Michaela Franeková


“Falling in love with STRATEGY towards purpose and SUSTAINABILITY”


Women in the top leadership positions still do not exceed 20% when it comes to international corporations in the Czech Republic. Meet Mrs. Michaela Franeková, general manager of Unilever for the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Michaela’s success was awarded by her repeated nomination at the TOP Women Entrepreneurs chart in the Czech Republic. Michaela joined Unilever 20 years ago. For almost two decades, while executing her managerial positions and duties, she has actively pursued the opportunity to change the world. What is her favorite purpose-driven brand? How does she view Generation Z? And what she is looking forward to?

How does it feel to be a woman in a man’s world?

I am sure you have heard the same answer from all women included in this special edition that is not how we perceive the situation. I feel like I am part of a leaders’ world. Since I have made my way up through the company I still tend to work with a high number of women, in terms of the women I either collaborate with or lead. I tend to approach diversity and inclusion in holistic way, rather than simple “men versus women”. I must admit that I was lucky as I had a chance to advance my career in Eastern Europe. We might perceive Eastern Europe as still lagging a bit behind Western Europe in terms of the percentage of women leaders being represented. I have never seen barriers I have always explored opportunities in terms of building my career, working with my network, or using connections. We, as women, need to learn these strategic skills, and then leadership comes naturally.

Let me turn to the topic of purpose-driven brands, which is close to your heart. Unilever is known for its famous campaigns. As a woman and a mother of a teenage daughter and son, I love the Dove campaign supporting ‘true beauty’. Hellman’s fights against food-waste and Czech favorite ice-cream Míša promotes trees planting. Which brand story is your favorite?

You picked the top ones. It is true that we have a lot of beautiful brands offering a lot of purposeful stories. I have fully embraced Unilever’s strategy towards purpose and sustainability, mainly thanks to Paul Pollman, who was a former CEO of Unilever and also worked with the United Nations to start fighting for the SDGs strategy. I love diversity, both culturally as well as natural biodiversity. I love to do free sports and admire untamed nature. Therefore, I believe it is important to lead for positive change.

The three brands – Dove, Hellman’s and Míša – that you have mentioned, are exceptional in terms of their longevity, consistency and heritage. It is amazing to see how each of these brands has grown and developed their purpose and impact.

You mentioned Dove. Is there a woman who would not love the Dove campaign? We all need to see natural beauty as a type of beauty that should be celebrated. This is true not only for women but also for men. Be yourself, love yourself, and respect yourself for who you are, and what you will achieve is the right way people should be looking at each other. The campaign has evolved and gained importance, especially when taking into consideration the role social media plays nowadays. This is one of the reasons why this year‘s Dove campaign focused on the distorted reality of social networks, which is often presented there. A survey conducted by Dove among young girls found that 12-year-old girls have been using various filters and applications to edit their photos on social networks, and that many young girls are negatively affected by how others rate them there. Education and showing the reality (of these images) is important at an early age. Our educational and interactive programs especially focus on school children, but also publicly show and explain this phenomenon.

Moreover, Dove has been fighting against animal testing for a long time. Lastly, it was also one of the first brands that completely switched to PCR (post-consumer resin) packaging.

Now let us turn to Hellman’s. How did you come up with the idea to link this brand with the food waste campaign?

Is there anyone who grew up in the Czech Republic and Slovakia and does not like Hellman’s? As a leading brand on the market for the dressings category, it also promotes sustainability. Next to sustainably sourced oil, we push for free-range eggs, and advocate for animal welfare. Fighting against food waste was a very clever choice,astheproductupliftsanytaste-whodoesnot love a bit of mayo or tartar sauce on their food? Even though we are not in a part of the world that suffers from hunger, food waste is simply not fair. More than 40% of ood waste happens in households. So not only do we donate many products to food banks, but we inspire positive changes overall. I believe that all big brands should bring about such inspiration. For the second year in a row, together with Tesco, we have prepared a Christmas salad from the food that would have gone to waste and donated it to the People in Need Foundation. This is such a nice experience for all of our employees who are involved. As the cost of the food will be increasing, people will start valuing (the cause of reducing food waste) more and more. Food is too good to be wasted. Therefore, we care about food waste, following the full end-to-end food journey from sourcing to production to selling finishing by inspiring consumers to join us when consuming (the food) at home.

Are there any new brands with interesting stories coming to the Czech Republic? Any news to share with Czech and Slovak Magazine readers?

I am very passionate about introducing products from The Vegetarian Butcher to the (Czech and Slovak) market. We only introduced this brand two years ago when we acquired the Dutch company so we are still building the awareness for it. It is a meat replacement, a plant-based meat alternative. Again, I fell in love with the story – Jaap Korteweg, founder of the Vegetarian Butcher brand, grew up in a family of traditional pig farmers. When pig flu affected the farms, all the pigs had to be slaughtered. What a waste of so many animal lives. As he was a heavy meat eater and a meat lover, he started exploring the alternatives. With the brand slogan “Sacrifice Nothing”, he wanted to create vegetarian meat that would provide the same taste experience, and the same structure, while creating more balance for the planet. Food shortage, alongside climate change, highlights the importance of a more sustainable diet, and I am proud that Czech and Slovak consumers are among the first ones from the Eastern European region to find these products on the shelves.

The young generation is much more cautious about trends, global impact, and climate change. We have had fierce discussions with our daughter about the agreement with Poland regarding the Turow mine. While my husband and I see it as reasonable, she claims you cannot sell the climate for money. How do you view the next generation, Gen Z?

They are fantastic. I generally love working with young people. I also love working with people I learn from, and they have given me a lot of knowledge and experience. Right now, we are living in a time where reverse mentoring is becoming even more important, (especially) when it comes to digital technologies and their consumption. The big difference I see with Gen Z is in regards to access to information, understanding global triggers, and understanding the global climate impact. The opportunities available to them, in terms of travelling, and their insight due to access to information, are very different. They are great challengers; they bring with them a lot of inspiration and they are very hungry to apply what is working on the other side of the planet. They are shaping the future and have great accountability. As you mentioned, they will never trade their values for money.

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

I am a very optimistic person; I tend to look at everything as glass half full. I am also very progressive, I embrace change. Leaving sustainability aside, I think that we are facing a new period. Not only as a society, but also as businesses. I am looking forward to new inventions. And they always come. When we are under such tremendous pressure as we are in business; such as people engagement, people retention, or people collaboration; I expect new inventions in those areas. When you are pushed to the wall, you always come up with new ideas, new models, or new ways of functioning. I look forward to exploring these. And I believe that we are changing for the better.

Text: Linda Štucbartová; Photo: Archive