Unilever washes its hands of Surf

July 29th, 2008 - 8:41 pm ICT by IANS  

New York, July 29 (IANS) Consumer products giant Unilever has agreed to sell Surf, Snuggle and other detergent brands in North America to a private equity group, Vestar Capital, for $1.45 billion even as two Indian origin executives are seen as candidates for the top job in the company. New York-based Vestar will merge the newly acquired business from Unilever with its existing Huish Detergents subsidiary to create a company called The Sun Products Corporation.

For Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch conglomerate dual listed in London and Rotterdam, the deal announced Monday is the largest assets sale since it divested in August last year a portfolio of non-core businesses with a combined annual turnover of over $3 billion.

Unilever was losing too many customers in the laundry business to rivals, mainly Procter & Gamble, and the sale is part of a turnaround strategy, which includes increasing sales, launching more products and uniting its traditionally separate food and consumer products businesses.

It is in this context that the focus in the firm is on Manvinder Singh Banga, 53, who was made head of the personal care and food products worldwide earlier this year.

“Banga’s performance over the next year will be watched closely as the company figures out who will succeed chief executive Patrick Cescau,” the Wall Street Journal said, adding that he is the leading candidate.

An Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) graduate, Banga joined Unilever’s Indian subsidiary in 1977 and rose to become its chairman in 2000.

Among other potential candidates for the Unilever CEO job, which falls vacant some time next year, is Harish Manwani, another star from the company’s India operations. He is in charge of all emerging markets for the firm. Significantly, almost 44 percent of Unilever’s revenues currently come from the emerging markets.

Both Banga and Manwani are members of the eight-person executive committee of the company.

Unilever has employed head-hunter Egon Zehnder in London to vet candidates for the top post.

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