Polman's Replacement As Unilever Chief Executive 'Unexpected', Says Analyst

By Steve Wynne-Jones
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Polman's Replacement As Unilever Chief Executive 'Unexpected', Says Analyst

A leading industry analyst has said that the appointment of Alan Jope as the new chief executive of Unilever 'is unexpected', suggesting that CFO Graeme Pitkethly or even Tesco's Dave Lewis were thought to be in the frame for the position.

Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell said, “The departure of Paul Polman as chief executive of Unilever shouldn’t come as a surprise. What is unexpected, however, is the appointment of Alan Jope as his replacement, currently president of Unilever’s beauty and personal care division.

“Tesco’s boss Dave Lewis has long been seen as a potential successor to Polman. Indeed, he used to have Jope’s job at Unilever up until 2014.

“Aside from Lewis, market speculation had also thrown Unilever’s chief financial officer Graeme Pitkethly and food and refreshments chief Nitin Paranjpe into the ring as potential candidates for the top job once Polman was ready to step down."

Change At The Top

Polman's departure from Unilever was announced earlier this morning, with Jope, who has led Unilever's Beauty & Personal Care arm since 2014, set to take up the role of CEO as of January 1.


Jope is a lifelong servant to Unilever, having joined the firm as a trainee in 1985, and has held a number of positions in the business, including president of its Russia, Africa & Middle East division, and a number of Foods, Home Care and Personal Care roles in the US.

As Mould explained, Polman is one of a number of FTSE 100 CEOs to announce their departure last year, following Aviva’s Mark Wilson and Ashtead’s Geoff Drabble.

"One could argue this elite group is getting out at the top, just as large parts of the global economy are starting to look fragile," he said.

No To Rotterdam

He also suggested that Polman's legacy has been 'slightly tarnished' by the recent failure of the group to gain approval to move its headquarters to Rotterdam.


"While shareholders got their way and Polman’s final act was to walk away with his tail between his legs, one hopes that he is instead remembered for the large amount of value created for shareholders during his tenure," Mould said. "It must also be noted that he helped to fight off a takeover bid from Kraft Heinz in 2017.

“Unilever has delivered a 290% total return since Polman became CEO in January 2009, which is the rise in the share price plus all dividends reinvested. While by no means the best performance from a FTSE 100 company, it is still a decent result and one that would have significantly outperformed the money you would have got on cash in the bank.”

© 2018 European Supermarket Magazine – your source for the latest retail news. Article by Stephen Wynne-Jones. Click subscribe to sign up to ESM: The European Supermarket Magazine

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