Friday, 16 November, 2018

Unilever has left London, but it hasn't gone

Heads Together campaign Waving goodbye Unilever chief executive Paul Polman is due to retire
Orlando Vargas | 15 March, 2018, 21:19

The company said Thursday that the decision to pick Rotterdam over London is part of a raft of structural changes that will turn it into "a simpler, more agile and more focused business".

PROUDLY overlooking the River Thames, Unilever House looks more royal palace than office building.

Unilever, however, argued that the move is driven by its need to simplify its structure.

Unilever CEO Paul Polman made a decision to abandon the dual listing after USA food giant Kraft crashed the party previous year in an ill-advised bid for the company (in corporate ethos terms, Kraft's backer 3G Capital is more or less the Anti-Unilever).

Softening the blow to the U.K., Unilever plans to base its beauty and personal-care division and the home-care business in London.

While Unilever noted that the group will continue to be listed in London, Amsterdam and NY, the group's chief financial officer Graeme Pitkethly told Reuters in an interview that the company's continued inclusion in the FTSE 100 index still had to be determined.

'The changes announced today also further strengthen Unilever's corporate governance, creating for the first time in our history a "one share, one vote" principle for all our shareholders'.

As consumer began to shift from the traditional brands to smaller companies that have more organic and natural ingredients, Unilever has attempted to keep up by buying businesses such as Dollar Shave Club, Sundial Brands and Schmidt's Naturals over the last few years.

However, the company has not broken down figures showing the number of staff involved in its headquarters operations in London. On Thursday, the share price closed down 1.7 percent in London and 1.0 percent in Amsterdam.

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However, it delayed a decision on location amid heightened political sensitivity caused by Brexit.

The global consumer goods company said that its 10,000 employees in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom would not be affected.

While unusual, the structure has been used by some of the largest companies with ties to both Britain and the Netherlands. The company had sales in 2017 of more than 50 billion euros ($62 billion).

The newspaper also said the team of British Prime Minister Theresa May was relieved that Unilever did not claim that the move was meant to "escape Britain's liberal regime on foreign takeovers".

"The opposite is true", he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever, said this morning that he could "categorically state" that the consumer giant's decision to move its domicile and legal headquarters had nothing to do with Brexit.

"Its decision to transfer a small number of jobs to a corporate headquarters in the Netherlands is part of a long-term restructuring of the company and is not connected to the UK's departure from the European Union", a spokesman at the British Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said.

Unilever's dual-headed structure has existed since 1930, when Dutch margarine firm Unie merged with British soapmaker Lever Brothers.

Unilever PLC and Unilever N.V. are technically separate companies but operating together thanks to a raft of agreements that allow them to share everything from brands and technology to identical boards of directors.

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