Hein Schumacher becomes the new head of Unilever

London, Dusseldorf The manufacturer of Knorr, Dove and Domestos has found a new CEO. Hein Schumacher will take over management of the British consumer goods group Unilever on July 1, the group announced on Monday.

Jope’s successor, Schumacher, currently manages the large Dutch dairy Friesland Campina. He has also been a non-executive director at Unilever since October 2022. The Dutchman knows the group, which has been based exclusively in London for two years: Schumacher began his career in Unilever’s finance department.

The new boss takes over the competitor of the Dusseldorf Persil and Pril manufacturer Henkel in difficult times. Like all consumer goods manufacturers, Unilever struggles with rising costs from freight, energy and raw materials. At the same time, many consumers spend less money on branded products and instead buy cheaper store brands.

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In addition to these problems in the industry, there is internal unrest at Unilever: the entry of activist financial investor Nelson Peltz has accelerated the change in leadership at Unilever. The American holds 1.5 percent of the shares through his hedge fund Trian and is also a member of the board of directors.

Alan Jope

The manager is retiring soon.

(Photo: Bloomberg)

Peltz joined Unilever last year. Previously, in January 2022, Jope had unsuccessfully attempted to take over the consumer goods division of pharmaceutical giant Glaxo-Smithkline (GSK), known for brands such as Sensodyne toothpaste and Voltaren pain ointment. The company rejected the offer for the division as too low, the criticism of Unilever investors and analysts at Jope was unusually harsh.

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In addition, there is an ongoing dispute with the American subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s. The ice cream makers maintained their independence on social issues and refused to ship their products to Israeli-occupied Palestine. After several court cases, it was said in December 2022 that the problem had been solved.

Unilever has barely grown recently

In Jope’s five-year tenure, Unilever’s revenue and share price have not increased noticeably. Peltz believes that Schumacher can change that: He looks forward to working closely with Schumacher “to create significant and sustainable value for our stakeholders,” said the 80-year-old.

Schumacher and Peltz first met over ten years ago at the sauce and spice manufacturer Kraft Heinz (then HJ Heinz). “I was impressed by Schumacher’s leadership and business acumen,” Peltz recalled. Before his ten-year tenure at Kraft Heinz, Schumacher had worked for the Dutch retail group Royal Ahold.

Getting Unilever back on track for growth will not be an easy task for Schumacher. With eleven billion euros, Friesland Campina only makes about a fifth of Unilever’s turnover. In addition, the company, which Schumacher will continue to run until the end of April, is not listed on the stock exchange.

Schumacher has experience with restructuring

The large dairy is therefore significantly smaller than his new employer. However, Schumacher was very successful in restructuring the company. In the first half of 2022, he was able to more than double the operating profit compared to the same period of the previous year. The company benefited from the resurgence of the baby food business.

At Unilever, Schumacher now has to continue the corporate restructuring initiated under Jope. In order to be able to react more quickly to new trends, the company is now divided into five divisions, before Jope’s time there were three. Unilever wants to focus more on the areas of health, beauty and hygiene, from which the company expects higher-margin and more sustainable growth.

Analysts welcomed the change in leadership. “We believe that Unilever needs a cultural and organizational restructuring,” said James Edwardes Jones of Canada’s RBC Bank in London. However, it could take up to 18 months before the first results of the new management will be seen. The stock exchange hardly reacted to the personnel.

Analysts speculate on Unilever’s food business

Schumacher’s many years of experience in the food business fueled speculation among observers about the corresponding divisions of Unilever. Analysts have long speculated that Unilever could sell its ice cream brands or even exit the food business altogether.

Unilever will present its annual figures for 2022 next Thursday. Analysts expect a significant increase in sales to almost 60 billion euros. However, the growth is mainly explained by passed-on price increases, overall the group is likely to have sold fewer products. Due to increased costs, observers expect a lower profit.

More: ‘Totally surprising’ – Alan Jope will step down as head of Dove and Ax maker Unilever at the end of 2023

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