consumer goods

Unilever’s soap opera: M&A, job cuts, and grumpy investors


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Unilever’s soap opera: M&A, job cuts, and grumpy investors

UNILEVER. The Unilever logo is pictured on a Dove soap box in this illustration taken on January 17, 2022.

Dado Ruvic/Reuters

Here are recent developments around Unilever, including its failed bid to buy GlaxoSmithKline's consumer healthcare business

Unilever unveiled plans on Tuesday, January 25, to cut about 1,500 management jobs in an overhaul aimed at easing shareholders’ concerns after a failed acquisition and news an activist investor had built a stake in the consumer goods giant.

The maker of Dove soap and Magnum ice cream has had a bumpy few years, with shares falling about a quarter from highs seen in late 2019, and chief executive officer Alan Jope’s plans facing scrutiny.

Here are key developments around Unilever in the past two months.

November 18, 2021

Unilever agreed to sell its global tea business to CVC Capital Partners for 4.5 billion euros ($5.1 billion), concluding a process of reviewing and spinning off the division that took more than two years.

January 15, 2022

Unilever confirmed it had approached GlaxoSmithKline about buying its consumer goods business following media reports.

Later in the day, GSK said it had rejected Unilever’s 50-billion-pound ($68 billion) offer, saying it “fundamentally undervalued” the consumer healthcare business.

GSK said it had received the third approach from Unilever on December 20 and that it comprised 41.7 billion pounds in cash and 8.3 billion in Unilever shares.

January 17

Unilever signaled it would pursue a deal for GSK’s consumer business, calling it a “strong strategic fit,” but shares slid more than 8%. The company also said it would announce an initiative later in the month to strengthen its business.

January 19

Late in the day, Unilever said it would not raise its offer for GSK’s consumer healthcare business from 50 billion pounds. Sources had told Reuters GSK would not engage with Unilever unless the offer was sweetened.

January 20

Unilever shares slipped on its short-lived pursuit of GSK’s consumer health assets. Influential British fund manager Terry Smith criticized the failed bid as a “near-death experience” and urged Unilever to focus on strengthening performance.

January 23

A source told Reuters that activist investor Nelson Peltz’s hedge fund, Trian Partners, had built a stake of an unspecified size in Unilever, ratcheting up pressure on the company, months after Peltz stepped down from rival P&G’s board.

January 24

Unilever shares rose 6% on reports of Peltz’s stake.


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