Unilever boss Alan Jope to step down next year

Jope has worked for Unilever for more than 20 years in total

Jope took up the helm at the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant in January 2019 after the resignation of Paul Polman. Polman had held the role for more than ten years and was widely regarded as a pioneer of the movement to embed corporate sustainability strategy in core business strategy.

Prior to becoming chief executive, Jope had headed up Unilever’s Beauty and Personal Care division. In being appointed to the top job, he said his priority was to “reinvent Unilever for a more connected, more digital, faster-moving future”.

Speaking to edie during the Covid-19 lockdowns in the UK in 2020, Jope said: “The discussion we find ourselves at the centre of at the moment is the very future of capitalism… Certainly, there’s a lot of good that has come from capitalism. It has been the economic system that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. The innovation drive and the competitive spirit of capitalism are very important.

“However, the single-minded pursuit of profit is damaging. It has many unanticipated negative consequences.”

Under Jope, Unilever outlined plans for reaching net-zero by 2039, backed by a €1bn climate and nature fund. This was perhaps the most attention-grabbing environmental announcement of his tenure to date. It came less than a year after the UK Government legislated for net-zero by 2050. The plans were put to a shareholder vote in May 2021 and passed with more than 99% of the vote. Even before the plans were published, Jope wrote to trade associations and other business groups that Unilever is a member of, asking for clarity on their climate-related work.

Whoever is appointed as Jope’s successor will be tasked with delivering the plan’s key facets. Nonetheless, Jope has stated that growth should “remain top priority” going forward. Unilever has continued to position growth and sustainability – environmental and social – as dependent rather than at odds.

Unilever has stated that it has not yet selected a new chief executive and will now undertake a “formal search” for suitable candidates internally and externally.

“Under Jope’s leadership, Unilever has made critical changes to its strategy, structure and organisation that position it strongly for success,” said the firm’s chairman Nils Anderson.

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