Power 100 2018: How Unilever's Aline Santos transformed seemingly mundane brands with powerful ideas

'For Aline, everything is personal. She's personally committed to helping make brands, teams and individuals succeed and will do whatever it takes to achieve this'.

A line once told me that seeing Sigourney Weaver’s character, Ripley, in Alien inspired her to believe women could succeed in any career they chose, even those dominated by men.

Not a bad role model!

And I know in the early days she needed much of Ripley’s determination to succeed in the more male-dominated world of Unilever Brazil. But I’m sure she managed the challenges with the same combination of charm and firmness of purpose that epitomise her approach today. She has a great story about discovering there were no ladies’ lavatories on the executive floor as there’d never previously been a need for them… an omission soon rectified. 

"Because, for Aline, everything is personal. She’s personally committed to helping make brands, teams and individuals succeed and will do whatever it takes to achieve this"

In her early career in personal care, she was part of the team that developed the "Real beauty" platform for Dove. We really got to know her when she moved to the world of home care to lead Unilever’s biggest laundry brand (variously known as Persil, Omo, Skip, Breeze, Surf Excel) around the world. A big job and an even bigger ambition: to create a powerful idea for an apparently mundane category that would have global appeal and local relevance – a quintessentially Unilever challenge.

Not the easiest of tasks but one that she succeeded in, gradually winning over the regions and markets to accept and eventually enthusiastically support the "Dirt is good" platform, which has driven success for the brand over the past 10 years and given us the opportunity to produce some of our best and most-awarded work.

She approached the task with her customary gusto. Spending a week with creative teams from around the world at a tropical island hot-house ("we’re not leaving until we’ve cracked it") was just one example of her journey to big ideas.

Because, for Aline, everything is personal. She’s personally committed to helping make brands, teams and individuals succeed and will do whatever it takes to achieve this.

And in her current role, she has carried forward that same personal commitment, energy and enthusiasm, whether leading the global diversity and inclusion agenda, the #Unstereotype Alliance, or the Foundry start-ups.

Women’s empowerment, children’s development, inclusion – all powerful, progressive and purposeful agendas. Much like Aline herself.

Aline is a great partner because fundamentally she is a woman of action. Above all, she does – she makes things happen. She may not always agree with us, but she’s always clear and always setting the bar high – with infinite passion and energy, whatever the task.

Aline has climbed the corporate ladder, avoiding the snakes. She’s built a billion-dollar brand with purpose at its heart. She’s embraced the challenges facing global marketers in a media fragmented world, with the aim of "using the power of communications responsibly to help shape culture in a progressive and stimulating way".

Above all, she remains curious, excited about ideas, committed to making a difference – all with infectious enthusiasm, and always with a smile.  


By Helen Bell, Chief operating officer for Unilever, MullenLowe Group

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