Consumer goods giant Unilever on Monday appointed Hein Schumacher to replace Alan Jope as chief executive from July 1 in a move that was welcomed by board member and activist shareholder Nelson Peltz.
Schumacher, 51, joined Unilever in October last year as non-executive director and is currently the chief of Dutch dairy business FrieslandCampina. His appointment marks the first time Unilever has given the top job to a non-Unilever executive since it poached Paul Polman from Nestle in 2008.
Unilever, One of the biggest consumer companies in the world with more than 400 brands ranging from detergent to ice cream, said in September said that Jope planned to retire at the end of 2023.
Schumacher, who was formerly at Royal Ahold NV, also worked for H.J. Heinz for a decade across the United States, Europe and Asia.
Billionaire activist investor Nelson Peltz, who heads investor Trian Partners, said he strongly supports Schumacher “as our new CEO and look(s) forward to working closely with him to drive significant sustainable stakeholder value.” Peltz become a Unilever board member in July after it was revealed early last year that he had built a stake in the company.
“I first met Hein when I served as a director at the H.J. Heinz Company from 2006 to 2013 and was impressed by his leadership skills and business acumen,” Peltz said.
Peltz, through his Trian Fund, holds a nearly 1.5 per cent stake in Unilever, making him the fourth largest shareholder, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.
Unilever had been considering internal and external candidates for the role.
Sources told Reuters in October that the candidates included finance chief Graeme Pitkethly, personal care division boss Fabian Garcia and Hanneke Faber, who heads the company’s nutrition group.
“It is good Schumacher has plenty of industry experience outside Unilever, particularly international,” said Tineke Frikee, a fund manager at Unilever shareholder Waverton Investment Management.
“I note though that his background is mainly in food, rather than beauty and personal care. This may lead the market to reduce the probability of a potential food spin-off.”
Unilever’s food business includes Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Colman’s mustard, Hellman’s mayonnaise and Knorr stock cubes.
Some investors and analysts have speculated over the past year that Unilever might spin off what they feel is a weaker food business to focus on personal goods, beauty and home care.
Analysts at Jefferies and RBC Capital welcomed Unilever’s appointment of an external CEO, saying investors will support the move.
“We think Unilever needs a cultural and organisational shake-up,” RBC analyst James Edwardes Jones wrote in a note.
Schumacher brings “frontline experience”, analysts at Jefferies said.