LEADERSHIP LESSONS AT UNILEVER – INTERNATIONAL

Unilever is based in Europe, but, no matter the company’s headquarters, it’s always interesting to look into leadership changes at the multinational companies, particularly the consumer-goods companies that have been experiencing difficulties in marketing and sales and who have turned over a record number of CEOs in the past two years.

Unilever is known for products such as Dove soap and Hellman’s mayonnaise and has, for the past decade, been under the direction of CEO Paul Polman, who is set retire at the end of the year. His replacement is Alan Jope, who currently heads the company’s beauty and personal-care division.  The two men have distinctly different leadership styles and approaches to management – Jope is said to be well-liked within the company and is described as “warm, very funny, and a real people person,” and as having a far more amiable style than Polman, who is characterized as “often divisive,” “preachy,” and with a “god complex.”  During his time at the company, however, Polman has made 50 acquisitions, fended off an unwanted takeover approach by Kraft Heinz, and has consistently had the company out-performing rivals.  Polman also postured the company to shift away from slower-growing food products and into higher-margin business.  The board chairman, Marijn Drekkers, has said that Jope will continue the strategy laid out for the company by Polman but “will have to adapt to meet a fast-changing landscape.”  After fending off the Kraft takeover, Polman launched stock buy-backs, raised margin targets, shuffled Unilever’s portfolio, and accelerated a restructuring to make the company more agile.  It’s the new agility and a stringent focus on upcoming changes that are likely to continue to be a redeeming factor for the company.  It will definitely be interesting to follow Jope’s leadership – he has led the company’s largest division since 2014, has regularly presented to investors, and has experience in both emerging and developed markets acosss both the food and personal care areas.  And, he’s definitely a company man, having joined the company as a graduate marketing trainee in 1985.  If anyone knows the company, it should be he.

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