Unilever hunts for new chair after botched takeover, investor rows

By Dasha Afanasyeva and Sabah Meddings

Unilever Plc is seeking a new chairman to replace Nils Andersen, and continues to overhaul its leadership after a series of missteps in recent years that frustrated shareholders.

The maker of Hillman’s pervasive mayonnaise and Marmite yeast has hired executive search firm Spencer Stewart to lead the search, according to people familiar with the situation. The company rocketed to the top after activist investor Nelson Peltz was appointed to the board last year.

Hein Schumacher will become CEO in July, replacing Alan Jope, while Chief Financial Officer Graeme Pitkethly plans to retire next year. These changes follow a failed bid to buy GSK Plc’s consumer health unit more than a year ago.

The people, who asked not to be identified discussing confidential matters, said the search for Andersen’s replacement was in full swing. Representatives for Unilever and Spencer Stewart declined to comment.

The 64-year-old has been on the board since 2015 and took over as chairman in 2019, meaning his tenure, under UK corporate governance guidelines, will normally end next year. Earlier this year, he became chairman of chip maker ASML Holding NV.

During Andersen’s tenure as Chairman of the Board, the company’s overall returns to investors fell far behind that of rival NestlĂ©.

Connie Brahms, chief commercial and digital officer, is leaving the board later this year. But more senior leadership changes are expected after Schumacher, the former chief executive of Dutch dairy cooperative Royal FrieslandCampina, takes over the company.

Last month, investors voted to cut the company’s 2022 pay, sending a signal of their discontent with the non-binding poll. The board of directors is scheduled to deal with shareholders in the coming months.

The UK-based company’s new bosses will have to contend with eroding market share as the cost-of-living crisis sends shoppers down to cheaper brand stores.

Andersen took over as chairman after his predecessor, Maren Dekkers, stepped down after an unsuccessful effort to consolidate the company’s headquarters in the Netherlands. The company later reversed course, abandoning its Anglo-Dutch structure to consolidate its base in London.