Paul Polman has a reputation for embracing grand global causes when a bit more attention to the nitty-gritty of Unilever might have been useful.
Anglo-Saxon capitalism in the shape of Kraft Heinz has done what it is meant to do in the case of perceived underperformance and lit a fuse under the Dove soap to Ben & Jerry’s group.
A wide-ranging strategy review finished in record time ought to silence critics and keep predators at bay.
It would have been a huge mistake for investors in the Anglo-Dutch group to have succumbed to cash blandishments and ignored the value of Unilever as a global brand leader with a long UK heritage and a R&D and marketing powerhouse.
Blinkered: Paul Polman has a reputation for embracing grand global causes when a bit more attention to the nitty-gritty of Unilever might have been useful
Rather than doing the splits as some analysts advocated, Unilever will rid itself of its low-growth Flora, butter and spreads brands.
With a turnover of £2.6billion, the spreads could be the subject of a trade sale, a private equity buyout or even an initial public offering.
There is also a recognition that performance needs to be sharpened and chief executive Polman is targeting a 20 per cent margin by 2020, up from 16.4 per cent. Such numerical targets are a hostage to fortune but they can be helpful in driving executives harder.
The promise is being made that along the way any savings will be reinvested in the enterprise, to keep momentum going.
It will also be operating using a less conservative balance sheet, appropriately making the most out of leverage.
Shareholders, having remained stout in the face of a Brazilian and Warren Buffett-backed classroom bully, are being rewarded with a lift in the dividend and a handsome £4.3billion share buyback.
On the expansion front, Unilever plans to add to its brand portfolio when the opportunities arise and Reckitt Benckiser’s hot sauces might be tempting.
Unilever stock has had a good run so the rise in latest trading was modest. Significantly, Polman has created a model for corporate defiance in the face of overseas buccaneers and established the need for a public interest test.
No one can accuse BP of ignoring last year’s shareholder protest against Bob Dudley’s fat cat pay.
Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg and the pay panel have done a good job in guiding down Dudley’s remuneration, cut by 40 per cent this year.
One suspects as Deepwater Horizon and £55billion of penalties and compensation fade into the background there will be a sharp lift in performance and Dudley and executive pay will creep up again.
As an American, Dudley tends to see his cohorts as being on the other side of the Atlantic. Having steered clear of Obama’s America, BP is back in the US, drilling in the Gulf of Mexico with Chevron.
Dudley’s pay package of £9.3million still exceeds that of Ben van Beurden of Shell and the Total boss. Van Beurden may have to wait for the BG acquisition to pay its way before enjoying a bonanza.
The quantum difference between pay in the boardrooms and that on the shop floor remains obscene.
But there are signs that pay committees are no longer sticking their finger in the air and using formulaic performance criteria to drive pay ever higher.
Serial offenders, including Reckitt Benckiser and GlaxoSmithKline, have recognised the need to roll back generous packages.
Much of what is being done looks like window dressing and more permanent reforms to calm excess are needed.
Some fund managers believe the answer is higher basic salaries and long-term share awards which do not vest for five or seven years. The case against that is that if the wrong person is given the job costs of dismissal become too high.
That is a lame excuse for doing nothing.
The steady shift of smart money out of South Africa continues apace.
When Barclays boss Jes Staley signalled a historic departure from the region it looked like a betrayal.
Dismissal of trusted finance minister Pravin Gordhan and the build-up of corruption charges against President Jacob Zuma suggest that the sooner the British bank divests its remaining 50 per cent stake the safer investors will be.
Foreign investors in South Africa hold debt shares equivalent to 68 per cent of total output, or GDP. A run on the rand and foreign investment could trigger political change.
But history suggests even freely elected African leaders are not easily shifted.