digital natives called ‘millenials’ and ‘Gen-Z’ individuals are a true brake from previous generations in the way they value brands and companies. Their decision making process and related choices results in a force for change. The benefits of scale has shifted from traditional elements such as Media, Distribution and Production towards Data, Digital and Human Capacity.

The notable challenge Kees faced during his tenure of 25 years working in the FMCG industry, was

encountered by him in his recent years at Unilever – America. “The disruption and the change has been so fast and significant that I had to completely re-invent myself, unlearn and re-learn,” he claims. As he follows the mantra of ‘personal growth needs to exceed business growth’, it has never been more true in this time of digital disruption. “This is the era where each industry gets disrupted with all its opportunities and challenges,” tells Kees.

A True Inspiration

The sustainable driving factors for the success of the company are employee motivation and performance culture. The firm has initiated a program called Tignum in the USA. It supports the employees in their personal well-being, with respect to four pillars: Mindset, Movement, Nutrition and Rest. The Mindset part is best represented through the choices made by the personnel in alignment with their purpose in the company and functionality of the job. “Getting these fully aligned will drive huge employee engagement and motivation,” states Kees.

According to him, all this has been very critical to translate it into the business environment. In South Africa, the company started a program named Good to Great in which the team integrated the families into the journey. All parents and kids got presented with the strategy and results and were explicitly motivated for their input. Resilience has been a pushing element for Kees. No matter the adversity, getting back up and moving forward with a zeal to grasp success has made all the difference in his life. All of this enthusiasm comes from his family.

A Visionary with Passion

Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love that we put in action”

– Mother Teresa
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For Kees, everything starts with family. He credits his family for the success he has achieved over the years. “My strong belief in the power of diversity comes from my very diverse family,” he adds. He has five daughters born in different countries, signifying the cultural diversity in his family. He is blessed to have a blend of various backgrounds and opinions all in one family. “My life has become something so special with love and care, united by my beautiful wife,” proclaims Kees happily.

Being a family-person at heart, he wants to spend quality time with his family, especially with his 5 daughters. He plans to go on a trip with them and cherish every moment.

Throughout his life, Kees has always been a learner and an ardent believer of social values that gets reflected in his personality. After continuously working for over three decades, he decides to take a leave and has planned to utilize this time in the most effective way.
He intends to work with the social entrepreneurs’ start-ups and extend his expertize that can help the  start-ups to create its niche in the market. Further on, in his endeavour to do something for the society, he wants to support the Youth Movement as force for Good and Change Maker for Kids Rights. Finally, as the Chairman of Enactus and as the Board member for Distell with several others, he plans to accomplish all his professional commitments with ease!

His advice to the upcoming entrepreneurs is precise and to the point. He says, “Enjoy being the disruptor rather than living in fear of being disrupted. Play offence and make sure you understand all key drivers of the hedgehog in your company and the industry.”