It's only the people we attract and develop that makes the difference.' He used a Dilbert cartoon to show how important it is to have the people at the coalface to deliver a dose of reality to top management's vision.
Neath was clever enough to adopt a humble approach. 'Too often, conference speakers give the impression that they are paragons. I should point out that while Unilever aspires to excellence, we don't always achieve it.' Getting a graduate traineeship at Unilever is tough - 4,000 apply and are whittled down to just 250, who get two days of grilling before the company selects the lucky 50 who get a job. But the selection process must be working. The average length of stay for graduate entrants in most firms is three and a half years: at Unilever it's seven; many stay much longer. Neath ruefully pointed out he had been there man and boy - over 30 years. Apparently, staff retention boils down to three factors: variety, opportunity and flexibility. 'We grow you; you grow the business' is the Unilever mantra. More companies should adopt it.
Key moment: The disclosure that graduates regard the civil service as offering a highly attractive career.
Key lesson: Sticking to the advertised subject matter is not a bad policy.
Silver tongue or foot in mouth? ... Silver tongue.
- Khalid Aziz, a visiting professor of business communications at Southampton University, chairs the Aziz Corporation - firstname.lastname@example.org.