Rule-breakers rise in Unilever restructuring

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Unilever is shifting two executives who led the charge for edgy advertising and nontraditional communications in the company's high-flying deodorant business, one of the bright spots in a sometimes grim U.S. picture for the giant marketer.

Esther Lem, VP-brand development for North American deodorant, helped lead the successful 2002 U.S. launch of Axe and is moving to the same role in hair care, where Unilever has struggled in recent years.

She's being replaced on the deodorant side by Christopher Luxon, who's been brand development director for Degree the past 18 months. He helped lead a successful-to-date restage of Degree this year, including the brand's first Super Bowl ad. In his prior stop in London, Mr. Luxon led a successful defense against Procter & Gamble Co.'s since-discontinued European launch of Secret.

The move of the deodorant duo comes as Unilever's massive global restructuring trickles down to the director and manager levels. A Unilever spokeswoman in the U.S. confirmed the moves but declined to comment.


Unilever's deodorant market share was up 1.6 points last year and another 2.6 points in the first quarter to a record 20.3%, according to Information Resources Inc. figures from Deutsche Bank. By contrast, in hair care, where Ms. Lem is taking over, the company lost 1.6 share points in shampoo and 3 points in conditioner last year, shedding another 0.9 and 2 points respectively in the first quarter.

Globally, Unilever has rounded out top management in its home and personal-care businesses, too. John Trafford, who formerly had global duties over hair care, is now senior VP-skin care. Fernando Fernandez, an Argentine native who had headed Unilever's Sunsilk brand in Europe, is now senior VP-hair care. Geoffrey Probert, who had global skin and deodorant duties under Unilever's old structure, is now senior VP-global deodorant. Sebastian Lazell, a general manager from the European laundry business, is the new senior VP-global oral care, where Unilever sold off its U.S. stake in 2003.

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