Unilever chief Alan Jope set to step down after bungled £50bn bid to takeover Glaxo’s consumer healthcare business
The boss of Marmite to Magnum maker Unilever is retiring – months after a bungled £50billion takeover tilt at GlaxoSmithKline’s consumer healthcare business.
Alan Jope will step down as chief executive at the end of 2023 following a period in which it has been criticised for ‘woke’ decision-making and clashed with the founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
Shares in Unilever rose 1.8 per cent, or 73.5p, to 4100p yesterday on the announcement.
Tough tenure: Unilever chief executive Alan Jope (pictured) has overseen a flat share price
Jope took over in January 2019 and the shares zipped higher early in his tenure but have since returned to roughly where they were when he started.
He was paid £4.4million in 2021 and has received just under £12million over three full years in the job.
The consumer goods giant, whose products include Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Domestos bleach, this year abandoned an attempt to buy the division of GSK behind products such as Sensodyne toothpaste.
That business was later spun off and floated under the new name Haleon and is valued at just over £25billion, about half of what Jope had offered.
Unilever’s bid to buy it was met by disapproval from shareholders. Fund manager Terry Smith told investors Unilever had ‘lost the plot’ – for example, through a statement in which it defined the purpose of Hellmann’s.
‘The brand has existed since 1913 so we would guess that by now consumers have figured out its purpose (spoiler alert – salads and sandwiches),’ he wrote.
Smith said managers seemed ‘obsessed with publicly displaying sustainability credentials at the expense of focusing on the fundamentals of the business’.
There was also controversy about Ben & Jerry’s decision not to sell ice cream in the West Bank as sales ‘in the Occupied Palestinian territory’ were ‘inconsistent with our values’.
Unilever, which owns the brand, tried to sidestep the row by selling the Israeli part of the business to a local licence holder but last month a US judge rejected a legal attempt by Ben & Jerry’s to try to stop its parent company from carrying out the move.
Founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield said the sale violated an agreement when Unilever bought the brand in 2000 that gave the independent board of the ice cream company authority over its ‘social mission’.
Meanwhile, Unilever this year revealed plans to cut about 1,500 management jobs.
Jope’s announcement of his departure came two months after activist investor Nelson Peltz joined the board after his Trian Partners built up a stake.
Unilever is dealing with soaring costs and shaky consumer confidence. It said over the summer it had put up prices by 11.2 per cent in response to surging costs, and admitted this had some impact on sales.
Tineke Frikkee, fund manager at investor Waverton Investment Management, said Jope’s exit ‘may signal more welcome future change’.
She added: ‘The unappealing plan to buy consumer healthcare from GSK has tainted Mr Jope’s track record somewhat.’
Russ Mould, at AJ Bell, said: ‘The influence of Peltz is only likely to increase in the wake of this announcement and this could mean more radical action to streamline the group and improve its performance.’