Royal Dutch Shell Group .com

Daily Telegraph: Only thing changing at Unilever is its shares: Unilever to keep dual structure: “Oh dear. Rather like Royal Dutch Shell 18 months ago, Unilever's self-satisfied management team just do not get it.”: Tuesday 20 December 2005


Now there's a surprise. A long and detailed review into Unilever's befuddling dual corporate structure has concluded that no change is needed.


What the highly respected banker advising the company termed "one of the most exhaustive and thorough studies that he has seen undertaken in the City" has done all it can to play up the benefits its half-Dutch, half-UK system produces.


Oh dear. Rather like Royal Dutch Shell 18 months ago, Unilever's self-satisfied management team just do not get it. Things are more than fine, they argue. So what's the need for change?


It always pays to follow the money, and in Unilever's case, the money is flowing away from its shares. In the months after Patrick Cescau was appointed chief executive, shareholders dared to dream that he would shake up the company's smug, inward looking culture and streamline its complex committee-driven management processes.


Unilever's share price actually went up, as Cescau gave the impression of following on from Niall Fitzgerald's good work.


How wrong they were. In recent weeks the shares have been on a downward path as reality has dawned that Unilever is not for changing. (Yesterday, in London, the share price closed at 572.5p, down 10p).


Cescau argued that the biggest breakthrough for shareholders was the scrapping of the dual chairmanship. He is the sole chief executive, with Antony Burgmans chairman.


Indeed that was a breakthrough, but when trying to change something as stuck in its ways as Unilever, investors were rightly looking for much more. A unified single structure was vital if returns to shareholders were to begin to figure more prominently in the Unilever mind-set.


There have been no end of restructurings at Unilever, but still the perception persists that it is a company run for the people who work at the company, rather than the shareholders who own it.


Another idea was for Unilever to split itself into two companies - food brands and soap brands - but Cescau has also ruled that out.


Shareholders said yesterday they were disappointed, but not surprised. All eyes are now on who is picked to replace Burgmans. An outsider is badly needed, who has shareholders' interests running through his veins.


Unilever will no doubt want someone who can speak both Dutch and English. As far as investors are concerned, the chairman could speak only double Dutch so long as he understands the need for change.


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