What was Kilts' rush to get Gillette sold off?

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Certainly Jim Kilts had millions of reasons to sell Gillette. The unanswered question is: Why now? And the answer could reveal why he won't be around, after two fix-it-and-flip-it deals in five years with Nabisco and Gillette, to do the rumored hat trick by flipping another troubled brand marketer like Coca-Cola Co.

The chairman-CEO of Gillette gets around $185 million by selling Gillette to Procter & Gamble Co. That's plenty of incentive, even for a guy who already made about $100 million selling Nabisco to the conglomerate formerly known as Philip Morris.

But Mr. Kilts should've been able to make even more by selling Gillette later. Things were looking up. Gillette had largely neutralized a threat by Energizer Holdings' Schick. His options were already doing very nicely, thanks, as the stock emerged from a five-year funk.

Still, he looked very much like a man in a hurry to deal.

First, Mr. Kilts tried buying Colgate-Palmolive Co. last spring. But he gave up when Colgate Chairman-CEO Reuben Mark asked too much. This, sans Colgate's name, can be found in a filing P&G released last week. Numerous people familiar with the matter finger Colgate as the target. It speaks volumes about changing fortunes that only two years earlier they'd been talking merger of equals, not acquisition by Gillette.

Then, Mr. Kilts approached P&G. And after on-again off-again talks aided in part by Warren Buffett, P&G finally met him more than halfway with an offer at industry-record multiples.

His nine-figure payday has Mr. Kilts looking like a world-class greedball. But the fact he tried to buy Colgate first seems to counter this. Even without paying Mr. Mark's ransom, Gillette would've paid nearly as dearly as P&G paid for Gillette, whose stock and Mr. Kilts' fortune would've taken a hit.

So why the hurried courtships? Another cynical theory is that it's never good to let a turnaround story ripen too long. Some believe Mr. Kilts, who dealt Nabisco just ahead of the food industry's obesity bust, saw a bad hand ahead for Gillette, too. But Mr. Kilts has agreed to stay on with P&G a year after closing and keep his stock six months longer.

The real reason may be that Mr. Kilts, 57, at the urging of his wife, just wanted to retire. People familiar with the matter say he'd told Gillette's board he planned to step down next year and the board, snubbing internal candidates, had retained SpencerStuart arch-headhunter Thomas Neff (no relation) for a CEO search.

A Gillette spokesman terms this story "absurd" and says Gillette's board had a succession plan. He says the real reason for selling Gillette to P&G, which the always-on-message Mr. Kilts has repeated often lately, was to "create the world's greatest consumer-products company."

Presumably, waiting for Colgate to soften its demands wouldn't have been nearly so ideal. And if Mr. Kilts is serious about hanging up his guns, maybe it also means selling Coke to Nestle didn't look so hot, either.

* The chairman-CEO of Gillette will reap about $185 million selling Gillette to P&G

* Execs close to the situation said he'd told Gillette's board of his plan to step down in '06

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