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Activist stake piles more pressure on Unilever boss

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Unilever
Unilever

Unilever's management risks coming under further pressure after an aggressive activist investor was reported to have built a stake in the Marmite maker.

News of the move by Nelson Peltz’s Trian Partners emerged after Unilever suffered its biggest weekly share price fall since March 2020 following a failed £50bn bid for GlaxoSmithKline's consumer health business, wiping £6bn off the value of the company.

The size of Trian’s stake, first reported by the Financial Times, is unknown but the presence of Mr Peltz is likely to intensify the pressure on Unilever’s chief executive Alan Jope after the swiftly aborted GSK deal.

The billionaire has turned his gaze on Unilever months after retiring from the board of rival Procter & Gamble after a four-year campaign to improve performance at the company, which helped drive an 85pc jump in the share price.

Unilever’s brief foray into major M&A comes after months of slowing sales and increasing anger among investors at the board’s strategy. The company’s shares have underperformed major rivals including Nestle, P&G, PepsiCo and L’Oreal over the past five years.

Fund manager Terry Smith called Unilever’s GSK bid a “near-death experience” and urged the company to focus on fixing its own business.

Mr Smith also complained that the company had “lost the plot” in seeking to promote the sustainable ethos of brands such as Hellmann’s rather than focusing on financial returns.

Analysts warned the mooted deal would leave the company laden with debt while investors have warned Mr Jope off any major M&A.

Mr Peltz’s interest comes exactly five years after Kraft’s failed bid for Unilever prompted an overhaul of its cumbersome structure and the offloading of its PG Tips tea business.

The company has promised further change this week with the unveiling of a new “operating model that will drive greater agility”.

Trian and Unilever declined to comment.

Trian, founded by Mr Peltz in 1985, has $8.5bn in assets under management including stakes in Bank of New York Mellon, chemicals company DuPont and food firm Mondelez International. Mr Peltz’s daughter, actress Nicola, is engaged to former footballer David Beckham's son, Brooklyn.