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In the Midst of Deep Global Job Cuts, Unilever Combines Divisions, Shores Up Overseas Leadership

March 3, 2008
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Unilever announced on Friday, February 29, its biggest senior management shake-up since Patrick Cescau became CEO in 2005, combining its home and personal care unit with its foods division under a single executive and leaving the Anglo-Dutch company with no English or Dutch executives in its uppermost ranks.

The overhaul of the world’s No. 2 advertising spender expands the roles of two key Indian executives—and the odds one will eventually succeed Cescau, 59, a Frenchman, as CEO. The company is in the midst of 20,000 job cuts globally and in the process of trying to sell its North American laundry detergent business.

Vindi Banga, 53, now president-foods, will also oversee home and personal care following Unilever’s annual shareholder meeting in May. Harish Manwani, 54, currently president-Asia/Africa, will add Central and Eastern Europe to his duties, putting most developing and emerging markets under his leadership.

Manwani, who was president of North American home and personal care for about a year prior to assuming his current post in 2005, like Banga began his career with Unilever’s $3 billion Hindustan Lever business in India.

Doug Baillie, 52, born in Zimbabwe, will move from CEO of Hindustan Lever to president of Western Europe, which will now operate as a separate unit from the rest of Europe.

Two longtime executives are retiring: Kees van der Graaf, 57, a Dutch executive who is now president-Europe, and Ralph Kugler, 51, a Brit who is now president-home and personal care.

“We thank Kees and Ralph for all they have done for ... and we wish them well,” Michael Treschow, the Swedish non-executive chairman of Unilever, said in a statement.

The moves complete a near-total overhaul of senior leadership at Unilever the past three years, including Treschow’s appointment last year. The balance of top managers includes James Lawrence, 54, an American and veteran of General Mills who was appointed CFO in September; and Michael Polk, 46, an American and veteran of Kraft Foods and Procter & Gamble Co. who became president-Americas in 2006.

Just over three years ago, Unilever was led by British and Dutch co-chairmen and a mostly Anglo-Dutch leadership group.

Filed by Jack Neff of Advertising Age, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

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