Unilever PLC UL 0.82%increase; green up pointing triangle has appointed Hein Schumacher as its new chief executive, tapping the head of a European dairy cooperative to lead its effort to reinvigorate growth and navigate economic challenges.
The owner of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Dove soap said Mr. Schumacher would become CEO on July 1. He succeeds Alan Jope, who the company said in September would retire in 2023.
The CEO change comes as Unilever looks to boost sales across its sprawling portfolio, while grappling with rising input costs, changing consumer trends and economic uncertainty.
Mr. Schumacher, 51, is currently CEO of Royal FrieslandCampina, a dairy and nutrition business based in the Netherlands that operates in more than 40 countries. He joined Unilever’s board as a nonexecutive director in October.
Unilever said Mr. Schumacher had delivered significant portfolio and organizational change at Royal FrieslandCampina and had previously worked for Heinz, leading a turnaround of its Asia-Pacific operations. Mr. Schumacher started his career in finance at Unilever.
Mr. Schumacher said Monday he would be “focused on working with the Unilever team to deliver a step-up in business performance.”
The news was welcomed by activist investor Nelson Peltz, who said he strongly supported Mr. Schumacher’s appointment. Mr. Peltz himself was added to Unilever’s board last year after his Trian Fund Management LP took a stake in the company.
Mr. Peltz, who was previously a director at Heinz, said he first met Mr. Schumacher at the ketchup maker and was impressed by his leadership skills and business acumen.
Unilever’s share price has underperformed that of rivals Nestle SA and Procter & Gamble Co. over the past five years, putting the company under pressure from some analysts and investors. It faced additional criticism last year after a botched multibillion-dollar bid for the consumer-healthcare business now known as Haleon PLC. The emergence of Mr. Peltz’s Trian as one of Unilever’s largest shareholders further ratcheted up pressure on the company’s management.
Under Mr. Jope, Unilever has already taken steps to improve its performance. The company has sold off slow-growing businesses like tea and initiated a sweeping reorganization aimed at making it more responsive to trends. Unilever has also indicated it could sell off more businesses to shift toward higher-growth categories such as health. Analysts have suggested that potential divestitures could include the company’s food brands or ice-cream business.
The task of whether to continue to pursue that strategy now falls to Mr. Schumacher.
Martin Deboo, an analyst at Jefferies, said he welcomed the appointment of an external candidate. He said his immediate question was where Mr. Schumacher stood on the relative attractiveness of Unilever’s foods business and the merits of a potential separation of those operations from the company’s home and personal-care divisions.
Whether Unilever should continue to own a food business alongside its high-end skin-care, laundry-detergent and vitamins brands has long been a source of debate for analysts. A spokesman for Unilever declined to comment on the company’s portfolio.
Unilever shares rose almost 1% in early afternoon trading in London.
Source : Wall Street Journal Jan 30th 2023 by Peter Stiff