LONDON, Jan 30 (Reuters) – Consumer goods giant Unilever on Monday appointed Hein Schumacher to replace Alan Jope as chief executive from July 1, a move hailed by board member and shareholder Nelson Peltz. activist.
Schumacher, 51, joined Unilever in October last year as a non-executive director and is currently the head of Dutch dairy company FrieslandCampina. His appointment marks the first time that Unilever has handed the top job to an executive from outside Unilever since it poached Paul Polman from Nestlé in 2008.
Unilever, one of the world’s largest consumer companies with more than 400 brands ranging from detergent to ice cream, said in September that Jope planned to retire at the end of 2023.
Schumacher, who was previously with Royal Ahold NV, also worked for HJ Heinz for a decade in the United States, Europe and Asia.
Billionaire activist investor Nelson Peltz, who leads investor Trian Partners, said he strongly supports Schumacher “as the new CEO and looks forward to working closely with him to create meaningful sustainable value for stakeholders. “. Peltz became a member of Unilever’s board in July after it was revealed early last year that he had acquired a stake in the company.
“I first met Hein when I was a director of the HJ Heinz Company from 2006 to 2013 and was impressed with his leadership skills and business acumen,” Peltz said.
Peltz, through his Trian fund, owns a nearly 1.5% stake in Unilever, making it the fourth-largest shareholder, according to data from Refinitiv Eikon.
Unilever was considering internal and external candidates for this position.
Sources told Reuters in October that the nominees included chief financial officer Graeme Pitkethly, personal care division chief Fabian Garcia and Hanneke Faber, who heads the company’s nutrition group.
“It’s good that Schumacher has a lot of industry experience outside of Unilever, especially internationally,” said Tineke Frikee, fund manager at Unilever shareholder Waverton Investment Management.
“I do note, however, that her background is primarily in food, rather than beauty and personal care. This may lead the market to reduce the likelihood of a possible food fallout.”
Unilever’s food business includes Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, Colman’s Mustard, Hellman’s Mayonnaise and Knorr Bouillon Cubes.
Some investors and analysts have speculated over the past year that Unilever may spin off what they see as a weaker food company to focus on personal goods, beauty and home care.
Analysts at Jefferies and RBC Capital welcomed Unilever’s appointment of an outside CEO, saying investors would support the move.
“We believe Unilever needs a cultural and organizational overhaul,” RBC analyst James Edwardes Jones wrote in a note.
Schumacher brings “front-line experience,” Jefferies analysts said.
Reporting by Yadarisa Shabong and Richa Naidu; Editing by Janane Venkatraman, Dhanya Ann Thoppil and Matt Scuffham
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