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Unilever picks personal-care head as its next CEO


UNILEVER named personal-care head Alan Jope to succeed Paul Polman as chief executive officer, choosing a safe pair of hands to guide the consumer-goods giant into the future after a turbulent period.

Mr Jope, 54, is a surprise choice to run the maker of Dove soap and Ben & Jerry's ice cream, as market speculation had focused on other internal candidates. He takes over after Mr Polman, who is 62, fended off an unwanted takeover bid from Kraft Heinz Co and backed down on a plan to consolidate the Anglo-Dutch company's headquarters in Rotterdam.

The shares rose as much as 0.6 per cent early on Thursday in Amsterdam and are up about 5 per cent for the year.

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The appointment of Mr Jope, who has sought to increase Unilever's profitability by assembling a division called Prestige through acquisitions of high-end skin-care brands such as Ren and Dermalogica, comes at a time when activist investors and companies like Kraft Heinz are pushing the industry to widen profit margins. Mr Polman, who has run the company for nearly a decade, has been a champion of sustainability initiatives.

Mr Jope brings a digital sensibility to the CEO suite, having pushed the use of new marketing tools to connect with millennial consumers. Last year, he founded a tech hub in New York's Tribeca neighbourhood to focus on online communications for brands such as Dove and Axe shower gel. Insights gleaned from that team were also used to support new labels such as Love Beauty and Planet, an environmentally friendly personal-care line.

Mr Jope used to run Unilever's China operations, whose performance under the CEO-in-waiting has received praise from Mr Polman. The executive also has experience in the company's food arm, giving him knowledge of both of its key business areas. But market speculation had focused on other internal candidates such as chief financial officer Graeme Pitkethly and food and refreshments chief Nitin Paranjpe.

The personal-care division was the company's largest last year, with sales of 20.7 billion euros (S$32.2 billion), almost double the food business and just under half the company's total revenue. The unit has become a breeding ground for British CEOs, with previous leader Dave Lewis being named head of Tesco Plc in 2014.

Under Mr Polman, Unilever has revamped its portfolio with the acquisition of niche brands such as organic tea maker Pukka Herbs and Sir Kensington's condiments, racing rival Nestle SA to capitalise on consumer demand for healthier, higher-value products as mainstream brands stagnate.

The decision on the new CEO, which followed a yearlong search, was finalised on Wednesday at a board meeting at Unilever's North America headquarters in New Jersey. The appointment is effective Jan 1. Mr Polman will support the transition in the first half of 2019, the company said. BLOOMBERG