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Succession Planning Case Study

Case Title:

Leadership Change at Unilever: Can Paul Polman build on the Achievements of Patrick Cescau?

Publication Year : 2010

Authors: P Sheth, j Thadamalla and A Syed

Industry: Home Appliances and Personal Care Products


Case Code: SUP0018IRC

Teaching Note: Not Available

Structured Assignment: Not Available

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Unilever, an Anglo-Dutch multinational corporation and the world's second largest consumer group, announced its first ever profits warning in 2004 and 2005, as it did away with its dual chairmanship structure. The company introduced a new structure and appointed Frenchman, Patrick Cescau as its first ever group Chief Executive. Unilever's performance noticeably improved under Patrick's leadership. Since Patrick was to retire at the end of 2008, Unilever selected 52-year-old Dutch born, Paul Polman. In 78 years of Unilever history, the group was looking at an outsider to become their chief executive officer rather than promoting its home grown talent. Polman with 28 years of experience at both the major rivals of Unilever (26 years at Procter and Gamble and 2 years at Nestle), with excellent communication and strong operational skills, was considered as the ideal choice to succeed Patrick. The case facilitates discussion on whether Polman, being an outsider and finance person would be able to lead Unilever successfully and build on the achievements of Patrick.

Pedagogical Objectives:

  • The significance of leadership in an organisation.
  • The difficulties faced by an organisation during leadership transition.
  • To cultural changes and its impact on an organisation
  • To business transformation and expectations from the new leader.

Keywords :  Unilever, Paul Polman, Patrick Cescau, Significance of leadership, Leadership transition, Problems involved in leadership transition, Managing leadership transition, Succession planning, Opportunities and challenges for a new leader, Corporate restructuring, Business transformation, Cultural changes, Leadership traits, P&G, Nestle

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