Inspirational Woman: Vasiliki Petrou | Group CEO & Executive Vice President, Unilever Prestige

Vasiliki-Petrou

Vasiliki Petrou is Group CEO and Executive Vice President of Unilever Prestige, the premium division of Unilever Personal Care and home to eight differentiated brands across luxury skincare and hair care, including Dermalogica, Murad, REN, Kate Somerville, Living Proof and Hourglass Cosmetics.

With more than 25 years in the industry, Vasiliki champions authentic, innovative and purpose-driven brands that drive social change and offer truly progressive products, and is passionate about supporting female entrepreneurs.

Fluent in four languages, Vasiliki holds an MBA from Columbia Business School in NYC and a Master’s degree in English and Communications from University of Texas at Austin. Vasiliki is a Fulbright Scholar, recipient of the Kellogg Foundation Fellowship recognising female leaders, and current Chairwoman of CEW UK, the leading beauty industry association.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m the Group CEO and Executive Vice President of Unilever Prestige, the premium Personal Care division of Unilever and home to eight differentiated brands across luxury skincare and hair care, including Dermalogica, Murad, REN, Kate Somerville, Living Proof and Hourglass Cosmetics.

I’ve worked in the industry for over 25 years and completely champion authentic, innovative and purpose-driven brands that drive social change and offer truly progressive products.

My role is to ensure our brands are at the forefront of the latest innovations and trends, and to provide them with the support they need to reach their full potential.I’m also responsible for leading the global trend creation for Unilever’s Personal Care division, which houses some of the most-loved brands in the world.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, never! I couldn’t have created a roadmap for my career because the world is constantly evolving, as are business needs. Just five years ago, no-one had heard of data scientists or knew that we there would be a demand for specialists in ecommerce marketing. It’s important to keep an open mind, continue developing your skills and not be afraid to push boundaries – you never know what’s around the corner so be as prepared and confident as you possibly can.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

One of the key challenges for me, especially when it comes to a newly created division within a mother company, is navigating the complexity of thought-leadership of how a company operates.

The Prestige Division has to be agile, it operates like a startup. It’s a careful, but beautiful, balancing act which includes leveraging the muscle of the big mother company, whilst also maintaining the energy and momentum of an innovative, frontier making division within it.

On a typical workday, how does you start your day and how does it end?

Each day is a new beginning, so I always ensure that I incorporate meditation into my in the morning routine. I like to end my day with meditation too. My mind will have been racing all day so it’s the perfect opportunity to gain some perspective and check in with myself and my wellbeing.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you ever had a mentor or do you mentor anyone?

I believe that to be successful in any field, aspiring leaders require role models and guidance. I’m a very active mentor to several individuals throughout the business world, ranging from young technology entrepreneurs to senior-level managers in our corporate business, who want to increase their confidence and develop their strategic thinking skills.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

A recent study by London’s Cass Business School found that men are more likely than women to ask to be assigned to prestigious projects, manage high profile teams and high value accounts. They’re also more likely to ask to be promoted when they’re ready and be vocal about wanting additional training to improve their skills or expand their network to ask for a promotion.

As women, we need to inspire each other to lean in to these prestigious roles and projects. If you want a thriving workforce, you need to think about how to encourage women to thrive and succeed.

How would you encourage more diversity on boards?

Effectively creating and cultivating an active pipeline of female candidates is arguably the single most important element of a successful board-inclusion effort. A successful gender diversity strategy will both further your own growth goals while also paying important dividends to families, communities and the economy.

Overcoming this reality of unequal numbers requires openness to creative solutions, we need to move beyond standard practise to encourage change. For example, brands should focus on finding executives without prior board experience as opposed to simply sticking to the status quo and limiting their talent pool.

The act of being aware and keeping diversity at front of mind, will drive action.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Honouring the vision of the founders of the Unilever Prestige brands, and instilling purpose into everything we do. Entrepreneurial spirit and decision making is the key to driving innovation, and I truly believe that by giving people the platform and guidance to realise their vision, we are paving the way to a brighter tomorrow.

Although Unilever Prestige is a large organisation, we champion the founder mentality and firmly believe that it is integral to success and staying ahead of the curve. It’s something I am very proud of. We aim to keep our founders with us, so they can harness our expertise to help shape the future of their business.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Our mission is never complete! I want to continue to move the needle and introduce new modes of thinking to businesses to help them stay relevant in an ‘always-on’ world.

I hope to continue to support and nurture our purpose-driven brands, to help them to reach their full potential, whilst also supporting and encouraging new young founders, entrepreneurs and visionaries along the way.

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