In our 2021 issue, we’re shining the light on several amazing Leading Ladies.
Vice President, Customer Development, Unilever – Walmart Consumables
Christine Wilburn is from the small town of Vandalia, Missouri, where she was instilled with values such as strong sense of community and hard work. After living in multiple Midwestern cities such as Chicago, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis, she found Northwest Arkansas to be “home” and simply the best place to raise a family as it has so much to offer while still maintaining a small community vibe. She lived in NWA for nearly eight years from 2008-2015, moved to Cincinnati, and then jumped at the opportunity to come back to NWA with Unilever. Her husband, Mark, is assistant principal and coach at St. Joseph Catholic School, and they have four children: Madeline, Ella, Audrey and Noah.
B.S. Agribusiness Management, University of Missouri
Best part of your job:
I love that every day is challenging and unique, and I find that I am constantly learning. I also get so much energy from a team environment focused on a common goal, which is the spirit of how we work in the supplier community.
Did you always know what you wanted to do?
I like to say that a career in sales is everything I never knew I always wanted. I was planning to go to law school when I was recruited by P&G for an internship, and I fell in love with the work – corporate culture, ownership of a business, partnering with retailers for growth and leading a team. I also saw that so many women were able to have the career of their dreams while also having the personal life of their dreams, such as being a great mom, wife and community member.
Have you stayed on a straight path to your career goal?
My goal posts have evolved as my career has progressed. When I was in my first role as an account manager, I remember thinking that my boss’s boss had the best job and family life in the world, and that became my goal. When I achieved that level in a few years, I again thought my boss’s boss had the best job in the world and set my sights on that level. As I’ve matured, I’m more discerning about my career aspirations. My vision for success has been reframed with less focus on achieving promotions and more emphasis on having a role that challenges me, doing work that I enjoy and living in a location where my family can thrive.
One thing you’d love to master in your personal life:
I need to work out more. I say that often. 😊
Quality you admire most in women:
I admire women that are unapologetically authentic in their personal and professional lives. The happiest women I know are living their best lives by being true to who they are and their values. And they readily admit that the McDonald’s drive thru is a source of survival when work gets hectic, kids’ schedules are crazy, etc.!
What changes have you seen within your workplace in regard to empowering women?
One of the things that attracted me to Unilever is they are the gold standard for gender equality and supporting women in the workplace. We walk the talk, and we are constantly evaluating other companies for new ways to improve support. Our leaders are unapologetic about their efforts, and that matters. One area that has made a big impact on me is the idea of a truly flexible work schedule. Our employees work when, where and how they can be most effective at their job. It takes away the worry and guilt of running to the awards assembly or leaving for a kid’s game, because they trust that you will do what you need to do to get the job done.
In what ways have you personally and professionally had to pivot during the current pandemic?
Like many, I have been working from home since mid-March 2020. While I miss the energy and camaraderie of the office, I have tried to focus on the gift of more time with my kids and less time commuting/traveling. On the business side, it has taught us a lot about how strong we are as a team and organization. While parts of the business have been challenging – people are using less deodorant and less hairspray this year – we have also found ways to pivot quickly and move faster. We were proud that we could serve schools, businesses and customers around the country with millions of bottles of Suave sanitizers, as an example.
What nonprofits are you involved with and why?
Because my husband is the assistant principal at St. Joseph Catholic School, we give much of our time and resources to our church family and community. I also serve on the Development Council for The Jones Center, and I sponsor the women’s support efforts for our local team.
What do you do for fun?
A great day for me is one where I can maximize time outdoors with the family. I love being at the pool, on the trail, in the yard or dining al fresco on my Southern-style porch.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
I find inspiration in so many places and people, but I have been reflecting frequently on my grandparents during this pandemic. I think because they lived through the Great Depression and World War II, they found joy and blessings in the little things – family dinners, playing cards, dancing in the kitchen to the radio, and simply being grateful for health and time with loved ones.
“Peace begins with a smile” – Mother Teresa
I had the privilege of traveling to many different countries on a global assignment. It is amazing how a smile is universal and how nearly all people respond positively to a smile. So many people are suffering in some way under the surface, and if a compliment or smile can brighten someone’s day, then we should give them freely!
Best advice you’ve ever received:
Early in my career, I was encouraged to step off the hamster wheel of task management and take time to think and dream about what is possible. It takes energy and discipline to do this in the fast-paced corporate world. I am a big believer in ruthless prioritization, and at the top of my priority list is to set aside out-of-office time to think about and work on the things that will have the biggest impact for my organization and business.
Advice you’d give to other working women/moms:
The best advice I could give is to get really clear on what success looks like for you at the lowest common denominator. I frequently remind myself that my dream is to have a happy, healthy family, a challenging career, and enough time to invest in the people and activities that I enjoy or care about. If I have accomplished these things in life, then I am good. The rest is all distraction.
I would also encourage all women, and particularly moms, to read “Slay Like a Mother” by Katherine Wintsch. Her concept around struggle vs. suffer was life-changing for me. Thank me later.
Best part of your day:
I am a morning person; I love that I get a few minutes of quiet and my coffee ritual before the craziness begins. And that I get to send the kids and hubs off with well wishes for an amazing day.
How are you practicing self-care?
This is a fun question for me. We recently launched “Find Your Happy Place,” an exclusive brand at Walmart that is designed for customers, by customers, to help them take a time out of their busy and stressful days for self-care. I have been enjoying all of the bath and body forms and scents for little moments of self-care throughout the day, especially the hand cream and candles in my home office. My favorite collection is Under the Starlit Sky, because it reminds me that the simplest things often bring the most happiness. One of my happy places is being outside at night with my 2-year-old, Noah; he gets so excited every time he sees a star that you would think it was Christmas morning! Not to mention the scent is amazing.
My husband and I have recently started playing pickleball. We’ve had a lot of laughs and fun with the kids playing in the backyard during the pandemic.
Surprising fact about you:
I was a state officer for Missouri FFA. If you are not familiar, it is an amazing youth leadership organization for high school students interested in agriculture, food and environmental careers. I credit FFA with leadership skill development that set me up for success in college and ultimately the work force.
Do you still seek out mentors or mentees?
When I started working at Unilever two years ago, one of the things I missed was having the built-in network of mentors and mentees that are naturally acquired after many years in one organization. I have had to be intentional to rebuild my network, but it has been so fun doing so. I am intentional about development connections with people that are assigned to me, but I also seek out connections when I think there is a natural fit for a mutually beneficial relationship for mentoring.
How do you stay motivated?
I have a hard time relating to this question. I guess I am one of those strange people that is highly motivated intrinsically. My challenge can often be that I struggle to stop and smell the roses. So much to do, so little time!
Thing you’re most proud of:
The family that Mark and I have created together. We will celebrate 20 years of marriage this July, and I am proud that we have remained committed to each other, keeping our faith at the center of our family throughout moves, career ups and downs, health scares and the beautiful chaos that is our life.