Colgate Makes It Official: CEO Reuben Mark to Step Down

Ends Speculation That Longtime Chief's Succession Plans on Hold

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BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Reuben Mark will step down July 1 as CEO of Colgate-Palmolive Co., passing the reins to current Chief Operating Officer Ian Cook, the company announced today.
Colgate CEO Reuben Mark transformed th emarketer from a weak also-ran getting clobbered in the U.S. by P&G into arguably the strongest global company in package goods.
Colgate CEO Reuben Mark transformed th emarketer from a weak also-ran getting clobbered in the U.S. by P&G into arguably the strongest global company in package goods.

Mr. Mark will remain chairman for up to 18 months after he retires as CEO, the company said.

Though Mr. Mark had laid plans for Mr. Cook to succeed him last year, the lengthy delay in setting a precise date led to speculation among some close to the company about whether it would, in fact, take place. Today's announcement puts that speculation to rest.

Helped transform an also-ran
It also marks the end of a CEO tenure in which Mr. Mark transformed Colgate from a weak also-ran getting clobbered in the U.S. by Procter & Gamble Co. into arguably the strongest global company in package goods.

On Mr. Mark's 23-year watch as CEO, Colgate's stock has risen nearly 17-fold. He exits with the marketer in a tough battle for leadership in the toothpaste category in the U.S. with P&G -- but clear leadership globally in toothpaste and broader oral care.

That strength has confounded even the best efforts of competitors to stop it. Having twice rebuffed overtures for a merger with Gillette Co., Mr. Mark saw the company instead acquired by chief rival P&G in 2005.

Yet today Colgate has a price-earnings multiple more than 20% higher than P&G and an even a bigger valuation lead over other players such as Unilever and Johnson & Johnson.

Mr. Mark accomplished that with a relentless focus on categories with stronger margins and growth rates and relatively little private-label competition, as well as by getting into developing markets well ahead of competitors in many cases.

First-quarter sales up 12%
As a result, for the first quarter, Colgate got 25% of its sales from Latin America, compared to 21% in North America -- not counting the Hill's pet-food business, which is reported separately. Colgate reported first-quarter sales up an impressive 12% to $3.2 billion, up 9.5% excluding the impact of divestitures and foreign currency, and hitting earnings estimates at 77 cents a share as the company boosted ad spending 20%.

The diminutive CEO known for enlivening otherwise dreary investor conferences with his wisecracks leaves some very big shoes to fill for Mr. Cook. Like Mr. Mark, he's a Colgate lifer with broad experience in virtually all parts of the company, but Mr. Cook lacks his predecessor's stage presence, which fueled some of the speculation that the succession might not go as planned.
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