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Unilever’s soap opera: M&A, Nelson Peltz, CEO to retire


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Unilever CEO Alan Jope plans to retire at the end of 2023 roughly two months after activist investor Nelson Peltz joined the board of the consumer goods company.

The maker of Dove soap and Magnum ice cream has had a bumpy few years, with shares falling about a quarter from highs seen in late 2019 and CEO Alan Jope’s plans facing scrutiny.

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Here are key developments around Unilever in the past year.

NOV. 18, 2021:

Unilever agreed to sell its global tea business to CVC Capital Partners for 4.5 billion euros ($5.1 billion), concluding a process of reviewing and spinning off the division that had taken more than two years.

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JAN. 15, 2022:

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) said it had rejected a 50-billion-pound ($68 billion) offer for its consumer goods business from Unilever. The offer “fundamentally undervalued” the business, said GSK.

GSK said it had received a third approach from Unilever on Dec. 20 and that the offer had comprised 41.7 billion pounds in cash and 8.3 billion in Unilever shares.

Unilever confirmed that it had approached GSK about buying the business.

JAN. 17

Unilever signaled it would still pursue a deal for GSK’s consumer business, calling it a “strong strategic fit,” but its shares slid more than 8%. The company also said it would announce an initiative later in the month to strengthen its business.

JAN. 19

Unilever said it would not raise its offer for GSK’s consumer healthcare business from 50 billion pounds, effectively abandoning its pursuit of the GSK business. Sources had told Reuters GSK would not engage with Unilever unless the offer were sweetened.

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JAN. 20

British fund manager Terry Smith criticized the failed bid as a “near death experience” and urged Unilever to focus on strengthening performance.

JAN. 23

A source told Reuters that the hedge fund of activist investor Nelson Peltz, Trian Partners, had built a stake in Unilever, ratcheting up pressure on the company, months after Peltz had stepped down from the board of rival P&G.

JAN. 24

Unilever shares rose 6% on reports of Peltz having acquired a stake.

JAN. 25

Unilever unveiled plans to cut about 1,500 management jobs and reshape its business to focus on five main product areas as it tried to boost growth.

MARCH 8

Unilever became the first major European food company to stop imports into and exports from Russia after the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

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APRIL 28

Unilever raised prices by more than 8% in the first quarter and warned more rises were on the way as it lifted its cost-inflation forecast for the second half of the year due to the Ukraine conflict.

MAY 31

Unilever announced the appointment of Nelson Peltz to its board as it engaged in talks about strategy with the American activist investor, who now holds around a 1.5% stake in the company, a Unilever statement said.

June 30

Unilever sold its Ben & Jerry’s ice cream business in Israel to its local licensee for an undisclosed sum, aiming to smooth over a diplomatic dispute.

July 20

Peltz joins Unilever board. (Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka and Yadarisa Shabong in Bengaluru Editing by Mark Potter, Bradley Perrett and Jane Merriman)

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