By Charles Riley
Unilever CEO Paul Polman is retiring at the end of the year after a decade in charge of one of the world’s biggest consumer goods businesses.
Polman is stepping down after losing a bruising fight with shareholders over his plan to move the Anglo-Dutch company’s headquarters out of the United Kingdom.
Unilever (UL) , which owns brands including Dove, Lipton and Ben & Jerry’s, had argued that switching to a single head office in Amsterdam would simplify its structure and give it more flexibility to buy or sell brands.
But some big investors objected and the plan was dropped.
The decision to ditch the relocation was viewed as a blow to executives including Polman, who initiated the review of the company’s structure last year after brushing off a takeover attempt from Kraft Heinz (KHC).
Unilever touted the success the company has enjoyed under Polman’s leadership, saying it had delivered total shareholder returns of 290% during his tenure as CEO.
Andrew Wood, an analyst at Bernstein, said Polman deserved credit for introducing changes that made Unilever highly competitive.
“Polman has been an exceptionally good CEO of Unilever,” Wood wrote in a research note. “It is sometimes worthwhile taking time to remember just how poorly managed and perceived Unilever was in 2008.”
But the CEO had alienated some investors by focusing on sustainable living in recent years, he added. In 2016, Polman argued in an opinion piece for CNN that companies should make sustainable development part of their core mission.
Polman will be succeeded by Alan Jope, the current head of the group’s beauty and personal care business.
Jope is a Unilever (UL) veteran, having joined its marketing department in 1985.
He previously ran the company’s north Asia business, and served as president of its operations in Russia, Africa and the Middle East. He also spent a decade in senior roles in the United States.
Bernstein’s Wood said that Jope had been considered the favorite to take over from Polman.
“Jope is a high quality internal candidate who should be capable of continuing on with Polman’s good work,” he added.