Unilever chief executive Alan Jope plans to retire late next year after the company, maker of Magnum ice cream and Dove soap, announced a potential deal worth $50 billion.
ope, a long-time veteran of the consumer products company, will leave the position after just five years with no named successor at this time.
Shares rose as much as 3.7 percent in early London trading.
The move comes after Jope tried unsuccessfully to buy GSK’s consumer health division earlier this year and less than three months after activist investor Nelson Peltz was given a board position after building a stake in the company.
Unilever will now seek a new CEO at a time when the company, which is lagging behind its larger rival Nestlé, is grappling with rising global inflation, ongoing supply chain disruptions and a record loss in the pound.
The board will begin searching for his successor, considering both internal and external candidates, the company said on Monday.
Jope will have worked for Unilever for more than 35 years. Jope’s attempt to acquire GSK’s consumer healthcare unit in January angered some investors and drew attention to the performance of its food and refreshment portfolio.
Jope inherited from his predecessor, Paul Polman, a rigorous 20 percent operating margin target and a focus on the “purpose” of his brands.
The former led to tight cost controls and revenue growth that lagged behind archrival Procter & Gamble. The latter drew ridicule from investor Terry Smith, who questioned why products like mayonnaise needed to have a purpose.
Jope’s departure gives Unilever plenty of time to find a successor, but such a long period of uncertainty amid high inflation could unsettle investors.
Without a longtime boss at the helm, Unilever is less likely to make bold decisions like selling significant parts of its grocery portfolio.
The executive became CEO of Unilever in 2019 after Kraft Heinz’s bid to acquire the company fell through in 2017 for $143 billion.
This debacle prompted Unilever to consolidate its UK headquarters, abandon a cumbersome Anglo-Dutch structure and pursue a more aggressive acquisitions strategy.
As of last week, Unilever shares have had a 12 percent total return since Jope became CEO.
Meanwhile, shares of Nestle are down 36 percent as CEO Mark Schneider reshuffled the Swiss food company’s portfolio to focus on higher-growth companies.
Earlier this year, one of Unilever’s top investors, Lindsell Train Investment Trust’s Nick Train, said the company had closed a case of “long Covid” with “pedestrian” results that could not be compared to better performances by rivals.
Smith, the founder of Fundsmith and a major shareholder in Unilever, was the most vocal critic, accusing the consumer giant of “lost the thread” with its focus on social goals.
https://www.independent.ie/business/jobs/unilever-ceo-jope-to-retire-at-end-of-2023-after-gsk-setback-42016652.html Unilever CEO Jope to retire at the end of 2023 after GSK setback