LONDON (Reuters) - Unilever boss Paul Polman, quitting months after shareholders scuppered his plan to base company headquarters in the Netherlands, signed off with a typical mixture of advice and philosophy in his last message to investors.
The 62-year-old Dutchman, who will be replaced next month by company veteran Alan Jope, is known for his vision of a company with a commitment to sustainability and ethics.
His 10-year reign was marked by substantial cultural change and dealmaking that improved company performance but also by occasional tensions with investors. These burst into the open earlier this year when UK shareholder opposition forced Unilever to abandon plans to move to the Netherlands.
In his final address, delivered in Mumbai and simultaneously webcast, he thanked analysts and investors “for the constructive challenges, most of the time.”
“We’ve not always looked eye to eye. We’ve not always agreed on all things,” Polman said at the end of a two-day investor seminar, urging both sides to respect and listen to each other.
“Give the CEOs a little space ... Trust the CEOs by what they do and what they deliver, far more than you do probably right now,” he said.
He took issue with shareholders for what he sees as short-termism, and the media for its portrayal of the recent U-turn on the headquarters of the Anglo-Dutch group.
Unilever should be run for the benefit of all stakeholders - including consumers, customers, employees - and shareholders would end up benefiting, he argued.
He pointed to the 290 percent total shareholder return delivered during a tenure in which he fended off a $143 billion takeover approach from Kraft Heinz in 2017.
He advised his successor Jope to “find the few (shareholders), like I have, that you trust and that you can talk to” and “really listen to them”.
He also called out the media for characterizing the shareholder opposition to the Dutch move as a revolt.
“It would also be good if some of you spoke up more, because you are all very supportive to us, so that we don’t get this negative perception being created by some papers who want to sell more the next day,” he said.
Reporting by Martinne Geller; Editing by Keith Weir