Case Study

Unilever International 3.0: Scaling the white spaces venturing effort

21 pages
August 2020
Reference: IMD-7-2171

By 2020, Umesh Shah could rightly be proud of what he and his team had accomplished over the last eight years to capture white space consumers, i.e. those consumers that Unilever operating units had progressively labelled non-core or new groups created by emerging megatrends, such as globalization and digitalization. Unilever International (UI) was created with the mandate to create the capabilities to reach out to these consumers and (re)capture them for the Group. It quickly proved its case when it doubled the turnover it had inherited in less than four years. In a second phase, it doubled it again, reaching a turnover of €1 billion in 2019, ahead of plans. UI’s strong performance was acknowledged within Unilever when it won the prestigious Unilever Global Compass Award in 2019. UI was now preparing to embark on the next phase of its journey, labelled UI 3.0, with the goal of again doubling its turnover to €2 billion. Three areas were singled out for attention: (1) making a strong business case for the market potential; (2) building the capabilities to scale by investing further in digital marketing and the partner network; and (3) maintaining and even enhancing the unit’s entrepreneurial culture, ensuring motivation and proper compensation for its intrapreneurs. Getting to €1 billion in sales had not been easy but doubling it again would increase UI’s complexity by an order of magnitude. How could UI keep pace and remain entrepreneurial while at the same time maintaining its strong governance and control systems? Maintaining double digit annual growth would require focusing on ever-larger opportunities and their inherent complexities, and placing larger bets, some of which would definitely fail. Was UI ready to cope with larger failures? And what about the Unilever mothership? It relished the unit’s success, but would it still be there in difficult times? Umesh knew that UI’s past achievements only earned it additional runway; he and his colleagues could not be complacent about the journey ahead. New opportunities meant new and larger problems, so new solutions had to be engineered to keep delivering above expectations. Navigating these new and possibly rougher seas would require better speedboats…

Learning Objective
  • Scaling up a white spaces corporate venturing efforts
  • Organizational structures supporting venturing
  • Managing internal entrepreneurs
  • Incentives
  • Managing corporate politics
  • Developing venturing processes
  • Recruiting and retaining intrapreneurial talent
Corporate Venturing, Entrepreneurial Leadership, Intrapreneurship, Digital, Multichannel Retailing, Multichannel Strategy, Omnichannel, Disruptive Business Model, Agility, Pivoting, Business Model, Emerging Market, Retail, Fast-moving Consumer Goods, Corporate Culture, Change Management, Customer Engagement, Growth Strategy
Unilever, Consumer Goods
Field Research
© 2020
Available Languages
Case clearing houses
IMD case studies are distributed through case clearing houses. In order to browse the collection and purchase copies please visit the links below.

The Case Centre

Cranfield University

Wharley End Beds MK43 0JR, UK
Tel +44 (0)1234 750903
Email [email protected]

Harvard Business School Publishing

60 Harvard Way, Boston MA 02163, USA
Tel (800) 545-7685 Tel (617)-783-7600
Fax (617) 783-7666
Email [email protected]

Asia Pacific Case Center

NUCB Business School

1-3-1 Nishiki Naka
Nagoya Aichi, Japan 460-0003
Tel +81 52 20 38 111
Email [email protected]


Research Information & Knowledge Hub for additional information on IMD publications

Discover our latest research
IMD's faculty and research teams publish articles, case studies, books and reports on a wide range of topics