Polk Heads to Newell Rubbermaid, Sparking Shake-Up at Unilever

Shift Sees Manwani Move Into Company's No. 2 Slot, Behind CEO Polman

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Newell Rubbermaid has named Unilever executive Mike Polk as its new CEO, apparently helping fuel a series of executive moves at Unilever.

Michael Polk
Michael Polk
Harish Manwani
Harish Manwani

Mr. Polk, 50, had been a board member of Newell since 2009 and was president-global foods, home and personal care for Unilever, essentially leading worldwide product and advertising development across all brands for the No. 2 global marketer. While he had been seen by some as likely to leave Unilever after Paul Polman got the nod to become CEO in 2008, he stayed on, moved up and appeared a top candidate to ultimately succeed Mr. Polman, making his departure a surprise.

Unilever announced a restructuring of its own senior ranks in the wake of Mr. Polk's departure. Harish Manwani, who was president of Asia, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, becomes chief operating officer, a new post, giving Unilever a clear No. 2 executive to Mr. Polman. He will take responsibility for all markets globally in what the company described as a move to drive speed to market "behind further simplification and efficiency."

Dave Lewis, currently president-Americas, will become president-personal care, reporting directly to Mr. Polman as the company divides Mr. Polk's former responsibilities four ways.

Kevin Havelock, now exec VP-ice cream, will become president of the newly established refreshment category, encompassing ice cream and beverages.

Antoine de Saint Affrique, now exec VP-skin, will become president-food, which includes savory, spreads and dressing.

Randy Quinn, now exec VP-laundry, and Sean Gogarty, senior VP-household care, will remain in those posts but report directly to Mr. Polman instead of Mr. Polk.

"Over the past few years, we have seen a significant step-up in our innovation success rate," Mr. Polman said in a statement. "The new structure will further accelerate this."

He called Mr. Polk "a great leader" who had a "very successful career with Unilever since joining from Kraft eight years ago."

"I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of my time at Unilever, especially the last few years working with Paul and the rest of the executive [team] to really transform the company," Mr. Polk said in a Unilever statement. In Newell's statement, he said, "I am honored to be joining Newell Rubbermaid. The company has a strong portfolio of brands and an excellent leadership team with a great opportunity to win in both the developed and emerging markets." He begins July 18.

Mr. Polk started his career at Procter & Gamble Co. like Mr. Polman and former Newell CEO Mark Ketchum. The latter announced his retirement earlier this year but will remain on the board until next May. Like Mr. Polk, Mr. Ketchum became Newell's CEO five years ago after serving on the company's board.

"In a very challenging environment, Mark and his team have strengthened the company and positioned us for growth," Mr. Polk said.

Mr. Ketchum led Newell toward being a more marketing-focused organization, hiring fellow P&G alum Ted Woehrle as chief marketing officer as the company looked to put more branding muscle behind a far-flung set of brands that includes Graco, Sharpie, Goody and Rubbermaid.

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