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The Times: Rotterdam’s role in doubt as London gathers elite

Carl Mortished
August 3, 2007

Don’t say it too loud, but Unilever’s Dutch headquarters is about to lose its head. Vindi Banga, the president of Unilever Foods, is soon to decamp to London with his top team of 15, leaving the Rotterdam office without a power base in the global Unilever empire.

The Indian, who is also non-executive chairman of Hindustan Lever, the quoted company that runs Unilever’s juggernaut in the sub-continent, is something of a rising star.

According to Unilever insiders, Patrick Cescau, the chief executive, is building a top team of executives and lieutenants and they will be based with him in London in the revamped headquarters at Blackfriars Bridge. Where does this leave Rotterdam? No one is quite saying. It will continue to have foods personnel, apparently. It will also have treasury operations (the Netherlands is a corporate tax haven) and human resources. Moreover, it will continue to have more staff, some 600, compared with 400 to 500 in London.

Could this signal the beginning of the end of Unilever’s dual headquarters structure? That would be heresy for the company, which continues to have Anglo-Dutch ownership through separate plc and NV companies. However, the company is run centrally by the new Unilever executive team comprising Mr Cescau and seven lieutenants.

Dual Anglo-Dutch headquarters are a bit of a headache, not least because Dutch employment law makes change difficult. Shell completed a merger two years ago that involved its Dutch parent taking over the UK minority partner. A single headquarters was set up in the Hague but the company still procrastinates in the centralising trend. Shell maintains the headquarters of its huge downstream business in Britain.

Every statement that emerges from Blackfriars Bridge these days is about streamlining the federal structure of the old Unilever into a more efficient streamlined network. How streamlined are all those 600 jobs in Rotterdam?

http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/consumer_goods/article2189604.ece

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