Niall FitzGerald Departs Sept. 30; Ad Spending to Increase

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CINCINNATI (AdAge.com) -- Unilever Co-Chairman Niall FitzGerald will step down Sept. 30, the company announced today, as it also revealed the restructuring plan he helped engineer may fail to deliver the sales growth it originally projected for 2004.

Patrick Cescau, a French national who now heads Unilever's foods division, will succeed Mr. FitzGerald as co-chairman. Antony Burgmans remains Unilever's other co-chairman.

Lowered expectations
As it apparently heads toward failing to meet its goal in 2004 of increasing sales 5% to 6% on its leading brands, Unilever ratcheted down its long-term sales growth expectations to 3% to 5% through 2010 and said it will stop providing the detailed annual and quarterly projections it had provided over the past five years for sales, earnings and margin growth.

Sales of its roughly 400 leading brands rose only 2.5%, excluding currency effects, to around $51.2 billion -- less than half the rate it originally targeted for 2004 at the end of its restructuring plan, called "Path to Growth." The company projected "improved growth" of its leading brands for 2004, but did not provide more specific guidance.

Ad spending projection
In a London investor conference, Mr. FitzGerald stood by Unilever's projection that it will raise 2004 spending on advertising and promotion to 15% of sales, from 14.4% in 2003. But he said Unilever would not provide guidance on future advertising spending.

"I don't intend on using my parting shot to diminish the flexibility of my successor," he said in response to a question at a London investor conference.

In the conference, Mr. FitzGerald described the appointment of Mr. Cescau as part of an orderly transition that included informal evaluation of possible outside candidates. But in response to a request, he declined to have Mr. Cescau present his comments on Unilever's growth plans. Mr. FitzGerald said Unilever will give a fuller picture of its plans for the future at its annual meeting May 12.

The "Unilever 2010" plan also revealed today steers clear of any other dramatic reorganization, particularly the splitting of the company's food business from its home and personal care business, which had been anticipated by some people close to the company.

Playing up corporate identity
In a departure from the previously low profile the company has taken, Unilever will stamp its corporate logo more noticeably on its far-flung stable of brands, Mr. FitzGerald said.

"The Unilever name will appear on [packaging], on letterheads, on company signs, everywhere. You will start to see this from the middle of this year."

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