Sector News

Unilever promotes UK vice president to finance chief

May 19, 2015
Food & Drink
(Reuters) – Unilever, the maker of Dove soap, Lipton tea and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, has picked the vice president of its UK business Graeme Pitkethly to succeed Jean-Marc Huet as chief financial officer later this year.
 
The Anglo-Dutch company said on Tuesday that Pitkethly, 48, who has been at the company since 2002, would take up the role on Oct. 1, with Huet staying until then to ease the transition.
 
It gave no reason for the change, but quoted Huet as saying: “I have had an excellent and very rewarding period of time at Unilever and fully achieved what I set out to do when I joined the organisation in 2010.”
 
One analyst, who declined to be named, said the change could signal Unilever CEO Paul Polman will stay in the top job for some time to come, as the company would not want too much change at once.
 
Polman has been CEO since January 2009. Unilever’s chairman, Michael Treschow, has been in that role since 2007.
 
Unilever is the fourth consumer goods maker to change its finance chief in recent months, following Heineken (HEIN.AS), Danone (DANO.PA) and Nestle (NESN.VX).
 
Pitkethly is currently executive vice president of Unilever’s UK and Ireland business, with past roles at the company whose stock market value is 85 billion pounds ($133 billion) including head of M&A and head of treasury.
 
Huet said he would consider new opportunities after his departure.
 
In April, Unilever reported better-than-expected first-quarter sales and pointed to brighter signs in major markets such as the United States, China and India.
 
Huet said at the time that Unilever’s 2015 sales growth would probably come in at the upper end of its prior stated goal of 2 to 4 percent.
 
That followed a tough 2014 when a slowdown in emerging markets and flagging developed economies curbed demand for everything from soup to soap.
 
Unilever makes more than half of its sales in emerging markets and has been particularly exposed to slowing demand in countries such as India and Brazil, as well as the sharp economic deterioration in Russia.
 
To cope with the tough backdrop, it has been selling off underperforming or smaller brands to focus more on its leading products. It has in the last two years sold its Slim-Fast brand, its Ragu and Bertolli pasta sauces, Skippy peanut butter and Wishbone salad dressings.
 
Unilever’s London-traded shares were up 1.6 percent at 2,902 pence at 1004 GMT, outperforming the FTSE 100 .FTSE, which was up 0.3 percent.
 
($1 = 0.6388 pounds)
 
By Sarah Young (Additional reporting by Martinne Geller; Editing by David Holmes and Mark Potter)

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