Transforming companies and giving back

26 May 2022

Jan Zijderveld with his Distinguished Alumni trophy in 2018.

When we last caught up with Distinguished Alumnus Jan Zijderveld in 2018, he was three months into the role of CEO for the global beauty brand Avon.

In what turned out to be a busy few years Jan gave the company a transformative makeover and today continues to generously share his leadership expertise with others.

Jan has an extensive leadership career that has taken him all over the world to work with diverse teams and audiences. After graduating with a Bachelor of Management Studies (BMS) from the University of Waikato, Jan took on a brand manager role at Unilever and worked his way up the company to join the executive board of unilever and become the President of Europe, a 14 billion euro business, based in the Netherlands.

Jan attributes his success to having a management style that has a clear end in mind, healthy performance culture while remaining people-oriented, skills which prepared him well to lead the iconic beauty brand, Avon in 2018.

“When I joined Avon the heart of the business was still relevant but it had lost its way,” says Jan.

Over two years, Jan and his team restructured the business, restored the brand, brought on new investors and digitalised the business to allow the six million women selling the products in 60 countries to thrive with their sales and livelihoods.

By the start of 2020, the share price of the company had declined from $45 from $2 in 2018, when Jan became the CEO. The rejuvenation of the core proposition and restoring the relevance of Avon to the network and consumers resulted in Avon being acquired by the Brazilian personal care cosmetic group, The Natura & Co Group.

Fast forward to 2022 and the London-based businessman has taken a different direction in his leadership career by putting his long list of expertise into action through a varied portfolio.

“I’m focused on directorships, working with start-ups, investing and working with private equities these days. I like sharing my learnings through mentoring and education while enjoying the European life."

Jan currently sits on the boards of the multinational jewellery company Pandora and one of the world’s largest food retail groups, Ahold Delhaize, who are at the forefront of sustainable retailing, a topic Jan is passionate about.

He believes that New Zealand should be a frontrunner in how we can feed the world in a more sustainable way. “If New Zealand, and in particular the Waikato region, continues to be such a large food exporter then we need to look at how to grow this industry in a more sustainable way, to ultimately feed Asia.”

Jan is sharing his knowledge in this space by collaborating with the Waikato Management School (WMS) and KPMG to advise on their inaugural Food and Fibre insight course.

Partnering with WMS has been a walk down memory lane for the Dutch native, who grew up in Kerikeri before moving to Hamilton to complete a BMS.

“My time at University gave me functional, leadership and people skills which gave me the ticket to a good job at Unilever, resulting in a 30-year career. I’m a firm believer that University gives you the basis, from there you can trampoline into your future.”

Jan fondly remembers living in Bryant Hall and the long-life friendships he made during his time there. “We played a lot of table tennis and pool in Bryant Hall. I’m still better at these sports than my kids, which is a huge win. These are the qualities that you take with you for the rest of your life.”

Jan was honoured to be awarded a University of Waikato Distinguished Alumni Award in 2018 and has continued to give back through lending his time and talent to the University.

“It makes me proud to be recognised by my University and to stay connected. The University had such a big impact on me and many other people, so I like to give back when I can."

He has partnered with the Institute for Management Development to develop a case study on the transformative process that he undertook at the helm of Avon. The Avon case study is used in several top business schools globally, including at the University of Waikato.

“I have seen so much, had insight into many different businesses and circumstances, that it’s nice to help other people in different places.”

So, what’s next for Jan?

“I’ll continue to unleash the energy in people to make things better.”

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