The Unilever chief executive, Alan Jope, will step down at the end of next year, the international consumer goods group has announced.
The FTSE 100 company, whose brands include Dove soap, Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Domestos bleach, and Marmite, told the stock market on Monday that Jope had decided to retire.
His departure at the end of 2023 will come after 37 years with the London-headquartered company and five at the top, during which his main focus has been dealing with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, including the disruption to global supply chains and spending habits.
Unilever shares have gained just over 10% during Jope’s reign, recovering from a four-year low in March. During his tenure as CEO he sold a large tea-making division and unified the company’s previously split structure in London – a persistent source of investor discomfort.
He has also made what some investors judged as strategic missteps, most notably his £50bn attempt in January to take over GlaxoSmithKline’s consumer healthcare arm. Investors reacted with fury, the pharma company rebuffed Unilever’s advances and the division instead listed on the London Stock Exchange as Haleon.
Later that month, Jope announced a plan to sell slower-growing operations and grow Unilever’s health, beauty and hygiene business in a bet on increasing prosperity in emerging economies. He also cut 1,500 management jobs and announced a reorganisation of the business that could make sales of part of it easier.
One of the company’s most pressing problems is a dispute with Ben & Jerry’s over its sale in the occupied West Bank. Unilever agreed an unusual takeover deal for the ice-cream brand under which it retained some independence over decisions on social issues. However, its founders have accused Unilever of violating the agreement.
Jope’s retirement would trigger a search for a successor that would include internal and external candidates, Unilever said.
The company’s chair, Nils Andersen, said: “Unilever has seen improved performance, enabled by its clear strategic choices and a significant company transformation. The board will now conduct an orderly succession process and support Alan and the management team in further driving the performance of Unilever.”
Jope said: “As I approach my fifth year as CEO, and after more than 35 years in Unilever, I believe now is the right time for the board to begin the formal search for my successor. Growth remains our top priority, and in the quarters ahead I will remain fully focused on disciplined execution of our strategy and leveraging the full benefits of our new organisation.”