When we last caught up with aspiring marketing professional Ajay Pfister, he was interning at L’Oréal. He has since made a sideways switch to Unilever, where he is now completing an internship. In his latest interview with Dreams Abroad‘s director and founder Leesa Truesdell, Ajay talks about business role models, lessons learned, and the future.
You began your internship at Unilever in February. How are you finding it so far?”
I started as the International Marketing Intern at Knorr in February. A month on, I can confidently say that I feel at home. After all, Unilever takes good care of its interns. The beginning of my internship was incredibly interactive. I got the opportunity to be part of the Knorr ideation sessions, a workshop in which new innovations are created for the next few years.
How does it compare to your L’Oréal internship?”
L’Oréal and Unilever are in many ways comparable. For example, they are both on the frontline of the FMCG world. However, I must admit that my internship at Unilever feels very different from my time at L’Oréal.
From the first day Unilever took me on board, I have been surrounded by a warm group of cosmopolitans. That is also reflected back in the scope of the business. My office operates on an international scale which exposes me to professionals from all over the globe. Besides, since I am operating from the headquarters of Unilever, I get more freedom to lead my own international projects, which is such a rewarding feeling.
What’s next for Ajay?”
COVID-19 has had a big impact on all of us, and it makes what comes in the future less certain. Nonetheless, I am led by my goals. One of those goals is to write my thesis research at an NGO such as UNICEF or the United Nations.
Another goal is to continue volunteering. That is why I plan to spend my spare time in the summer working for free. I’d like to volunteer at the UEFA EURO 2020 in Amsterdam and potentially in London. In the longer term, I am looking into pursuing a master’s in International Marketing and/or International Business.
Who do you look up to in the business community?”
I never really had one specific idol that inspired me, because I always felt driven by self-motivation. If I had to pick someone that had an influence on me, I would say my dad. He moved to the Netherlands when he was my age with nothing but a dream. Almost 30 years later, he owns a successful business. His company, Paul’s Indian Restaurant, is soon to be expanded in the Netherlands.
What is the important lesson you have learned about the world of marketing?”
When you get into the world of marketing there are many philosophies and theories that you will be exposed to. In the beginning, I tried to learn and apply all of them. At some point, I realised that in the world of marketing you are dealing with trends.
For example, in 2012, Apple’s iPad experienced a huge increase which made the marketing world move into making their products tablet-friendly. Almost nine years later tablets obviously still exist, but we are turning back to our PCs and smartphones.
How much does working for a multinational company lessen the impact of the pandemic?”
There is no way to escape the consequences of the pandemic. However, what really helps me lessen the impact is to stay in close contact with the people in my team. Since my co-workers are based all over the globe, it feels a little like I am escaping my room to travel the world for a short moment. I get to experience all sorts of cultures that bring an extra element to my day. At the same time, I get the social aspect that many of us crave.
If you could work in any country in the world after finishing your studies, where would it be and why?”
Some days the world feels too small for me, while other days I feel like I have everything in the Netherlands. Though, if I get the opportunity, I want to work at the UNICEF office on the Ivory Coast one day. I’ll hopefully pursue a career in the nonprofit industry. Although there are various offices in the West, I believe the best way to make an impact is to be where the action happens.”
How important are languages in the business universe?”
“I myself speak English and Dutch fluently and have some understanding of German. At my previous internships at Ticketmaster and L’Oréal, speaking English was beneficial, but not necessary since I was based in the Dutch office. Dutch people are quite adaptive when it comes to business communications.
Though, I must say that at the Unilever HQ it is quite the contrary. We communicate with each other in English, even though some of the employees are able to speak Dutch.
So, the relevance of languages in the business world depends on the circumstances you are in. From my experience, I would say that being able to speak English fluently is almost vital to succeed within an international company, and if you are able to speak a second or even a third language it surely increases the likeliness you excel in the business world. It does not only help you understand your local market better but more importantly, you probably have to deal with employees from the host country. Being able to speak the same language as your peers will make it easier to work together, and the chance is higher that you bond with fellow teammates.”
What about communication? How are you doing this most effectively at Unilever?”
“Since my internship at Unilever is remote, I communicate with my team through Microsoft Teams. Of course, Unilever is looking into other ways to communicate, but for now, there is no other alternative.
To stay engaged, I schedule a coffee with someone outside my team every single day of the week. Besides this, I catch up with my supervisor every other day to add a social aspect to my internship, and to streamline the goals for the coming period.”
What advice would you give to someone looking to secure an internship?”
“I remember how much I struggled to receive my first marketing internship. I was inexperienced, and because of that, no company wanted to schedule an internship interview with me.
It was only when I started calling employees of businesses that I got a chance to introduce myself. Of course, you shouldn’t just cold call every person you find, but my advice would be to think about what your strengths are, and when you know that, give that little extra.
For example, approach a manager of company X via LinkedIn. In most cases, they will appreciate that, since it shows that you have a proactive attitude and that you are dedicated to work hard for your dreams. ”
Ajay is completing a bachelor’s degree in International Business at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences while working at his internship with Unilever. He would like to enter the world of IGOs when he finishes. Could a career in the UN be on the horizon for Ajay? He aspires to apply his business training to the world of sustainable energy.