Unilever boss Paul Polman is stepping down with an £11.7million goodbye package after ending his decade-long reign at the company behind Marmite and Dove soap.
The 62-year-old’s retirement comes just months after the group’s plan to move its base from London to Rotterdam was scuppered by one of the City’s biggest shareholder revolts in years.
He will be succeeded in January by insider Alan Jope, the Scotsman in charge of Unilever’s beauty and personal care business.
However Polman will stay until July 2 during a transition period, and continue to receive top-tier pay of up to £2.4million.
Paul Polman’s retirement comes just months after the group’s plan to move its base from London to Rotterdam was scuppered by one of the City’s biggest shareholder revolts in years
He is also set to be handed shares in both the UK and Dutch halves of Unilever, worth some £9.3million at yesterday’s prices.
The chief executive was paid £10.3million in 2017 and can now earn up to £11.2million a year, under changes introduced in May.
Marijn Dekkers, the company’s chairman, paid tribute to Polman and insisted his departure had nothing to do with the bruising headquarters row.
He said: ‘Paul is an exceptional business leader who has transformed Unilever, making it one of the best-performing companies in its sector, and one of the most admired businesses in the world.
‘His role in helping to define a new era of responsible capitalism marks him out as one of the most far-sighted business leaders of his generation.’
Dekkers said preparations for Polman’s exit began a year ago after the Dutchman had indicated he wanted to retire. Asked if the headquarters revolt was a factor, he replied: ‘The appointment of Alan Jope as the successor of Paul has nothing to do with the simplification process.’
Polman was made the boss of Unilever in 2009, taking over from Frenchman Patrick Cescau, after holding senior roles at Nestle and Procter & Gamble.
Under his leadership, Unilever expanded its presence in emerging markets such as Asia, focused more on becoming environmentally friendly and saw shares rise by more than 160 per cent.
The chief executive is seen as a leading industry figure and a champion of social issues, counting celebrities such as Bono among his friends.
But he has faced criticism for his big pay packets, with a third of shareholders opposing the £11.2million deal approved this year.
Polman has previously said that executives should not be motivated by salaries, adding: ‘I am ashamed of the amount of money I earn.
‘I’ve often said that even if I didn’t get paid, I would still do the job.’
The Dutchman’s biggest challenge, however, came last year when he fended off a £115billion takeover bid from US rival Kraft-Heinz – a raid that was said to have left executives shaken.
It prompted a major review of the group, with Polman and Dekkers later selling the spreads business and proposing to scrap the historic dual structure, which gives headquarters in London and Rotterdam equal status.
This would have seen Rotterdam as the main base, but the plan was hugely controversial and Unilever did an embarrassing U-turn after facing a storm of protest from UK investors.
Polman later said that he had no regrets and that he had always attempted to do what was right for the company.
Andrew Wood, an analyst at Bernstein, said that some investors were irked by what they considered to be the chief executive’s preachy style – but he added that Polman had a strong record over the past decade.
The shares have far outperformed the FTSE 100 index.
Wood added: ‘Just like one of Unilever’s highest-profile products – Marmite – Polman engenders strongly differing opinions from investors.’
When Jope, 54, takes over in January, he will be Unilever’s first British chief executive in 22 years.
The motorcycle-mad father-of-three joined in 1985 as a graduate and has worked for the group in Russia, Africa, the Middle East, North America and Thailand.
He is a graduate of Edinburgh University and Harvard Business School and also once appeared alongside Donald Trump as a judge on the American version of reality TV show The Apprentice.
Unilever shares yesterday fell 0.1 per cent, or 3.5p, to 4254.5p.