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Hands-on wins Unilever race hands-down

business Updated: Sep 05, 2008 21:47 IST
Anita Sharan
Anita Sharan
Hindustan Times
Paul Polman

The naming of Paul Polman of Nestle to held Unilever Group, parent of Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) has surprised many Indians who were expecting local boys MS ‘Vindi’ Banga or Harish Manwani to get to the top global slot – given Lever’s penchant to groom internal talent.

So what happened?

India is hot and indeed the two Indians were hotshots, but in the larger scheme, US and Europe are the biggest zones, and a local veteran – Polman spent 26 years earlier with rival Procter & Gamble – would make sense.

“The expectation of an Indian appointment was unfounded. If you look at the FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) space, the bulk of the market – in terms of revenues and bottomlines – still lies in the US and Europe for multinationals,” said Nabankur Gupta, chairman of Blue Ocean Capital and Advisory Services.

R. Suresh, managing director, Stanton Chase, says, “Polman’s appointment is synergistic for Unilever – the group has taken a beating recently in the US and seen volumes decline in Europe.”

Polman’s appointment is the third top-level “outsider” appointment at Levers in recent times. Suresh observes that in a globalising market, it is the right fit that matters.

There have been Indians such as Indra Nooyi (Pepsico) and Vikram Pandit (Citibank), Rajat Gupta (McKinsey) and Arun Sarin (Vodafone) occupying the top global jobs, but then, they had hands-on exposure in the West.