INTERNATIONAL – Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company Unilever said its Chief Executive Paul Polman was retiring less than two months after a damaging row with shareholders and would be replaced by the head of its beauty unit Alan Jope from January 1.
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 company headquarters to the Netherlands in October, following an investor revolt.
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. He is also a former leader of its China business and has long been seen as a 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 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 end Unilever’s dual-headed Anglo-Dutch structure, provoking an angry reaction from UK-based shareholders, as Unilever would have had to leave the UK FTSE share index, forcing some to sell.
Polman and fellow Dutchman Marijn Dekkers, the chairman, ditched that plan on Oct. 5 after it became clear that it could fall short of the investor approval needed.
The appointment of British-born Jope rebalances the Anglo-Dutch leadership of the company.
Jope, at Unilever since 1985, 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”.
Liberum analyst Nico von Stackelberg said that Polman’s succession had been widely rumored after the failed reorganization.
“Jope is a strong internal candidate for the role with extensive global leadership experiences,” he said in a note.
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.
“Having worked closely with Alan for many years, I am highly confident that under his leadership, Unilever will prosper long into the future,” said Polman.
Shares in Unilever traded up 0.8 percent to 4,294 pence in early trading on Thursday. The stock has risen 170 percent since Polman took the top job at the beginning of 2009.Reuters