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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 May, 2004, 07:30 GMT 08:30 UK
Don't just grin and bear it
Unilever chief Niall Fitzgerald
Mt Fitzgerald made sure he followed a career he enjoyed

Unilever's Niall Fitzgerald began his career at the company in 1967.

Twenty years later he was named a director and became joint chairman and chief executive in 1996.

He is now set to leave the consumer goods group in September to become chairman of media company Reuters.

What was your first car?

It was a Fiat 850, a tiny car with the engine in the back. It was blue and cost 550 Irish pounds, which was almost a full year's salary for me.

For six months it was washed enthusiastically three times a week, and thereafter not at all.

What was your first job - and how much were you paid?

My first paid job was working during my school holidays in the Shannon Foundry in Limerick in Ireland, for IR£5 per week.

I was awe-struck by the vast sums being earned by others, such as the senior foreman who received IR£40 per week.

What type of house did you first own?

My first house was a three-bed semi in Saundersted, Surrey, which I bought for £15,500, £14,500 of which I had to borrow.

That was in 1971 - for years thereafter I was over-stretched financially.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

My mother, and Nelson Mandela. Both of whom care without pre-conditions.

What's the best bit of business advice you've had?

My mother gave me two pieces of advice that I've stuck by.

The first was to make sure that whatever career I followed, only to do things I enjoyed - I'm useless at things I don't enjoy.

The second was to try to learn to disagree without being disagreeable. I'm not sure whether I've succeeded with this one, or not!

What was the proudest moment of your career?

I think my proudest moments have been those times when I've gritted my teeth and recovered from failure - and there have been quite a few of them.

Unilever logo
Originally called Lever Brothers, the firm was founded in 1885 and changed its name to Unilever in 1929 when it merged with Dutch firm Margarine Unie.

It now employs 247,000 people worldwide - and its brands include Dove soap, Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Hellmann's.


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