Meantime, good news at last for the restive moneymen. The world's second largest advertiser (after Procter & Gamble) on Thursday unveiled a 24% leap in first quarter profits to €934 million ($1.2bn; £634.3m) from €753m a year earlier. Sales rose 2.3% to €9.27bn.
In a statement designed to conciliate angry investors, Unilever chairman Anthony Burgmans has told a private meeting he is prepared to step down should the global consumer goods giant find a suitable replacement before his scheduled exit in 2007
Details of the meeting, held a week ago the London offices of the Association of British Insurers, emerged only last night and it is believed the company has already set in motion a formal search for Burgmans' replacement.
Along with his former fellow executive co-chairman Niall Fitzgerald, Burgmans is a casualty of the failure of Pathway to Growth, Unilever's much vaunted five year plan that slashed its product portfolio from 1,600 to just 400 core brands.
Investors blame the plan and its progenitors for destroying shareholder value. Fitzgerald has already passed profitably through the Unilever departure lounge, 'retiring' with a £1.22 million ($2.33m; €1.81m) termination payment at the age of 62 to take the lavishly upholstered chair at Reuters [WAMN: 03-May-05].
Little wonder, then, say commentators, that Burgmans is also in cooperative mood.
The results are the first under Unilever's new helmsman, ceo Patrick Cescau, who assumed sole occupancy of the (formerly shared) role in February. He vowed to accelerate cost savings and increase expenditure on advertising and promotions to reinvigorate sales growth.
Says Cescau: "This year we expect market conditions to remain very challenging in Europe, and margins to continue to be under pressure from increased input costs. However, performance in developing and emerging markets was better, and here the outlook is more promising."
Data sourced from Financial Times Online and bloomberg.com; additional content by WARC staff