by Mark Chillingworth

Willem Eelman looks for new transformation beyond Unilever

Jun 03, 20143 mins
CareersIT LeadershipManufacturing Industry

Willem Eelman has stepped down as CIO of consumer goods manufacturer Unilever. Eelman, a leading CIO in the CIO 100 for the last two years, told CIO UK he is seeking a new transformational challenge as either a CFO or CIO. Eelman has been with Unilever since 1994 in a range of business leadership and change roles, including Senior Vice President of Finance in the Unilever Foods division and CIO since April 2010.

“I am giving myself half a year to find a transformational financial and technology leadership role,” Eelman told CIO UK. “I want another challenging role,” he said, joking that he’s just turned 50 and has another 10 years ahead of him and wants them to be interesting.

Eelman is being replaced atUnilever by Jane Moran, formerly CIO of information services company Thomson Reuters.

“A year and a half ago we merged the global business services and the IT so that IT run and innovation were together as one department because you cannot break apart run and innovation in IT,” Eelman said. The CIO felt his time with Unilever had run its course and it was clear that the organisation needed a more technical CIO.

“Jane is very good technical CIO,” Eelman said of Jane Moran’s appointment.

Eelman became CIO of Unilever in April 2010 having moved over from the finance division. His remit was to bring IT closer to the business, and the business closer to IT.

“I don’t like to talk about the IT transformation, it’s a Unilever transformation under CEO Paul Polman.

“When we talk about transformation it is about being digital to win. Digitise the brands, the value chain, the routes to market and how we work as an organisation. So for me technology has to contribute to the value of the business.

“They asked me to take on this challenge to embed IT into the business. Unilever sees significant opportunity to drive competitive advantage through integrated business solutions in which technology is embedded.

Looking at the C-level careers market, Eelman said he does not see any real evidence of organisations placing the finance department and CFO at the heart of transformation.

“In the UK boards have a way too narrow view of the CFO role, they see the city and risk mitigation as key and very little of the CFO as a change catalyst. On the continent there is a greater appreciation for a broader role of the CFO as the owner and leader of transformation.

“But CIOs in the UK have greater scope for transformation. There is a lot of blah blah blah about digital roles, but most boards are not putting their money where their mouth is,” he said.