My Greyston Experience (by Aaron Bence | Unilever)
by Aaron Bence, Unilever
As a student attending the Robert H. Smith School of Business at The University of Maryland, College Park, where I double majored in Marketing and Supply Chain, I wanted to do just that: begin my career after graduation with a company that not only offered an experience that satisfied my desire to achieve business success and talent development, but also allowed me to discover my purpose, and create an impact that goes beyond profit. In the field of marketing where it is one’s role to promote a brands’ products while defining its reputation to customers and consumers, it is especially important to feel confident that all of your work is going towards something that you feel passionately about.
Throughout my time in school I frequently came across Unilever in marketing and supply chain courses, career fairs, campus recruiting events, and of course, through using many of their products on a regular basis. I had friends that shared their positive experiences with their supply chain co-op programs, and as a double major in Marketing and Supply Chain, Unilever was an ideal career fit as a Consumer Packaged Goods company due to their reputation, global scale, and development opportunities in both of these fields. While all of these factors played a role in placing Unilever into my consideration set for internship opportunities, it was their purpose driven brands, and Unilever Sustainability Living Plan (USLP), focused on “setting ambitious targets to decouple Unilever’s growth from its environmental impact, while increasing the company’s positive social impact” that drew me towards beginning my career with Unilever.
My Unilever journey began with an internship on the Unilever Media Team between my junior and senior year of school. Following the completion of the internship program, and college graduation, I joined Unilever full time as a part of the Unilever Future Leadership Program (UFLP) in Marketing and Customer Development. Throughout the rotational program I experienced roles as a Sales Analyst for the North East Division, Associate Brand Manager for Lipton and Pure Leaf, and as an Associate Regional Sales Manager for the Northern California Region. During the course of these roles I gained a tremendous amount of experience, knowledge, and development as I launched my career. I thoroughly enjoyed representing a purpose driven company with impactful brands; however, as I approached my final role within the UFLP, I sought after a role that would be more focused on the USLP, and more specifically, on creating a social impact through business.
This desire became a reality when I returned from Unilever’s Pleasanton, California office to the US headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey and was offered the opportunity for a role working with Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, NY. At the time, I was only aware of Greyston Bakery as the supplier of the delicious brownie inclusions that could be found in Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Half-Baked Ice Creams; however, after receiving a brief of the role, and intensely sifting through Greyston’s website and just about every media publication about Greyston, I knew that this opportunity is exactly what I was looking for. Following a meeting with Unilever’s Vice President of HR, Mike Clementi, and Greyston’s CEO, Mike Brady, I began my rotation working with Greyston.
Not unlike most people that are introduced to Greyston, I was shocked and amazed to discover that Greyston Bakery pioneered an Open Hiring model, defined as “hiring anyone willing to work—no questions asked” that has been used for over 35 years at their bakery that produces over 35,000 pounds of brownies a day! While I conducted a great deal of research into Greyston before starting my role, nothing can compare to my experience when I came to Yonkers and experienced Greyston’s Open Hiring model first hand. During my first week Greyston’s Community and Development Manager (and one of my favorite humans), Karen Tumelty, gave me a deep dive tour of Greyston Bakery, and The Center for Open Hiring, which resides in an 1855 historic home and former monastery. Karen even gave me a driving tour around Yonkers while presenting loads of historical information detailing the events that enabled Yonkers to be the community that it is today. The tour was given in a way that only someone born and raised in Yonkers, NY could deliver! While Open Hiring presents benefits to everyone engaged in the business, it was remarkable to hear how an opportunity to work at Greyston impacted the lives of team members like Dion, Alvin, and Lee, and their desire to help others that may have gone through similar situations. To entrench myself further into the Open Hiring model, and Greyston community, I met with the staff responsible for all of Greyston’s programs that include path making, workforce development, Issan House (35 units of supportive housing for formerly homeless community members living with HIV/AIDS), and Community Gardens in which Lucy Moreno-Casanova, Community Gardens Project Coordinator, took me to all of the nine different community gardens and shared the incredible work she does within the community of Yonkers.
Soon after beginning my rotation with Greyston, it became very clear to me that Greyston makes a huge impact within the community of Yonkers that all began in 1982 with their founder Bernie Glassman’s vision to provide opportunities to individuals facing barriers to employment. While Greyston has set the standard for inclusivity, and providing the wraparound services necessary to help individuals facing barriers succeed on the job, and in their community of Yonkers, a larger opportunity presented itself: to facilitate the widespread adoption of Open Hiring through The Center for Open Hiring at Greyston.
Building on the relationship between Greyston and Unilever that originated with the collaboration with Ben & Jerry’s, Unilever became a cornerstone partner to The Center for Open Hiring at Greyston, dedicated to supporting Greyston in their mission to “create thriving communities through the practice and promotion of Open Hiring”. This led to my rotation with Greyston where my primary responsibilities included: supporting the launch of The Center for Open Hiring at Greyston through establishing the strategy for The Business Advisory Council and Inclusive Human Capital Strategy Sessions, representing Unilever and Greyston by promoting The Center for Open Hiring, and the Open Hiring model while developing partnerships with other organizations in the inclusive hiring space, and helping to advance the approach for Unilever’s adaptation of Open Hiring, Values Led Hiring.
Throughout the rotation I got the opportunity to learn directly from Greyston’s Open Hiring model, while gaining the perspective of a B-Corp (Greyston was New York State’s first certified Benefit Corporation) whose profits go toward the Greyston Foundation’s 501(C)(3) social enterprise. At the same time I was able to see through the lens of a Unilever supplier, and similar to my retail rotation at the beginning of my rotational program, I got to see how Unilever’s execution and business impact goes far beyond the Unilever offices. As a representative of both Unilever and Greyston, I had the opportunity to share a unique perspective and connect with many other organizations already within the inclusive hiring space, as well as those looking to develop more inclusive business practices, through presenting in panels and webinars while participating in coalitions, convenings, meetings, workshop sessions, as well as events and engagements taking place at The Center for Open Hiring at Greyston. There wasn’t a day that I didn’t wake up energized, and excited to work with Greyston, and build relationships to help create a more inclusive workforce, and create an impact for individuals facing barriers to employment.
Open Hiring, as well as any adaptation of the model, can significantly impact lives while improving business practices going forward. In this current labor market where unemployment is at historically low levels, while individuals facing barriers to employment are still being excluded, and employees and consumers are demanding purpose driven businesses there is no better time to embrace inclusivity and social impact within human capital strategy. I am incredibly thankful that Unilever gave me the opportunity to have a role completely dedicated towards finding purpose within my work, and for Greyston embracing me, and making me feel like a part of the family. I hope that organizations of all sizes, and across all categories, can learn from Greyston’s Open Hiring Model and open the door toward inclusivity whether by starting small and looking to #FindOneJob, or fundamentally ground their human capital strategy in focusing resources toward creating opportunity and development rather than screening people out. As I transition onto my next role within Unilever, I will continue to build on my purpose, while leveraging all of the learnings I gained through my rotation with Greyston.
There are countless ways for an individual, or an organization, to learn through working closely with a pioneering social enterprise like Greyston. While it is difficult for me to simply summarize my experience this past year, some of my biggest takeaways include:
- Take advantage of the opportunity to give employees external experiences (whether through secondment programs, volunteering, or other forms of collaboration with partners and like-minded organizations) to allow them to gain perspective, and develop stronger relationships while learning new skills that will enable them to develop as team members.
- Embrace inclusivity throughout all levels of an organization. Focus on what is pertinent to a role, and spend time and resources on investing into employees rather than screening people out of opportunities.
- Be innovative, find something core to your business that can make a greater impact, and work passionately toward pioneering something that can achieve this impact.
- Develop stronger relationships with the community of your employees, and the community in which you operate, while partnering with community based organizations. Work towards allowing your employees to realize their full potential as team members at work, as well as members of the community.
- Embed purpose into your organizations’ mission statement, or personal development plan, and let it be a part of all business activities