Harish Manwani to retire from Unilever amid kudos

The chief operating officer of Hindustan Unilever Ltd, Harish Manwani, will retire from the world's second-largest consumer goods company in December, a company statement from Mumbai said.

The 61-year-old Unilever veteran was promoted to the newly created position of COO three years ago. He will continue as non-executive chairman of the Anglo-Dutch major's Indian subsidiary.

Unilever's chief executive officer Paul Polman said, ''Harish is an inspirational leader and leaves a remarkable legacy. He has been at my side in helping to drive the turnaround of Unilever, making this once again one of the most admired companies in the world.

''Over the past three years, especially as chief operating officer, Harish has been instrumental in the transformation of the company. Under his leadership, we have seen a step-change in our go-to-market organisation and there has been a relentless focus on flawless execution globally.''

Manwani, who joined HUL as a management trainee in 1976, rose rapidly to emerge second only to Polman. Before his elevation to the position of COO in September 2011, Manwani was running Unilever's Asia, Africa, Central & Eastern Europe, and West Asian regions, which comprise 40 per cent of its business.

He joined the HUL board of directors in 1995 as a director responsible for the personal products operation helping it grow from a nascent business to one of the key growth engines of the company. Personal products, which include brands such as Dove, Ponds, Pears, and Vaseline, now give HUL 30 per cent of its revenue.

Manwani also had stints as senior vice-president (global hair care and oral care) and president (home and personal care), first of Latin America and later of North America.

In 2005, he was appointed to the Unilever executive committee as president (Asia, Africa, Middle East) and his role later expanded to include Central and Eastern Europe.

He also became the first non-executive chairman of Hindustan Unilever and has overseen a period of sustained growth with the business more than doubling its size and reinforcing itself as one of India's most admired companies.

His elevation to COO in 2011, which was a deviation from standard practice for the company, came because of his proven track record of delivering on targets as well as his deep understanding of emerging markets (See: Harish Manwani to take over as Unilever COO).

From 52 per cent three years ago, developing and emerging (D&E) markets today give Unilever 57 per cent of its revenues.

In an affirmation of the growing importance of D&E markets, Unilever raised its stake in HUL last year in what was the biggest open offer ever by a company in India at Rs29,200 crore.

Manwani along with Polman was responsible for taking these bold bets, analysts tracking the company said.