- Become CEO on July 1
- Activist shareholder says he met Schumacher at Heinz
- First foreign CEO since the appointment of Paul Polman in 2008
- Unilever shares top the FTSE 100
LONDON, Jan 30 (Reuters) – Unilever on Monday appointed Hein Schumacher to replace Alan Jope as chief executive from July, a move hailed by investors including board member and activist shareholder Nelson Peltz.
Schumacher, 51, joined Unilever in October last year as a non-executive director and is currently the head of Dutch dairy company FrieslandCampina.
He worked at Unilever over 20 years ago before working for retailer Royal Ahold NV and packaged food manufacturer HJ Heinz in the US, Europe and Asia.
One of the world’s largest consumer companies with more than 400 brands ranging from detergent to ice cream, Unilever said in September that Jope planned to retire at the end of 2023.
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 shares rose 0.56% against a FTSE 100 index (.FTSE) down 0.1% at 10:32 GMT.
The move was also applauded by other investors and analysts, who in recent years felt Unilever needed an outside touch.
“This is definitely an external appointment,” said Jack Martin, fund manager at Unilever shareholder Oberon Investments. “A good CV, from what I’ve read, hopefully gives the boost the company needs.”
‘ESG SAVVY, PRAGMATIC’
Unilever shares have underperformed European consumer staples and discretionary indices during CEO Jope’s tenure, which began in January 2019.
Last year, his failed bid for the consumer healthcare business of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) cost him the good faith of investors, including influential British billionaire Terry Smith, owner of Fundsmith.
Smith said at the time that Jope needed to focus less on sustainability and more on building Unilever’s core business.
“Hein is ideal for Unilever – it has roots in the business but at the same time it is external,” Allan Leighton, former CEO of UK food retailer Asda and former chairman of Britain’s Royal Mail, told Reuters.
Leighton, who worked with Schumacher on the board of C&A AG, described him as “an ESG connoisseur but in a pragmatic and commercial way”.
Tineke Frikee, fund manager at Unilever shareholder Waverton Investment Management, said: “It’s good that Schumacher has a lot of industry experience outside of Unilever, especially internationally.”
“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.
“Why hire a food manager, if you are planning to sell the food business?” Bernstein analyst Bruno Monteyne said, adding that selling the food industry “will always be on the cards, but I doubt it will be the top priority in the near term.”
But Monteyne pointed out that some investors hoped Unilever would appoint someone more globally established.
“Investors we spoke to in recent weeks were hoping for a more familiar name from a successful U.S.-based FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) turnaround.”
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.
Reporting by Yadarisa Shabong and Richa Naidu; edited by Matt Scuffham and Jason Neely
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