Since January 2006, Peter Polman has served as executive vice president and
CFO for Nestle. He began his career in 1979 with Procter & Gamble in finance
and acquired a broad executive experience through assignments in Belgium,
Holland, France, Spain, the UK and the United States. He served as group
president of Procter & Gamble’s European business between 2001 and 2005.
Nestle’s current head honcho Peter Brabeck-Letmathe said he wants to step
down from his throne at the 2008 general meeting and focus on his role as
chairman of the board. CFO Polman is thought to be in poll position to succeed
the chief executive when Brabeck-Letmathe scales down his responsibilities.
The group says that its principles are still anchored by the example of Henri
Nestlé, who developed the first milk food for infants in 1867, and saved the
life of a neighbour’s child. However, in reality such lofty ideals will be
secondary to the world’s biggest foods company’s continued prosperity, which
Polman will have to drive.
What’s going to happen
The crystal-ball-gazers are predicting a three horse race between Polman, 52,
Lars Olofsson, the 55-year-old Swede heading strategic business units and
marketing, and Paul Bulcke, the 53-year-old Belgian running the group’s big US
operations for the top job.
But what key factors will decide if Polman makes it to the apex of the
corporate mountain or falls agonisingly short of the summit?
His spearheading of last week’s surprise SFr25bn (£10.4bn) three-year share
buy-back has been seen as a master stroke in revitalising the company balance
sheet. His decision to increase debt to fund the scheme, at the cost of Nestlé’s
coveted AAA credit rating, has also been welcomed by analysts.
But what his detractors will seize upon is the possibility that Polman could
jettison Nestle’s majority stake in US eye-care group Alcon.
His comments triggered speculation that Nestlé could shed its 28% stake in
L’Oréal, the French cosmetics company. The L’Oréal holding, part of a complex
shareholders’ pact, has widely been seen as a springboard for an eventual
takeover. We’ll hear on 20 September whether Polman has done enough to win
Nestle’s top job.
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