Irish-born Mr. FitzGerald, 50, was originally expected to join Unilever's special committee a year ago to put him in line for the co-chairman post. But he asked to remain in his current job for another year to try to clean up the damage to Unilever's detergent business.
He took the blame as Unilever's heavily advertised rollout of a new stain-fighting detergent turned into a catastrophe when Procter & Gamble Co. publicized test laundry results indicating the new brand faded colors and weakened the fibers of clothing.
There was widespread speculation Mr. FitzGerald might have lost his shot at Unilever's top job. But agency executives familiar with the company said he redeemed himself by taking decisive action, which included scrapping the Power brand.
An agency executive who attended an important Unilever dinner at the crisis' height recalled Mr. FitzGerald's chair being empty at an event he was supposed to be hosting while he worked late.
However, the company said in reporting results for the third quarter 1995 that "detergents [in Europe] recorded lower profits on sales close to last year."
Between now and next summer, Mr. FitzGerald's main task is to review Unilever's cumbersome structure.
"It's a fundamental review of the whole Unilever organization and management structure worldwide from the top," a company spokesman said.
Based in both the U.K. and the Netherlands, Unilever has a co-chairman in each location to oversee its detergents, personal products and food businesses. Decentralization and poor coordination have been problems, as shown by Unilever continuing a market-by-market roll out of the troubled Power.
Iain Anderson, director of Unilever's worldwide specialty chemicals business since 1992, will add Mr. FitzGerald's detergent responsibilities at least temporarily.