Mr. Braeken, 46, is the "right man to turbocharge Unilever's huge potential in China," says Tom Doctoroff, JWT's area director-Northeast Asia and CEO-China. "He's operationally brilliant while still maintaining an underlying appreciation of the role of brands in maximizing profit."
When Mr. Braeken, who is Belgian, arrived in Shanghai in August 2005, the Anglo-Dutch company was finally overcoming one of its biggest obstacles in China: extricating itself from a string of messy joint ventures that didn't work well, tying Unilever in operational knots.
"This is a new episode in Unilever history," Mr. Braeken says. "It's not a secret that we've had ups and downs in China. But now we're completely in charge of our own destiny, and we put ... ice cream, food, and home and personal care together to better leverage the business."
But other problems remained. Unilever had fallen behind Procter & Gamble Co. and Colgate-Palmolive Co. in areas like adapting local insights to new product formulations and developing localized communication.
For example, Unilever struggled to alter its product mix to meet differences in China's geography-a hot and humid southern coast and dry, cold northern provinces.
Unilever and its global rivals find it tough to compete against local marketers, particularly in the dynamic personal-care category. The company also had strained relationships with its creative agencies in China.
Resolving such issues fell to Mr. Braeken, and Unilever is already showing signs of a rebound. Sales growth doubled to 30% in the second half of 2005, thanks in part to successful product extensions for the Pond's and Lux brands.
"My goal when I arrived in China was to transform the company from laggard into a winner by transforming the teams, the culture and not the strategy but our execution of the strategy," Mr. Braeken says. He predicts growth will near 30% this year too, as Unilever gets more products into distribution and leverages the benefits of its new organization and global-brand development structure.
* "Operational brilliance" needed to realize China potential
* Experience in emerging markets back to 1987