Europe's Top Executives Succeed In Finding Opportunity Amid Recession
The worldwide recession has hit Europe harder than most regions, but top executives are turning the crisis
into an opportunity.
By William Boston
Many investors were skeptical 18 months ago when the Anglo-Dutch consumer products maker Unilever designated an outsider, Paul Polman, to take over as CEO at the start of 2009. Not that Polman didnt have fans. The Dutchman enjoyed a strong reputation, having risen during 26 years at Procter & Gamble Co. to head of U.S. operations and later winning plaudits for bolstering transparency during a two-year stint as CFO of Switzerlands Nestlé. But Unilever had embarked on several restructuring programs over the years only to disappoint investors each time. The companys repeated pledges to become as profitable as its rivals appeared to have a shorter shelf life than many of its products.
[Click here to view the complete rankings for The 2010 All-Europe Executive Team .]Polman, who had lost out in the race to become Nestlés CEO the year before, was determined to prove he was up to the job. Taking charge in the midst of the worst recession in decades, he used the economic crisis as a tool to force through fundamental changes in personnel and strategy. He jettisoned sales targets that the previous regime had established and almost always failed to meet. Instead, he told his managers and investors that the only target that mattered was volume growth. Then he made wholesale changes to his management, replacing about 60 of the companys top 100 executives. To underscore the urgency of implementing change, he gave the new team 30 days to produce turnaround plans for underperforming businesses. ....