Unilever Dr (EU:UNA)
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De May 2018 a May 2020
By Saabira Chaudhuri
Unilever PLC, the maker of Hellmann's mayonnaise and Dove soap, named Alan Jope to replace longtime Chief Executive Paul Polman as it, like the rest of the industry, struggles to navigate a sharp shift in consumer tastes.
The appointment of Mr. Jope, a Unilever lifer who currently heads the beauty and personal-care business, comes amid the company's push under Mr. Polman to bolster that higher-margin business and pivot away from slower-growing food.
The job is one of the highest-profile posts in corporate Europe. The leadership change is also the latest in a series of high-profile departures of consumer-goods bosses -- an unprecedented changing of the guard as the industry faces down a raft of challenges. Among these is a broad-based retreat by consumers in many big western markets from the well-known brands the industry has made and marketed for decades.
The industry also is grappling with rising commodity costs, volatile emerging markets and fierce competition from Amazon.com Inc. and discount chains that are increasingly launching own-label products.
Unilever has been searching for new leadership for a year, hiring an executive search firm last November to help find a successor to Mr. Polman, who has led the company for a decade.
That effort had stepped up of late after Mr. Polman failed to win investor support for a move to consolidate the company's British and Dutch operating units and make Rotterdam its sole headquarters, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Mr. Jope, who led the company's largest division since 2014 and regularly presents to investors, was seen as a leading candidate to be Unilever's next CEO, with experience in emerging and developed markets across both food and personal care. He previously has worked for the company in Asia and the U.S. after joining the company as a graduate marketing trainee in 1985.
Under Mr. Polman's leadership, Unilever has shifted toward faster-growing segments in personal and home care while jettisoning lagging food businesses like spreads and pasta sauce.
Mr. Polman, a former P&G and Nestlé executive, also last year fended off a $143 billion takeover approach from Kraft Heinz Co. Since then he has launched share buybacks, raised margin targets, further shuffled Unilever's portfolio and accelerated a restructuring to make the company more agile. Unilever's stock rose strongly during his tenure and continues to outperform rivals.
But Mr. Polman -- an outspoken Dutchman with a passion for the planet -- was often divisive, riling some investors by flying around the world to speak at sustainability conferences and openly deriding the short-termism of the investment community. He was roundly criticized after ignoring opposition by many prominent British investors who saw his plan to consolidate the company's headquarters in Rotterdam to simplify its operations as in fact being protectionist. Ultimately, Unilever was forced to scrap that move, an embarrassing U-turn for Mr. Polman.
Thursday, Bernstein analyst Andrew Wood said while some investors disliked Mr. Polman's "preachy" style about sustainability issues and thought he had a "god complex" he thought Mr. Polman had been "an exceptionally good CEO of Unilever."
Naming Mr. Jope, a Scotsman, as its new CEO firmly cements the company's status as an Anglo-Dutch company. The 54-year-old is well liked within Unilever. A person who has worked closely with him described Mr. Jope as having a far more amiable style than Mr. Polman, saying he is "warm, very funny and a real people person." Compared with Unilever's current CEO, Mr. Jope is less focused on financials and is more of a "classic marketeer" with experience building brands, added this person. In his spare time, the personal care head who lives in London, goes on long motorbike rides and plays soccer.
Under Mr. Jope, Unilever bought online razor-delivery startup Dollar Shave Club and made a string of other small deals in areas like high-end skin care. Mr. Jope also expanded Dove, rolling out a new line of baby products from wipes to moisturizers under the brand while also pushing deeper into men's products and launching new brands like Love, Beauty and Planet to appeal to millennials.
Mr. Jope will start his new job as CEO on Jan. 1 with Mr. Polman staying on to assist with the transition through the first half of next year, the company said.
RBC analyst James Edwardes Jones described Mr. Jope as "a deep thinker about his category," saying the incoming CEO's biggest immediate challenge is whether to retain the financial targets set for Unilever under Mr. Polman.
"We think these targets are not going to be easy to achieve and constrain Unilever's freedom of action," said Mr. Edwardes Jones.
Write to Saabira Chaudhuri at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 29, 2018 04:48 ET (09:48 GMT)
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