BU Today

In the World

In our series “Jump-start Your Job Search,” BU Today brings you short interviews with BU alums who are leaders in their field, such as banking, advertising, tech start-ups, journalism, or nonprofit organizations.

They talk about how they got to be where they are, mistakes they’ve made, and what they’ve taken away from those mistakes. They tell us what they look for when hiring and offer advice for those just embarking on a career.

This week our featured alum is Gina Boswell (Questrom ’84), executive vice president and general manager of Unilever UK & Ireland. She moved to the United Kingdom six months ago to lead what she calls “the jewel in the Unilever crown,” overseeing the personal care, food, refreshments, and home-care divisions, which produce such familiar brands as Dove, Hellman’s, Ben & Jerry’s, Lipton, Persil, and Comfort. She’s based about 20 miles from Unilever’s London offices (the multinational consumer goods company has headquarters there and in the Netherlands). Previously, Boswell was executive vice president of the company’s North American personal care division.

  1. BU Today: How did you come to work in this field?

    Boswell: Following graduate school, I had been a management consultant in the early ’90s, advising Estée Lauder, and they offered me a role on their leadership team. It was a really exciting time, because we would soon be taking the company public.

  2. When you went to BU, did you have an idea what you wanted to do for a career?

    Not entirely, but I thought I would follow in my dad’s footsteps. So I majored in accounting, figuring it was the language of business, hence a solid foundation. Many of my electives were focused on psychology or sociology, and I was also fascinated with behavior, whether individual or organizational. Having gotten offers from the then Big 8 firms, I joined Arthur Andersen to pursue my CPA, but it was always with an eye toward gaining exposure to various industries versus pursuing a traditional finance path.

  3. What qualities do you look for in people you hire?

    Beyond the nonnegotiables of sharp, clear-thinking, and ethically focused, I would say passion, purpose, and curiosity are at the top of the list, with purpose increasingly important to companies and individuals that want to genuinely contribute and achieve something worthwhile—growing themselves and the business at once.

  4. What kinds of questions do you ask during an interview?

    Depends on the role, but general ones include: Tell me about a time when you felt you made the biggest difference. Is it more important for you to be successful or for people to like you? What attributes do you admire most in others and wish you had more of?

  5. What mistakes have you made during your career, and what lessons have you learned from them?

    When I was younger, I probably understated the importance of communicating frequently, honestly, and consistently, but I’ve learned that silence can often be more frightening than bad news.

  6. What advice would you give to someone on the first day on the job? For the first six months?

    First impressions do matter. Ensure that you are contributing to your fullest extent. Go the extra mile and become reliable…people will notice your drive. Ensure that you know how success will be measured. After the first 90 days, seek feedback from a trusted source and consider modifying approaches. After six months, look for informal, natural mentors who will help guide the way.

  7. Who’s had the greatest influence on your career? And why?

    It is a challenge to pick out one, as I’ve been so blessed with fantastic bosses and mentors who role-modeled amazing leadership, and in some cases, took a real chance on me. If pushed, there is a short list: Paul Polman, Leonard Lauder, Fred Langhammer, Jeanette Wagner, and Andrea Jung. They’ve each left their unique mark on me and stretched me to my fullest potential.

  8. What do you foresee vis-à-vis the future growth and job opportunities in the personal care field?

    I would say it’s a hugely innovation-led industry, in part driven by insatiable consumer expectations. There’s lots of game-changing technology, with advancements in cosmeceuticals, devices, and tools. At the same time, there’s continued growth in natural, sustainable ingredients, male grooming, in-home services, and personalization, again to meet increasingly sophisticated and often segmented consumer needs. Another growth opportunity is purpose-driven brands, as there is increasing evidence to suggest people desire products that not only perform, but are provided in an environmentally and socially responsible way.

    The personal care industry offers myriad job opportunities, whether it be in marketing (including digital/social media), research and development, engineering (both product and package), materials science, formulation, sales demonstration, education and services, or stakeholder communications.

Are you an alum who would like to be interviewed for BU Today’s “Jump-start Your Job Search” series? Email John O’Rourke at orourkej@bu.edu.

Read other stories in our “Jump-start Your Job Search” series here.

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