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Unilever boss to retire after HQ move climbdown

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The chief executive of consumer goods giant Unilever has announced his retirement weeks after it cancelled plans to move its main headquarters away from London.

The Anglo-Dutch company behind such well-known brands such as Marmite, Magnum, Persil, and PG Tips abandoned the switch to Rotterdam last month in the face of resistance from shareholders.

Paul Polman will retire as chief executive at the end of December but stay on at the company until next summer to “support the transition process”, Unilever said.

He will be replaced by Alan Jope, who currently leads the conglomerate’s beauty and personal care division.

Generic shot of PG Tips, made by FTSE 100 company Unilever
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PG Tips is one of Unilever’s brands

Unilever chairman Marijn Dekkers 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.”

The company said that Mr Polman had delivered consistent sales and profit growth ahead of rivals.

It said Mr Jope had been appointed to succeed him after a “rigorous and wide-ranging selection process”.

He will be continued to be paid in line with the company’s remuneration policy – which last year saw him receive a total package of €11.7m – until he leaves on 2 July.

That total figure was bolstered by incentive awards which Mr Polman will no longer receive now that he is leaving.

Toast with Marmite, a Unilever brand, sits on a kitchen counter in Manchester, Britain October 13, 2016.
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Marmite was among products pulled from Tesco shelves in a row over price in 2016

The end of his tenure has been marked by Unilever’s humiliating climbdown over its planned changes to the company’s dual corporate structure split across the UK and the Netherlands.

Unliever has consistently said the plan to switch focus to Rotterdam was nothing to do with Brexit though the decision not to do so was widely seen as a boost for the UK.

The company said it had received “widespread support for the principle behind simplification” but cancelled its proposals after acknowledging that it had failed to receive the backing of “a significant group of shareholders”.

Among those who had shown their disapproval of the plan were Royal London, Columbia Threadneedle, Legal & General Investment Management, Aviva Investors, Lindsell Train, M&G Investments and Brewin Dolphin.

The move would be likely to have meant that Unilever no longer qualified for membership of the FTSE 100, an outcome which would probably have depressed its share price.

Mr Polman’s time in charge of Unilever also saw it fall out with Tesco after it tried to pass on the higher costs of goods such as Marmite following the plunge in the pound after the Brexit vote.

That saw the supermarket giant temporarily pull dozens of the company’s products from its website though the falling-out was later resolved.

Unilever, which is behind well-known household brands such as Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Lipton teas, employs around 169,000 people around the world.

It employs around 7,300 people in the UK and 3,100 in the Netherlands.

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