Unilever Plc named a new chairman with experience in the role at British and French companies, in hopes of mending relations with frustrated investors after a series of missteps in recent years.
(Bloomberg) — Unilever Plc named a new chairman with experience in the role at British and French companies, in hopes of mending relations with frustrated investors after a series of missteps in recent years.
Ian Meakins, who is chairman of catering company Compass Group Plc and French electrical-supply maker Rexel SA, will succeed Chairman Nils Andersen, the owner of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream said Friday.
He’ll join a largely new top team. Hein Schumacher, former boss of dairy cooperative Royal FrieslandCampina, became CEO this month, replacing Alan Jope. Chief Financial Officer Graeme Pitkethly plans to retire next year and other board and management changes are expected.
The new appointees will need to work hard to repair fraught relations with shareholders like Terry Smith, who accused the Knorr stock-cube maker of overlooking long-term shareholders while swiftly inviting activist Nelson Peltz onto the board.
The perceived neglect added sting to poor financial performance. Over the past five years, Unilever investors have lost 3% while Nestle SA returned 33%. The group drew criticism from some shareholders that it’s too focused on the social “purpose” of products like Domestos toilet cleaner and not enough on sales growth and margins.
A debacle and shareholder revolt over unifying Unilever’s structure eventually led to London becoming the group’s base. But Unilever’s bungled takeover approach for the consumer-health unit of GSK Plc — then spun out as Haleon Plc — stretched investor patience further. Peltz was able to claim a seat on the board soon afterward. In another rebuke for management, in May shareholders rejected the company’s pay package for directors in a non-binding vote.
Read More: Unilever (ULVR) Shareholders Reject Director Pay After Messy Year – Bloomberg
A protracted dispute with the independent board of Ben & Jerry’s over its sales in Israel raised questions over Unilever’s ability to meld purpose and profit — an ongoing theme for the company’s critics and issue investors are seeking clarity on.
Such headline-grabbing debates have overshadowed strategic choices such as selling its tea and spreads businesses, or building a fast-growing prestige beauty unit. A new leadership also brings a fresh look at a break-up — selling or spinning out the food or ice cream unit and focusing on personal care, beauty and homecare instead.
Meanwhile the maker of Hellmann’s mayonnaise has been contending with the worst inflation in decades. Raising prices has resulted in falling volumes and Unilever’s new leaders will be tasked with clawing back market share from cheaper rivals and white-label goods.
Meakins, 66, who will succeed Andersen, 65, on Dec. 1, is experienced in dealing with a UK shareholder base in roles at companies much smaller than Unilever. Yet his consumer-product experience came earlier in his career, with positions at Diageo Plc and Procter & Gamble Co..
He formerly served as chief executive officer of Wolseley Plc, the plumbing and heating products distributor now known as Ferguson Plc. That’s after he led Travelex Holdings Ltd. and Alliance Unichem Plc as CEO earlier in his career.
Unilever shares gained 0.4% early Friday in London.
(Updates with context throughout)
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