Sector News

Unilever boss quits after botched plan to move to Netherlands

November 29, 2018
Food & Drink

Unilever’s chief executive, Paul Polman, is stepping down after the company was forced to scrap its planned move from London to Rotterdam after a shareholder rebellion.

The group, whose brands include Marmite, Dove soap and Magnum ice-cream, ditched its plan to simplify its dual Anglo-Dutch structure in October after an unprecedented rebellion from its UK shareholders. The row was a significant blow to the credibility of its top executives, Polman and the chair, Marijn Dekkers.

Polman is a leading industry figure and has been at the helm of Unilever for over a decade. He will be succeeded on 1 January by Alan Jope, the president of beauty and personal care, Unilever’s biggest division.

The company said Polman would support the transition process in the first half of the year and leave in early July. He told the board he wanted to leave at a board meeting in New York on Wednesday, and will not receive a payoff.

Unilever appointed headhunters to find a successor for Polman in the autumn of 2017 and said then that the process would take 12-18 months. The company is yet to find a successor for Jope at beauty and personal care, which accounts for almost half its operating profits.

Jope, 54, has led beauty and personal care since 2014. He previously ran Unilever’s north Asia business for four years, served as president of its Russia, Africa and the Middle East operations, and spent more than a decade in senior foods, homecare and personal care roles in the US. Born in Scotland, he joined Unilever as a graduate marketing trainee in 1985.

He will be paid a salary of €1.45m (£1.29m) and an annual bonus of up to 225% of his salary, two-thirds of which will be in Unilever shares.

Dekkers said: “Paul is an exceptional business leader who has transformed Unilever… His role in helping to define a new era of responsible capitalism, embodied in the Unilever sustainable living plan, marks him out as one of the most far-sighted business leaders of his generation.”

He denied Polman’s departure had been hastened by the debacle over Unilever’s move. “January 1st is an excellent start date, particularly in our industry that is so dynamic,” and would enable Jope to “own” 2019.

Polman said he was looking forward to engaging with many of Unilever’s partners “in a different capacity – to help address the many environmental and social challenges facing the world”.

Unilever shares rose slightly, by 0.6%. UBS analyst Pinar Ergun said: “The appointment of an internal candidate is likely to ensure continuity as Unilever makes progress towards its 2020 targets.”

Neil Wilson, the chief market analyst at Markets.com, said: “It’s no real surprise to see Paul Polman leave Unilever. The botched plan to move the company HQ to Rotterdam was a sorry way to finish an exceptional career at the company. Management was left badly bruised by the sole-listing affair and it was doubtful whether the leadership would remain the same for long.

“Plenty for the new man Alan Jope to get on with, not least a rather expensive acquisition of the Horlicks unit from GSK. A focus on emerging markets is clearly critical to delivering growth and shareholder value, but at such a price the execution has to be right.”

By Julia Kollewe

Source: The Guardian

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