Sep 5, 2008

Business - Unilever names Nestle's Polman as CEO

Unilever Plc/NV named Paul Polman, a consumer goods veteran who missed out on the top job at Swiss food group Nestle SA last year, as its new chief executive on Thursday, sending its shares surging.
Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch maker of goods ranging from Sunsilk shampoo and Hellmann's mayonnaise to Dove soap and Knorr soups, said Polman, 52, would replace Patrick Cescau, who turns 60 later this month, around the end of the year.
"I think they've made an excellent appointment ... They've really scored a home run here," said Investec analyst Martin Deboo, noting that Polman had extensive experience at both Nestle and US group Procter & Gamble, Unilever's main competitors in food and personal care respectively.
At 0729 GMT, Unilever shares were up 6.1 per cent at 1,581 pence, topping the FTSE Eurofirst index of leading European shares.
Cescau become Unilever's first ever chief executive in April 2005 and aimed to transform the business, which had lagged sales growth at its biggest rivals, by slashing jobs and selling low-growth businesses.
His success was thrown into question in July when the group reported that price rises had slowed sales growth in the second quarter, sending its shares tumbling.
Investec's Deboo said Polman would have to consider whether more radical steps were needed to continue Cescau's work, and thought the group needed to improve its execution with retailers in particular.
Polman joined Nestle in 2006 as chief financial officer. Widely tipped as a successor to Nestle Chief Executive Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Polman missed out when the world's biggest food group picked former Americas head Paul Bulcke instead last September.
Polman was head of Nestle's Americas business on his departure. Before joining Nestle, he was at Procter & Gamble for 26 years, leading its European business from 2001 to 2005.
"He is a great talent with significant international experience and an excellent track record," Unilever Chairman Michael Treschow said in a statement.
"He has all the attributes necessary to build on Patrick's achievements."

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