Unilever Under Pressure to Ditch Dual Chairmen

31 January 2005

Changes could be afoot at the top of lacklustre Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever.

Disappointing trading and missed targets have led to a campaign by investors to reform the company's top-heavy management structure.

At present the maker of such brands as Knorr soups, Cif cleaners and Ben & Jerry's ice cream is run as two standalone firms, with separate headquarters, share listings and chairmen, while acting as a single operational entity.

Unilever plc, based in the UK, is led by recently appointed Frenchman Patrick Cescau, while Unilever NV is headed by Dutchman Anthony Burgmans.

If the company were to bow to pressure and adopt a more traditional management structure, it is thought Burgmans would take the role of overall chairman and Cescau that of ceo.

The company is due to release its 2004 financial results on February 10 together with its next five-year plan. It could also unveil leadership changes at this point - especially in the light of last week's announcement by major rival Procter & Gamble that it has acquired Gillette [WAMN: 28-Jan-05].

Says Magdalene Miller of Standard Life Investments: "It would help the operational efficiency of the company if it moved to one board, one chief executive and one headquarters."

A Unilever spokesman commented only: "We will look at changing the structure if we believe it is in the best interests of our shareholders."

Data sourced from Financial Times Online and Reuters; additional content by WARC staff