Unilever Sells Laundry Unit

Unilever Sells Laundry Unit

Unilever Sells Laundry Unit
As CEO Hunt Moves Ahead

Consumer-products giant Unilever threw in the towel on its North American laundry-detergent business Monday, agreeing to sell All, Surf, Snuggle and its other detergents to a private-equity firm.

The sale signals the depth of the challenges facing Manvinder Singh Banga, who was named head of personal-care and food products at Unilever earlier this year and is a leading candidate to be the company's next CEO. The maker of such products as Dove skin and hair products, Hellmann's mayonnaise and Ben & Jerry's ice cream decided to sell its North American laundry operations after calculating it had lost too many shoppers to rivals, primarily Procter & Gamble Co. Vestar Capital Partners Inc. agreed to pay $1.075 billion in cash and $375 million in shares in the company that Vestar will form with the brands, to be called Sun Products Corp.

The sale is part of a strategy to turn around Unilever, which also includes increasing sales, launching more new products, and successfully uniting Unilever's traditionally separate food and consumer-products businesses. Mr. Banga, 53 years old, known as Vindi, will get a report card on Thursday, when Unilever reports second-quarter results. The company had a strong first quarter.

Mr. Banga's performance over the next year will be watched closely as the company figures out who will succeed Chief Executive Patrick Cescau, 59 years old. The changeover is likely to occur next year, a person familiar with the situation said.

Mr. Banga, who declined to comment for this article, is one of several potential CEO candidates from diverse backgrounds whose careers at Unilever have been fostered by Mr. Cescau. For years, Unilever was run by two chairmen, one in London and one in Rotterdam. Dutch managers dominated the food division, and the English were largely in control of shampoo, soap and deodorant. Three years ago Mr. Cescau, a Frenchman, established a single executive team, which includes Mr. Banga.

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