Cristina Connections
Linking Life To Its Promise
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 VOL. 6
After Katrina - Technology Lifelines @Work
Interview with Dan Gizzo - Vice President of IT Services Unilever, IT Americas


Dan Gizzo.

Unilever is a multi-local multinational corporation working in 100 countries, with a line of over 400 brands of home, personal care, and food products.  Unilever's mission is to add vitality to life. They meet everyday needs for nutrition, hygiene and personal care with brands that help people feel, look and get more out of life.

Their activities within the community link to this last piece - helping people to get more out of life. This is most apparent in the relationship that Unilever has with the Boys & Girls Clubs because their goal is to help these children reach their full potential. They accomplish this in many different ways, depending on the needs of the club and the kids. For instance, it might mean helping to beautify the environment so it's inviting and more conducive to learning and fun. It could be providing funding to hire a drama or art teacher. It could be mentoring a group of kids who would not otherwise receive the guidance they need in their home. Or, as was accomplished in a recent partnership with Dell, British Telecom, and the National Cristina Foundation, it could mean taking part in a computer donation so that children have access to all of the tools and opportunities that technology affords.

New computer lab at New Orleans area Boys & Girls Clubs

NCF: Dan, thank you for meeting with us today. It was a pleasure working with your team to assure that the computer technology that Unilever donated to the National Cristina Foundation was going to make a difference for Boys and Girls Clubs in New Orleans.

This special project that we worked on with your team at Unilever was in coordination with our partnership with Dell’s business asset recovery services and with Unilever and its asset disposal agendas.  As you know, we have been helping Unilever for a number of years now with its equipment donation program.  We wanted our readers to learn more about you and your special role as VP of IT Services Unilever, IT Americas.

DG: Whether it’s computers, network, telephones, video conferencing, Internet, it doesn’t matter.  I deliver all those services with my team.

NCF: So you manage both the acquisition of the new products that are required and then the asset management disposal issues that are part of dealing with the life cycle of Unilever equipment.

DG: Yes, I am responsible for the whole range, the product itself and the services that wrap around it.  That is what I do.

DG: I help coordinate and find opportunities for my team in Unilever to reach out to the community to practice our vitality mission.  It is our goal through this mission to bring vitality to communities and make things better for people who use our products. 

Currently, at Unilever we are going through a big technology upgrade.  We thought it would be great to take this opportunity to share the previously used computers with different organizations and projects.  Refurbished technology resulting out of our upgrade program would really help the communities we relate to.

The company as a whole in North America does a lot of work with the Boys and Girls Clubs. Here I believed would be a really good opportunity to pull resources together and help the kids in New Orleans where Hurricane Katrina had caused so much damage. Part of my work is to look for such opportunities.  So, as in other upgrade projects, we identify who the players need to be.  My partners, in this case Dell and British Telecom, as part of the team and were part of the effort. We also put time, money and energy into the same cause. Everybody loves it. They like working together and making positive things happen.

NCF:  What did your IT team think about the challenge you presented them with?

DG: My team thought it was great.  Shannon has nothing but good things to say about everyone she worked with. It helped to add a structure to the process. What tends to happen, on our first go round as we review the tasks to be accomplished, we’ll say what do you need and then coming down to some practical deliverables that we think we really can do. That is where it helps to structure where the requests come in and then how we fill those requests.

NCF: As you know, we work closely with Dell as a donation partner.  How did they get involved with this process with you?

DG: For Unilever I brought Dell in and signed the first contract with them to provide services. I started the relationship with Dell in North America and I serve as Unilever’s Executive Council Member with Dell and their Board.  I told Michael Dell about our ideas and also to other execs at Dell.  I brought the idea to them and said “hey would you support me if I was doing this?”  And they were more than willing to step up and help us out. 

That’s how we actually started the Dell relationship and it’s the same way with British Telecom.  BT does all our networking, we have a global contract with them but we said, “You know if we’re really going to be partners, you have to be like one of our team.  To do that you have to participate in our community activities and you have to help support the activities, the projects that we’re doing.”  I’ve never met an exec who would turn me down.

NCF: We could see why.

DG: Well I just sell them on it.  It’s good business for them.

NCF: We say that too, interestingly enough. You are right. It is good business not to waste perfectly good technology that can go into another area of use focused in a way that can have a specific positive impact on a community.

DG: Here in North America, we formally say to the employees “please, do community service, get involved with the community and that counts as regular work days.”  Everybody is actually allocated so many days where they can do the community service.  In my team there’s no limit on that.  It makes you feel so good.  And if you ask any of them, that’s what they’re going to tell you.

NCF: So the integration with the vitality mission that you have been describing now is literally the implementation of that mission in the larger community as a very important core value that Unilever has in the spirit of it’s company and it’s thoughts about social responsibility.

DG: It is extremely strong.  I think it’s what sets certain companies apart.  And with us here I have a great group of people.  It’s like a grass roots movement.  They go out and do what all of believe to be important.  The most important thing to me is that actually the way for us to bring to real life a corporate mission is through our volunteering and our time.   There are so many ways you can connect our employees and our selves with the community who in the end buys our products.  It’s the reason we’re here.  So let us make it a great opportunity to make that really come to life. That is really important to me.

NCF: We appreciate very much that you’re there Dan and we look forward to continue to work with you on other projects.  To give vitality to life is NCF’s task as well.   Honoring abilities, making sure people can achieve all what they can be, that’s an important dimension for all of us. We are so pleased that Unilever works with us to help us also express that to the world at large.

DG: Excellent.

Unilever adds vitality to life after Katrina

NCF: As you know, recently we worked as part of a team with Unilever, Dell and British Telecom to assure that a large Unilever donation of computers   provided to the National Cristina Foundation was integrated into Boys and Girls Clubs in New Orleans.  We were so impressed with the work Unilever coordinated on behalf of the young people who had survived Hurricane Katrina that we wanted to share the role of Unilever’s leadership in this important project.

Tyrik McGaffie and Ariel Johnson at the Slidell Boys and Girls Club

SHANNON: Unilever has large national partnerships.  We have three especially large ones — one with the Boys and Girls Clubs throughout North America.  This program with the Boys and Girls Clubs is a real natural connection for us both in coordination with our overall community outreach programs and more specifically with Unilever’s Vitality Mission.

NCF: How are you as a Unilever employee a representative of the Vitality Mission?

SHANNON: Part of our corporate mission is that we help people look good, feel good and get the most out of life.  Vitality is a big part of that.  It’s not only helping make people look good and feel good, but it also creates a vital workplace where people are proud to live.  We are representatives in the communities where we work and live.  So Unilever is their corporate responsibility and their social responsibility represented in their local communities.

NCF: You could really see this in action it at the Boys and Girls Club in Bridgeport, CT during the community Thanksgiving gathering.  Unilever didn’t just show up to serve turkey.  It was clear when we visited this event that everyone was very connected.

SHANNON: We reach out into our different communities and here you saw our partnership with the Bridgeport Boys and Girls Club.  Despite the differences that depend on local community needs, the basis of our approach is the same: volunteers help to connect with the clubs.  In Bridgeport, we have worked very closely with them over the past year and a half to identify their needs, not only to help them financially but through volunteerism and developing and supporting programs—such as the Thanksgiving Meal.

NCF: Unilever is a very wonderful example of corporate social responsibility in action.  We know that when people work together, certain core values are essential for rich programs to emerge out of these common core values.

Unilever Team. From left to right: Al Vega (Unilever), Vito Gliemeli (BT), Scott Wiggin (BT), and Unilever staff Rosetta Howell, Scott Schacht, Wendy Shima, Pete Debona, and Lori Hudnall.

SHANNON: It’s been a great partnership effort between Dell, the National Cristina Foundation, and British Telecom (BT) in a lot of different areas. Through this partnership, we were able to provide technology, not only for Louisiana but several other locations across North America. It’s been an ongoing effort over the past year and we’ve really accomplished a lot.  Just the computer phase alone has been tremendous.

NCF: We were so pleased we could collaborate together to help children affected by Hurricane Katrina at a very critical time in their lives in New Orleans.

SHANNON: As you know, our work together started as an immediate response to the devastation from Hurricane Katrina combined with our ongoing support of the Boys and Girls Clubs. We were in the middle of a technology upgrade as part of our Odyssey project, which provided all new equipment to all of our users across North America.

As people turned in all their old equipment, they received upgrades of new Dell machines.  Through Laura MacCafferty, our manager of corporate communication and community relations, and Dan Gizzo,  our VP of IT Services Unilever, IT Americas, we received a message that there was something that we could do with our old equipment to assist our partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs in Louisiana.  As a result of that, Dan talked to Vito Fabiano, a Dell V.P., and they came to me with the idea and how they would help support it, but asked me to make it happen.  So we did.

NCF: So you were the team chosen to do the job!


Unilever adding vitality to life after Katrina.

SHANNON: We kicked off a team immediately by working internally with Dell. Through the team we learned about the donation partnership that Dell has with the National Cristina Foundation.  We worked closely with the on-site project teams here who were handling the upgrades.  The first step was to go back to the Boys and Girls Club of Louisiana and say, “ok what have you lost and what do you need?”   NCF was very helpful with that process because we just directed the clubs to fill out your online grant application.  We had a preliminary inventory of what the clubs had lost, which was a good starting point. We then worked through NCF’s on-line application process.

From there, we identified the different partnerships and what we needed and began putting together the different pieces. This partnership all came together: British Telecom for the networking needs; the National Cristina Foundation identified and shipped from other donor sources 120 monitors we needed to find to link with the CPUs coming out of Unilever locations.  You worked through your relationship with United Recycling Industries to get the keyboards, mice, cords, and speakers. And importantly, the Dell association (we could not do this without them and your relationship with Dell’s Asset Recovery Services) helped us with the disposition of our older equipment. Our goal was to take the used technology out of the original locations and then ship it to Louisiana. Dell addressed the logistics in coordination with NCF and made sure to get the equipment to the sites in Louisiana that would be getting the equipment.

NCF: We were excited to learn that Unilever would also be actually sending people down there, as well.

SHANNON: Once we talked to Bobby Lee Smith at the Boys and Girls Club in Louisiana, it became painfully obvious that they needed assistance.  They needed to rebuild, but they also did not have a technology staff in place to be able to set up the equipment.  So we immediately identified that need and went back to our leadership and said, “hey, you know this is great and wonderful that we’ve delivered the equipment but we need to follow through and help them get it set up.  We also need to provide the resources to do that.” They immediately agreed.

There were a lot of different layers to this project.  The execs that were responsible for the project were Unilever’s Dan Gizzo and Dell’s Vito Fabiano.  They were the executive champions.  Then there was the next layer that secured the equipment, followed by the group that actually did the deployment and the set up.

I went down in February or March, 2006 which is when the equipment was delivered.  That was when we did the initial site assessment and when the Boys and Girls Clubs in New Orleans asked us directly for assistance in getting these computers up and running.

NCF:  So what did your trip involve?

Unilever adding vitality to life after Katrina.

SHANNON:  My trip was the initial site assessment. We also had a technical resource group that came down, too. We actually walked the locations, checked out the equipment, although, obviously, we did not unpack the equipment. During the assessment, we helped develop a plan of what we could do, and then came back and submitted a proposal of how we could help to get them up and running and what was a realistic role for Unilever and our partners to take on.  This whole process was managed by Dan Gizzo.

NCF: What was your personal experience and your impression of the situation in New Orleans?

SHANNON:  At the time that I went it was a very overwhelming experience.  It was six months after the hurricane and the mainstream media had kind of quieted down. I suppose in my own mind, I expected to see a lot of progress, like rebuilding in action. We thought we would get down there and be able to have these clubs rebuilt before the kids got out of school for the summer.  And what we found was quite to the contrary.

It was strangely vacant everywhere we went. It was very quiet.  Almost eerie.  You really felt like you had just come in after a war.  It was very overwhelming.  You felt a tremendous sense of “what can I do to help them get up and going?”  To get people back to what they do.  And of course clubs who had served so many kids were now in crisis mode and trying to develop programs to take inventory of how many of their people even were there anymore?

I was happy to come back and be able to deliver the message about the importance of our follow through based on what we saw.

NCF: Who did you meet with and interview while you were on site?

SHANNON: We met mostly with Bobby Lee Smith, who is the Chief Professional Officer (CPO) of the Boys and Girls Club responsible for all of the clubs within the Southeast Louisiana network. 

NCF: The interesting part about that is he had just taken the job in August a couple of weeks before the hurricanes hit.

SHANNON: Yes.  And bless his heart! He not only is in the business of serving kids, but was suddenly thrown into an arena of politics and getting building inspectors to show up to figure out how to rebuild all of his sites.

NCF: We understand you identified four of the clubs to provide help to when you went down there in November.

Unilever staff and kids at the Boys & Girls Club
in Slidell, Louisiana

PETE: We helped out with the clubs in West Bank, Slidell and Covington.  Though we didn’t actually get to go to Poma because of some local challenges with the parish, we did build and leave in place that equipment ready to be deployed. All they needed to do was move it to that facility and plug it in.

NCF: There are so many elements here that are rich to think about in your process of team building and what it means to take leadership and to coordinate a process.  Not a small challenge. It seems that Unilever and the employees representing the firm served as a unifying influence in pulling the critical elements of what would make a successful outcome.

PETE: Shannon’s efforts prior to me taking over the on-the-ground activities laid the perfect foundation for what we did and made it easy.

NCF: Pete, what was your impression of the situation and the environment once you arrived?

PETE: When Scott and I went in September, I mean while there were no more boats in the middle of the roads and no more large piles of garbage, I still had the same impression of the city and the surrounding areas I had after my first visit.  It was vacant and there was nobody there.  It’s very quiet, a lot of businesses have not come back.  You drive on the highway and you still see blocks and blocks of homes and condominiums where you can see blown out windows and no one living there.  Every once in a while you see a FEMA trailer but there’s no one there–there’s just no one there. We returned to deploy the equipment in November.

NCF: Did you see any notable changes between September and November?

PETE: No, it didn’t really look that much different. It didn’t seem like there was any new areas of construction. 

NCF: What about the children who attended these clubs?  Had their families remained in the area?  Were any of them returnees?

PETE: I don’t know what their personal situations are.  If I had to guess, these are the people that couldn’t afford to leave and had no where else to go.  The Boys and Girls Club sites are in lower economic areas and they’re desperately needed for these children.

NCF: What was your impression of the children and the impact that the disaster had on them?

Unilever adding vitality to life after Katrina.

WENDY: We were actually lucky enough to be at the Slidell site—the one site that had been rebuilt to the most completion of any that we visited. We were there on Election Day, which meant that the kids were off school and at the Club.  A couple of the kids asked me if these computers would have internet access.  We said yes, but let them know that they would not be able to go anywhere they weren’t supposed to!  You could definitely tell they felt extremely grateful that they were getting all this equipment.
The homework time at all of these spots is extremely important since they had been without computers since the hurricanes. They just couldn’t wait to get them up and running again.

NCF:  What type of impact did this experience leave on you? 

PETE: I was very proud to be asked to lead the opportunity to go down there and do this.  I initially had volunteered to just be part of the team.  Then Shannon gave me the good news that I was going to lead the effort!  I was honored to be asked to take the lead.

WENDY: After a big impact activity like our hurricane relief efforts, it just makes you want to do more.  It makes you want to keep volunteering.

NCF: Your team process and the roll that you played in representing Unilever the way that you did was a very important contribution to this recovery effort.  Please tell us about your collaboration with British Telecom and how you worked together with them on site?

PETE:  Scott Wiggins was my lead network guy down there.  He works on site here at Unilever, although he’s a BT employee.  We went down for the second evaluation in September and after two days, we came back with a plan.  We quickly assembled the team and blew out the plans a little bit further.  Scott came again in November with me to do the final evaluations and then we both went down with our team of six other people to complete the project.

NCF: Take us through your assessment process.

Unilever adding vitality to life after Katrina.

PETE:  When Scott and I went down there for the site assessments we looked at each site from the prospective of network connectivity.  We had to decide whether it would be a LAN cable environment or if it was going to be wireless environment.  Who was the local service provider?  Where would that wire come into the facility?  How far of a run was it going to be?  What kind of equipment would we need to enhance that?  Then we viewed it from a desktop perspective for the machines.  We looked at the room configuration.  What would be the best set up?  How many computers could fit realistically?   

Then taking this information and coordinating it with the wishes of the local director on what they wanted and what their vision was for the children, we developed a diagram of how the room would be set up.  We had an equipment plan and when we came back to Trumbull, CT, we shared it with the rest of team.

WENDY:  As soon as Scott and Pete got back they were able to share the logistics of where the team would be going; what we would be doing; when we would unload the equipment. It was an amazing combined team effort.  We have some people who were familiar with physically putting the machines together and putting the software on them.  We had other people who were cabling experts and others people who were troubleshooting experts.  It really was a combined effort with everyone having important input.

NCF: In disaster situations, the role of large corporations can be especially critical.  Given Unilever’s size and scope, you already had solid support and structure in place to assist in the planning and assessment. You were able to assess the situation; determine the configurations; and evaluate the logistics.  This kind of scale and capacity is very critical in a recovery situation given the disorder that disasters create.

WENDY: This was particularly apparent when we were down there and I’m sure Pete can attest to how absolutely buried Bobby Lee is.  He’s got open positions for directors at several sites.  His phone is constantly ringing and you’re absolutely right, it’s almost like he doesn’t even know where to start because there’s so much to do. 

NCF: People who want to help need to remember this important phase of the process.  That external support from people outside of the disaster zone can provide critical assistance to a community in crisis.

Unilever adding vitality to life after Katrina.

PETE: We had to keep in mind that this non-profit organization had a huge list of all they needed to do for the children, all the while, trying to make preparations for us to come down there.  I made it very simple. I laid it out very clearly and I gently checked in with them every other week to make sure that progress was being made. As long as they told me that it was I didn’t press.  I didn’t ask for confirmation.  Just as long as they told me things were moving in the right direction, I would say, “great, have a good day, I’ll talk to you next week.”

WENDY:  When we got there, Bobby Lee and Denise gave us the key to the warehouse and we got to work.  At the West Bank site, there was one small room where we set up computers, although the entire site was still in the process of being rebuilt.  It wasn’t finished.  There was no running water and just a small bathroom with no light.  They were still really in rebuild mode at one of the sites and they hoped to have it up and running for the first of the year.  That’s probably very optimistic from the state that it was in when we were there.  Again this is a testament of how difficult it’s been for them to coordinate and organize the rebuilding process.  It really was overwhelming.

NCF: One of the things I need to say is that each organization that became involved brought with them their own structure, which was then applied to the collective team approach. Whether it was Dell, the National Cristina Foundation, Unilever, British Telecom, the Boys and Girls Clubs, everyone has a process and focusing on that process provided structure to the situation. 

Wendy/Pete:  Definitely, agreed.

Unilever adding vitality to life after Katrina.

NCF: We’ve interviewed other groups that we’ve worked with in the Gulf States and that are involved in hurricane recovery efforts.  It seems that the challenges faced by those Boys and Girls Clubs network is very representative, I would assume, of all the other challenges faced by local schools and businesses and families. The rebuilding plan has to be very long term.

It seems that the rest of the country has moved on—not necessarily remembering the issues that people in Mississippi and Louisiana are facing right now and they’ll continue to face.

PETE: This will all be going on for a while. One day, when we were traveling to one of the sites, we went by an area that was a collection point for items that people need.  There was still a line of cars waiting to go through this area that I bet was a half a mile long.  There are people there that are still desperate for the things to get through life every day.  It’s nowhere near over for a lot of folks.

NCF: The work you accomplished in New Orleans graphically demonstrated what Unilever stands for through its mission to bring vitality to communities-- corporate responsibility at its shining best. Your work at coordinating the effective integration of the equipment was critical and very inspiring.  It was a privilege to work with you.

PETE: You’re welcome.

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