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Niall FitzGerald to retire from Unilever in September

LONDON - Unilever chief Niall FitzGerald has announced he will retire from the company at the end of September this year after eight years as chairman and 37 years with the consumer goods giant.

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He is to be replaced by Frenchmen Patrick Cescau, who is currently foods director at Unilever. Cescau is a relative newcomer compared with FitzGerald, having joined Unilever in 1973. There are reports that FitzGerald is set to take on the role of non-executive chairman at Reuters.

FitzGerald, who will be 60 when he leaves Unilever, has been named as the most powerful marketer in the UK on several occasions. He has been at the head of the company's strategy to slim down its portfolio of products and focus on key brands.

The strategy appears to be paying off, with the company announcing in its annual results today that its leading brands had grown by 2.5% over the past year.

In a statement FitzGerald said: "By the end of this year we will have completed the Path to Growth programme and, in the interests of an orderly succession, Patrick should be in place in good time to carry our strategy to the next stage."

FitzGerald joined Unilever as an accountant in 1968 before becoming personal assistant to the financial director in 1975. He was then promoted to overseas commercial officer in 1976. In 1980 he went to South Africa and became chief executive of the food business there. In 1987 he joined the board of Unilever plc and Unilever NV, and became group detergent coordinator in 1991. In 1996 he took on his current post as chairman and chief executive of the firm.

Like his predecessor, Cescau has a background in accounting. He joined Unilever as organisation officer with Unilever France and then as senior consultant until 1977. After holding a position with Astra-Calve in France, Cescau moved to Germany where he became chief accountant with UDL. From 1984 to 1986 Cescau was a commercial member edible fats and dairy coordination in the Netherlands.

In 1986, he left Europe to become financial director PT of Unilever Indonesia. After a two-year posting to Unilever Portugal, he returned to Indonesia in 1991 to become chairman. Four years later he moved to the US where he took over as president and CEO at Van den Bergh Foods, and in 1997 he became president of Lipton, Englewood Cliffs, following the merger of Lipton and Van den Bergh.

The following year, he was promoted to controller and deputy financial director. In May 1999 he was appointed financial director of Unilever, a position he held until August 2000 when he became finance director and also headed the Bestfoods integration team. On January 1, he took up his current position as director of the company's global foods division.

Kees van der Graff, president of ice cream and frozen foods in Europe, will take over from Cescau as foods director.

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