Unilever starts search for new chair to replace Nils Andersen

Unilever has begun a search to replace chair Nils Andersen in the latest stage of a leadership shake-up since the consumer goods giant became a target for activist investor Nelson Peltz. 

The Marmite and Magnum maker has appointed executive search firm Spencer Stuart to conduct the search for Andersen’s successor, according to people familiar with the matter.

The move, first reported by Bloomberg, is one in a series of leadership changes at Unilever set in motion in the wake of Peltz’s Trian fund building a stake. Chief executive Alan Jope, a 35-year veteran of the company, announced his retirement last September just months after Peltz joined the board.

Jope will be replaced by Hein Schumacher, chief executive of the Dutch dairy co-operative Royal FrieslandCampina. Schumacher previously worked at Heinz, where Peltz was also an activist investor.

The Trian founder has a long record of activism in the consumer goods sector, pushing forward changes at Procter & Gamble and helping to orchestrate the 2012 split of Kraft Foods into Heinz and Mondelez.

Last week Unilever announced its chief financial officer Graeme Pitkethly would retire by the end of May next year. Chief digital officer Conny Braams is also set to depart this summer. Their replacements have yet to be announced.

“I think the entire board is probably up for renewal,” said Bruno Monteyne, senior analyst at Bernstein. “It would be a good signal for the new CEO and chairman. It would reflect there is a sense of urgency.”

Unilever has faced growing investor discontent over its disappointing share price and an unsuccessful attempt to buy the consumer health arm of GSK for £50bn in late 2021.

The company, which also counts Dove soap and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in its stable of brands, announced early last year that it was restructuring, dividing the company into five business groups — beauty and wellbeing, personal care, home care, nutrition and ice cream — in an attempt to revive growth.

Andersen, who was previously boss of Danish shipping giant Maersk and brewer Carlsberg, became a non-executive director of Unilever in 2015 and was appointed chair in 2019, the same year that Jope took the reins.

The Dane will have served nine years on the board of the company by the time its AGM comes around next year. According to Unilever’s corporate governance code, a non-executive director will rarely be re-elected to the board after serving more than nine years. 

Unilever and Spencer Stuart declined to comment.

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