Unilever should snub the “crazy cost-cutters”

Unilever could soon dispose of some of its best-known brands in a bid to appease shareholders. But should it listen to them?

When Unilever rebuffed Kraft Heinz's takeover bid, shareholders were "split down the middle", says Rob Davies in The Guardian. Half believed the company "should have held talks" about a deal. A "sizeable faction" now wants to see "radical plans to boost their returns". Hence Unilever could soon dispose of some of its best-known brands.

But it's not obvious that Unilever should listen to these shareholders, says former city minister Paul Myners in The Sunday Telegraph. Institutional shareholders are "obsessed with their own short-term interests". They hold such small portions of companies that they "don't care much about any of them". Instead, Unilever needs to be allowed to focus on getting the "best for the business over the long term".

That means not sacrificing the company's "core strengths", particularly its "iron-clad balance sheet", says Richard Buxton of asset manager Old Mutual, in The Sunday Times. And it means ignoring calls to boost profit margins by "cutting research and development" or "screwing over staff", says Jim Armitage in the Evening Standard. Those kind of "short-term hits" give brief boosts to profits but in the long term "you lose loyal customers and sales". While chief executive Paul Polman may be right "to want to placate short-termist investors with some action, he should try to get away with as little as possible not all his shareholders are crazy cost-cutters".

City talk

The merger between Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management will land the combined firm with two bosses old fishing chums Keith Skeoch from Standard Life, and Martin Gilbert from Aberdeen Asset Management. How, investors wondered, would that work? On Monday, the firm revealed its "post-merger approach to organisational design and the allocation of responsibilities between the co-chief executives". Skeoch will be responsible for "the day-to-day running" of the combined business, along with operations and finance. Gilbert gets to look after "external matters". Or, as Alistair Osborne puts it in The Times, "Mr Skeoch will be in charge of the transport to the river, rods, lines, bait and permits. Mr Gilbert will be in charge of eating the fish."

David Cameron's post-politics earnings include £1.5m for his memoirs and between £50,000 and £120,000 per hour for giving speeches. But while speaking at the Futures Industry's conference in Boca Raton last week, the former prime minister thanked organisers "for taking in an unemployed man and giving him a hot meal", says the Dastardly Mr Deedes in the Daily Mail. "Pure dross", of course, but exactly the sort of thing that "sycophantic audiences" lap up.

Princess Beatrice is "better known for the number of holidays she takes than her capacity for hard work", but she's had plenty of jobs since leaving university in 2011, say Alexandra Frean and Valentine Low in The Times: as a research associate for the charity Children in Crisis UK; a private-equity analyst in London; a coordinating producer for Sony Pictures; and an investment analyst in New York, which she left to "form her own start-up". Now, she's to be an "outsourcing strategist and relationships manager" at Afiniti, which specialises "in creating secret profiles of customers using artificial intelligence".

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