Unilever: Paul Polman retiring as CEO


Paul Polman
Paul
Polman, chief executive officer of Unilever Plc, attends the
MEDEF union summer forum on the campus of the HEC School of
Management in Jouy-en-Josas, near Paris,
France.

Reuters/Benoit
Tessier



  • Unilever
    Chief Executive Paul Polman is retiring after 10
    years at the top of the company.
  • His annoucement comes less than two months after
    investors revolted against a plan to move the company’s
    consumer goods group’s headquarters to the
    Netherlands.
  • Polman will be succeeded by Alan jope, the head of the
    company’s beauty business.

  • Watch Unilever trade live
    .

(Reuters) – Unilever Chief Executive Paul
Polman is retiring less than two months after a damaging row with
shareholders and will be succeeded in January by Alan Jope, the
head of the Anglo-Dutch group’s beauty business.

Polman’s exit comes after the maker of Dove soap and Ben &
Jerry’s ice cream was forced to scrap a plan to move the consumer
goods group’s headquarters to the Netherlands in October,
following an investor revolt.

Company veteran Jope, 54, is the boss of the beauty and personal
care division which is Unilever‘s largest, accounting for
almost half of group annual profits. The Scotsman is also a
former leader of its China business and has long been seen as a
possible successor to Polman.

“Our global footprint includes strong positions in many important
markets for the future and our focus will remain on serving our
consumers, and our other multiple stakeholders, to deliver
long‐term growth and value creation,” Jope said.

At the helm of Unilever for 10 years, Polman,
62, generated big returns for shareholders totalling 290 percent
over the period, expanded its presence in emerging markets, and
in 2017 fended off a $143 billion takeover approach by
Kraft-Heinz.

That failed bid, however, helped prompt Dutchman Polman to seek
to simplify Unilever‘s Anglo-Dutch structure by
shifting its headquarters to Rotterdam. That provoked an angry
reaction from UK-based shareholders as Unilever would have left the
UK FTSE share index, forcing some to sell.

Polman and chairman Marijn Dekkers ditched the HQ move plan on
Oct. 5 after it became clear that it could fall short of the
investor approval needed.

Bernstein analyst Andrew Wood said some investors were also irked
by what they considered a “preachy” style on issues such as
sustainable living but added that Polman had a strong record over
the past decade.

“Just like one of Unilever‘s highest profile
products, Marmite, Polman engenders strongly differing opinions
from investors,” Wood said.

“We consider that Polman has been an exceptionally good CEO
of Unilever,” Wood added.

National Balance

The appointment of Jope rebalances the Anglo-Dutch leadership of
the company in favour of the British-side. While chairman Dekkers
is Dutch, Unilever‘s Chief Financial Officer
Graeme Pitkethly is also British.

Pitkethly, who was involved in the media campaign defending the
plan to move the HQ to the Netherlands, had also been rumored as
a possible replacement for Polman.

Unilever veteran Jope joined the
company in 1985. He will be paid a fixed salary of 1.45 million
euros ($1.65 million) plus a target annual bonus of 150 percent
of fixed pay in his new role as CEO.

He was named in the job after what the chairman called “a
rigorous and wide-ranging selection process”, which analysts
Bryan, Garnier & Co said had been lead by recruitment firm
Egon Zehnder.

Credit Suisse analysts said the appointment of Jope
meant Unilever was likely to stick
with Polman’s strategy, which includes hitting a target of
underlying operating margin of 20 percent by 2020.

“Jope has done a good job at beauty and personal care, is well
known by investors and represents continuity of strategy,” they
said.

Investors will not have to wait long for a chance to quiz the
company on its future – Unilever is due to hold an
investor day in Mumbai, India on Dec. 4 and 5.

On the new CEO’s agenda will be Unilever‘s bid for
GlaxoSmithKline’s Indian Horlicks nutrition business, where it is
competing against consumer giant Nestle, as well as handling any
fallout from a possible no-deal Brexit as Britain is due to leave
the EU in March 2019.

Polman, who was paid a fixed annual salary of 1.4 million pounds
but with bonuses took home a total package of about 10 million
pounds, will stay on for six months to support Jope’s transition
into the role, Unilever added in its
statement.

Shares in Unilever were broadly in
morning trade on Thursday. The stock has risen 170 percent since
Polman took the top job at the beginning of 2009, outperforming
Britain’s bluechip index which is up about 75 percent.

 

(Additional reporting by Martinne Geller; Editing by Kate Holton
and Keith Weir)

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