Unilever Starts Search for New Ceo, Sells US Laundry Business for $1.1bn

29 July 2008

LONDON: With the sixtieth birthday of ceo Patrick Cescau (pictured) looming later this year, food and domestic products giant Unilever has appointed executive search consultancy Egon Zehnder to draw-up a shortlist of replacement candidates. It is thought the list will include insiders.

The new incumbent will occupy a seat likely to grow hotter by the day. Not only will he/she have to contend with the global economic slowdown but a shareholder faction is piling on pressure for Unilever to do a Cadbury – spin off its foods business from the home and personal care unit.

The former would include brands such as Hellman's, Walls and Flora; the latter Dove soap, Domestos, Vaseline and others.

Meantime, analysts are speculating on possible replacements for Cescau from within the (according to Forbes magazine) planet's 96th-largest company. 

The bookies have identified four Unilever executives as potential successors: cfo Jim Laurence; Mike Polk, president of the Americas division; Vindi Banga, president of foods home and personal care; and Harish Manwani, president of Asia.

  • Unilever announced Monday it is to sell its North American laundry products business to private equity firm Vestar Capital Partners for $1.08 billion (€688.5m; £543.3m).

    Among the brands changing hands are Surf, Snuggle, Wisk and Sunlight fabric cleaning products. The deal also covers Canada and Puerto Rico and includes Unilever's Baltimore production unit.

    Vestar plans to meld the former Unilever businesses with its existing operation, Huish Detergents. The merged unit will be known as The Sun Products Corporation.

    Ceascau appears eager to dispel speculation that the deal presages a global sell-off. "Laundry remains an important category for Unilever outside North America," he insists.

  • "This transaction will allow us to focus our resources on our leading positions in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America where we continue to drive for expanded leadership."

    Data sourced from Financial Times and Telegraph.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff