"It was quite difficult just to count them," Mr. Clift says. So that's where he started.
Now, Unilever knows that more than three-quarters of its business comes from 20 global brands. "There are six personal-care brands for which we have exceptional ambition-Dove, Lux, Pond's, Axe, Rexona and Sunsilk-and they all grew last year in double digits," he says.
Mr. Clift has named 12 global brand managers to handle "the PC6" and key detergent brands. He's invested them with strong executional authority on issues of equity and advertising that used to rest with junior local brand managers.
"It's mostly about connecting up the business," he says. Brand names may still vary, but positioning and ads make it clear that Sunsilk and Latin America's Seda shampoo, for instance, are the same brand.
By raising the level of scrutiny on brand equity and advertising, Mr. Clift says, he can tell agencies he wants their best creative talent, as well as high-caliber planning and account directors. To him, that's more important than "full-service agencies in 80 countries."
Mr. Clift, 45, studied medieval languages at Cambridge. He made his mark in the U.K. in the mid-1990s by boldly firing Unilever's biggest agency, then called Ammirati Puris Lintas, from the Lynx and Impulse brands, and daring to move them to Bartle Bogle Hegarty. Soon both were winning creative awards, and Bartle got an international role on Axe (Lynx's name outside the U.K.), including last year's U.S. launch. A talent for inspiring creative thinking prompted a U.K. magazine to refer to him as a "living client saint."
Appointed chairman of the Latin America Personal Care Category Group in 2000 after three years in the region, Mr. Clift was living happily in Brazil, where he adopted a Brazilian street child as a foster son, when the global marketing job beckoned.
After two years of spending added time on organizational change at Unilever, Mr. Clift, clearly thinking about some of his competitors, says, "We're trying to strike a balance between being mindlessly global and hopelessly local."