Unilever was created on 1 January 1930 by the `merger` of Lever Brothers Ltd
and the Margarine Union. The merger agreement had been signed on 2 September 1929.
Originally negotiations between the two companies started in order to reach an
agreement on the use of raw materials. Both companies had expanded their
original activities and were starting to encroach onto each other`s
`territory`. It was thought that the Margarine Union could dispose of its soap
companies and that Lever Brothers would do the same with its margarine
interests. Obstacles to this plan became apparent so a merger was agreed upon.
The merger meant that two holding companies with identical boards, Unilever Ltd and Unilever NV were created. An equalisation agreement between the two
companies was also made. In effect Unilever NV was concerned with the European interests and Unilever Ltd with the UK and `overseas`.
In the UK Unilever Ltd (company number 244645) was incorporated on 27 December 1929. The name was changed to Margarine Union (1930) Ltd on 5 March 1930, when the name Unilever Ltd was transferred to company number 225816, formerly used by Margarine Union Ltd. This company was liquidated in 1937 as `Unilever` became Lever Brothers & Unilever Ltd, taking the company number 41424, formerly used by Lever Brothers Ltd (which became Lever Brothers, Port Sunlight, Ltd). The name was changed to Unilever Ltd on 1 March 1952 and to Unilever PLC on 1 June 1981.
The Special Committee, which had been set up by Lever Brothers in 1921, became the centralised committee in September 1930 to decide Unilever policy and oversee other management groups. Responsibility for the Unilever interests in Europe was given to the Continental Committee and companies `overseas` (except for the United Africa Company) became the responsibility of the Overseas Committee (created in 1926), which was re-constituted in 1931.
Three bodies were set up for the UK - the Home Soap Executive, the Margarine
Executive, and the Oils & Fats Executive. Advisory and service departments were
set up in the twin head offices of London and Rotterdam.
Interests in Africa were managed by the United Africa Company.
The re-organisation, which led to the formation of Lever Brothers & Unilever
Ltd and Lever Brothers & Unilever NV, allocated more companies from Unilever
Ltd to Unilever NV. The subsidiary companies whose shares were transferred to
NV were from outside the British Empire and the Commonwealth, i.e. USA,
Philippines, China, Siam, Indonesia and Latin America. The Continental
Committee, renamed Unilever NV (Continental & Overseas) Committee, took control of all non-British overseas companies.
RATIONALISATION & POST-WAR EXPANSION
The merger inevitably led to a rationalisation of the companies that Lever
Brothers and the Margarine Union controlled. This was more of a problem in the UK where 10 margarine and edible fat plants had to be cut down to five; and a number of the brands from the almost 50 soap companies active at that time in the UK were dramatically cut so marketing could be concentrated on the remaining brands. The depression of the 1930s saw this rationalisation process speeded up.
Despite the recession expansion was taking place with the acquisition of
companies which moved Unilever further into new areas, such as frozen and
The Second World War caused problems as Unilever`s interests in Europe and the
Japanese controlled areas of Asia were cut off. After the war Unilever`s
interests in Eastern Europe were `lost` due to nationalisation and control
exerted by the Soviet Union. The Chinese market was affected in a similar way.
Unilever began to spend more on research and development to remain competitive in the global market, especially as rivals such as Procter & Gamble had entered the UK market.
Until 1965 the key divisions under the Unilever board were the geographically based management groups, of which there were four main ones in 1949 - UK
Co-ordination; Contact Directors, Rotterdam; Contact Directors, Overseas; the UAC board.
After 1949 the Co-ordinations evolved and by 1959 product group units had been established to ensure uniformity in research, brands etc. By 1965 there were six Co-ordinations:
Food I (edible fats);
Food II (other foods);
Detergents (soap and non-soap);
Paper, Printing & Packaging.
Later Co-ordinations included Personal Products (replacing Toilet
Preparations), and Food III (meat products). A Food Executive replaced Food &
Drinks, Edible Fats & Dairy, and Frozen Products Co-ordinations in 1989.
The Co-ordinations were essentially advisory bodies. A bigger change came in
the mid 1960s when the supervision of the main international brands was
transferred from individual operating companies to the Co-ordinations. The
result was that a director was now in charge of production of a particular
product wherever it was manufactured.
In the 1980s restructuring took place to concentrate on core businesses such as
detergents, food, toiletries, speciality chemicals and agribusiness. Most of
the service and ancillary businesses such as transport, packaging and
advertising were sold. Further restructuring came in the early 1990s with four
core areas identified; Home Care, Personal Care, Foods and Speciality Chemicals.
The co-ordinations were in effect disbanded in 1996 after the establishment of
the Executive Committee (ExCo) to replace the Special Committee. Twelve
business groups were set up, which developed their own regional strategies and
were responsible for their own profitability. The business groups were a
mixture of geographical and product areas.
The speciality chemicals businesses were sold to ICI in July 1997 as part of
the re-focusing on core products and in 1999 it was announced that two thirds
of Unilever brands would be sold or withdrawn to focus on "power" brands. This was part of the `Path to Growth` strategy which also included the
rationalisation of manufacturing and production sites to form centres of
excellence. Major acquisitions came in 2000 to boost food products (see below).
Amore Maille (1999);
Arkady Craigmillar (1995);
Batchelors Peas Ltd (1943);
Ben & Jerry`s (2000);
Birds Eye (1943);
Brooke Bond (1984);
Calvin Klein (1989);
Elizabeth Arden (1989);
Helene Curtis (1996);
Naarden International (1986);
National Starch & Chemicals (1988);
Norfolk Line (1973);
Thomas J Lipton (1946).
Arkady Craigmillar (2000);
BOCM Silcock (1992);
Elizabeth Arden (2000);
John West (1997);
H Leverton & Co (1997);
Marine Harvest (1992);
Mattesson Walls (1994);
National Starch & Chemicals (1997);
Norfolk Line (1985);
Palm Line (1985);
Rimmel Chicago (1996);
Thames Board Mills (1988);
Diversey Lever (2001).
Further Information: The History of Unilever - Charles Wilson (1970);
Proceedings of the Conference on Business History: A History of Unilever
1871-1994 - Jaap Barendregt;
Fifty Years of Unilever - WJ Reader (1980).
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