Unilever gets snarled in its own untangling

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The dramatic reorganization designed to create a streamlined and agile "One Unilever" is instead causing confusion and paralysis in the ranks of the $52 billion consumer-products giant.

News of shifting assignments and reporting lines is coming in dribbles rather than waves, with announcements hitting e-mail inboxes almost daily. That's unsettled Unilever marketing executives, leaving the impression that the new structure-modeled in many ways on rival Procter & Gamble Co.-remains very much a work in progress.

Unilever has publicly announced only one of dozens of reassignments, promotions or departures in the most recent wave of restructuring, which came on the heels of the January appointment of seven executives reporting directly to CEO Patrick Cescau. He became sole CEO at the time, ending decades of rule by dual chiefs.

The second stage of the restructuring-termed a "de-layering" in January by Mr. Cescau-culminates by far the largest upheaval of senior executives at the company in at least two decades.

"It's very unusual for Unilever because of the radical nature of the restructure and because the generals have been moved so dramatically that they don't know some of the very significant commanders they need in the front line," said one person familiar with the company. "Very significant people are still wondering where they're going."

This person believes the multitude of moves will result in delays in marketing initiatives because many players still aren't in place to make key decisions.

Not so, said Unilever. "With the changes that are going on, we absolutely remain committed to our business goals and objectives," said a spokeswoman, who added that public announcements of new executive assignments probably won't come until all changes are complete.

The moves aim to reshape Unilever largely along lines rival P&G adopted six years ago, with global managers overseeing marketing and product development, and regional bosses controlling such areas as sales, media buying and trade marketing.

But Unilever's system includes a key difference, giving regional bosses, such as President-Americas John Rice profit-and-loss responsibility. That lies with global category chiefs in P&G's system. Along with P&L authority, Unilever's regional bosses appear to get final say over budgets, manufacturing and timing of initiatives.

Since January, the only management change publicly announced was the appointment of Michael Polk as president of U.S. foods, succeeding and reporting to Mr. Rice. Mr. Polk's appointment comes less than two years after the P&G veteran was hired away from Kraft Foods to become senior VP marketing and chief operating officer of Unilever Bestfoods.


Several other moves, yet to be announced publicly, include:

--Alan Jope, formerly chief operating officer for Unilever HPC in North America, to the top job at the unit. He'll report to Mr. Rice, filling a post vacated by Harish Manwani, named president-Asia and Africa.

--Randy Quinn, senior VP-brand development for Unilever HPC, essentially chief marketing and product development officer of the unit, moves to London with global responsibilities in home care. Mr. Quinn reports to Keith Weed, now global senior VP-home care.

--Simon Clift, global CMO of Unilever HPC, takes over as senior VP-global personal care. He'll be Mr. Weed's counterpart over a business that's been the all-around best performer for Unilever globally.

--Silvia Lagnado, who was global brand director for Dove, gets what appears to be a substantial two-grade promotion to senior VP, still overseeing Dove and continuing to report to Mr. Clift.

--Andrew Gross, VP-brand development for hair care in North America, has left. A Unilever spokeswoman confirmed the departure but not Mr. Gross' replacement, said to be Stan Cook, who had been general manager of Unilever's U.S. deodorant business.

The moves appear to signal more control over advertising direction from London, where most of the top category chiefs reside.

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