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Unilever CEO Polman to retire in wake of investor revolt over headquarters U-turn

There had been widespread speculation about a boardroom shakeup after Unilever ditched plans to leave the UK for headquarters in the Netherlands
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Incoming CEO Alan Jope is head of Unilever's largest division

Unilever plc (LON:ULVR) on Thursday said CEO Paul Polman will retire from the consumer products behemoth, and named Alan Jope as his successor, with the changes taking place after an investor revolt over the company’s now-abandoned plan to move its headquarters out of the UK.

Jope, 54, who has served as head of the Beauty and Personal Care division since 2014, will take the reins at the FTSE 100 firm on January 1, 2019. Jope’s division is the largest at Unilever, and products include Dove soap and Axe body spray.  

Polman, 56, who has been at Unilever for more than 10 years, will leave in July 2019 after he supports the transition process during the first half of the year. Polman will also retire from Unilever's board, on December 31.

There had been widespread market speculation about a boardroom shakeup after the company last month ditched a plan to leave London for headquarters in Rotterdam, a move made in response to shareholders who objected to the proposed move.

Investors had been concerned the move would lead to the company’s ejection from the FTSE 100, forcing funds that track the blue-chip index and those that purchase only UK stocks to sell their shares.

READ:  Unilever boardroom shakeup expected after U-turn on HQ relocation

"The botched plan to move the company HQ to Rotterdam was a sorry way to finish an exceptional career at the company. Since that move failed, you had the sense that investors were a little put out and there was clearly a desire for a fresh start and a new leader to take the company in a different direction," said Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at Markets.com. "The argument about protecting Unilever from hostile takeovers was always on shaky ground – increasing gearing would do that without needing to move HQ and without leading to a huge swathe of forced institutional investors."

Unilever Chairman Marijn Dekkers said: “Paul's vision, drive and performance focus, combined with his commitment to serving the best long-term interests of the company, have materially strengthened Unilever. He leaves a more agile and resilient company, well placed to win in this fast-changing, dynamic industry. I'd like to thank him personally, and on behalf of the Board, for his contribution to Unilever.”

Dekkers, in a statement, said of Jope: “Having worked for Unilever in a variety of senior management roles, Alan has a deep understanding and experience of our business, the industry, and the markets in which we operate. He is a strong, dynamic and values-driven leader with an impressive track record of delivering consistent high-quality performance.”

Unilever said it will name a new head of the Beauty and Personal Care division shortly.

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