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Unilever chief Alan Jope set to step down after failed Glaxo bid

Tough tenure: Unilever chief executive Alan Jope (pictured) oversaw a fixed share price

Unilever chief Alan Jope set to step down after failed £50bn bid to take over Glaxo’s consumer healthcare business

The boss of Marmite maker Magnum Unilever is retiring – months after a failed £50billion takeover of GlaxoSmithKline’s consumer healthcare business.

Alan Jope will step down as chief executive at the end of 2023 after a period in which he was criticized for his “woke” decision-making and clashed with the founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

Shares of Unilever rose 1.8%, or 73.5p, to 4100p yesterday on the announcement.

Tough tenure: Unilever chief executive Alan Jope (pictured) oversaw a fixed share price

Tough tenure: Unilever chief executive Alan Jope (pictured) oversaw a fixed share price

Jope took over in January 2019 and shares rose early in his tenure, but have since returned to roughly where they were when he started.

He was paid £4.4m in 2021 and received just under £12m over three full years on the job.

The consumer goods giant, whose products include Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Domestos bleach, this year dropped an attempt to buy the division of GSK behind products such as Sensodyne toothpaste.

This business was later spun off and launched under the new name Haleon and is valued at just over £25bn, around half of what Jope had offered.

Unilever’s takeover bid met with shareholder disapproval. Fund manager Terry Smith told investors that Unilever had “lost the plot” – for example, through a statement in which he set out Hellmann’s aim.

“The brand has been around since 1913, so we believe consumers now understand 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 business fundamentals.”

Ben & Jerry’s decision not to sell ice cream in the West Bank was also the subject of controversy, as sales “in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” were “inconsistent with our values”.

Unilever, owner of the brand, tried to avoid the dispute by selling the Israeli part of the business to a local licensee, but last month a US judge rejected a legal attempt by Ben & Jerry’s to try to prevent its parent company from making the move.

Founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield said the sale breached an agreement when Unilever bought the brand in 2000 that gave the ice cream company’s independent board of directors authority over its “social mission”.

Meanwhile, Unilever this year revealed plans to cut around 1,500 senior management positions.

Jope’s announcement of his departure came two months after activist investor Nelson Peltz joined the board after his partners Trian made a stake.

Unilever faces soaring costs and fragile consumer confidence. He said over the summer he had raised prices by 11.2% in response to soaring costs, and admitted that had had some impact on sales.

Tineke Frikkee, fund manager at investor Waverton Investment Management, said Jope’s exit “could signal more welcome future changes”.

She added: ‘The unattractive plan to buy consumer healthcare from GSK has somewhat tainted Mr Jope’s track record.

Russ Mould, at AJ Bell, said: “Peltz’s influence is only likely to increase following this announcement and that could mean more drastic action to streamline the group and improve its performance.”

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