Mike has big shoes to fill,” said Paul Polman, chief executive officer of Unilever, London, during the company’s first-quarter earnings report in April.
Mike Polk, who headed up Unilever’s Americas region as president, was named in March to replace Vindi Banga as president, global foods, home and personal care. Banga announced his departure from the consumer products company after 33 years.
Banga was responsible for creating One Unilever global foods, home and personal care categories, which is responsible for innovation and marketing mix development for all brands. Banga is given credit for transforming Unilever from a collection of individual operating and country units into a coherent global marketer.
Polk will now oversee Unilever’s 270 brands in 13 categories of which 11 are valued above 1 billion euros (roughly $1.2 billion) each. These brands are marketed in 200 countries. Banga was also responsible for Unilever’s sustainability agenda.
Succeeding Polk as president of the Americas region is Dave Lewis, who served as executive vice president of Unilever in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
“I am delighted that Mike will be taking on this new challenge. He is a remarkable talented and highly experience marketer and consumer goods operator. He will bring a great deal to the role, including experience built up outside Unilever,” said Polman in a press release announcing new executive management changes at Unilever.
Polk joined SN’s Power Player ranking list in 2007 soon after he was named to head the Americas with the responsibility of growing Unilever’s $18 billion North American and Latin American businesses.
During the past year Polk oversaw the integration of several business units into a personal care unit and the closing of Unilever’s Chicago offices. “Over the last few years, we have made significant progress in bringing Unilever teams together in North America,” he said in a press statement. “We have become a more unified, collaborative and focused organization — and will leverage the resources and capabilities across our personal care brands to drive further growth.”
Polk is also credited with accelerating growth and profitability by improving efficiencies and encouraging the flow of ideas and product innovations across borders.
In his new position, Advertising Age said Polk’s role “will be the most far-reaching role ever for an American at the Anglo-Dutch company.”
He will also no doubt be involved in overseeing Unilever’s pending acquisition of the Sara Lee personal care business. If approved, it will give Unilever a global leadership position in skin cleansing and deodorants and will complement to the company’s existing portfolio of brands like Dove, Axe and Rexona.
Last year, Polk received honors from BusinessWeek by being named on the magazine’s “CEOs of Tomorrow” list. Perhaps that signals a future direction in the next chapter of Polk’s career. But for now, he seems well embedded in Unilever.