Nestle Americas chief leaves for Unilever

Sep 04, 2008

Paul Polman, who was passed over last year in Nestle SA’s search for a new worldwide CEO, is leaving the Swiss food giant to become group chief executive of rival Unilever PLC.

Polman, a 52-year-old Dutchman, was Nestle SA’s executive vice president in charge of Zone Americas. He was considered by some observers a leading candidate to succeed Nestle CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, but lost out to Paul Bulcke.

Patrick Cescau currently is group chief executive at the Anglo-Dutch consumer products company but announced his intentions to retire. Polman will take over some time this fall.

“Patrick has had an outstanding career,” said Michael Treschow, chairman of Unilever. “We are greatly in his debt for the transformation he has brought about over the last four years. The performance of the business has improved markedly under his leadership. Liked and admired in equal measure, Patrick leaves a substantial record on which to build.

“At the same time, we are very pleased to welcome Paul Polman,” Treschow continued. “He is a great talent with significant international experience and an excellent track record. He has all the attributes necessary to build on Patrick’s achievements. We are delighted that he has agreed to join the business and to lead Unilever into the next stage of its development.”

Nestle sounded sorry to see him go. “We respect Mr. Polman’s decision and thank him for his valuable contribution during his time with Nestlé”, said Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Nestle chairman. During his three years tenure, first as chief financial officer and since February as head of Zone Americas, he played an important role in Nestlé’s conversion to a leading nutrition, health and wellness company.

Nestle’s board of directors appointed Luis Cantarell, executive vice president in charge of Zone Europe, to replace Polman as head of Zone Americas. Succeeding Cantarell in Europe will be Laurent Freixe, currently market head of the Iberian Region.