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The Ice Man Cometh: PPR Dips Into Unilever For New CEO of Gucci

Pinault-Printemps-Redoute on Wednesday named Robert Polet as the new president and chief executive officer of Gucci Group.

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Polet has been president of Unilever’s ice cream and frozen foods division since 1998. That business consists of more than 40 operating companies. Gucci said that during Polet’s tenure at the helm of the division, profit margins increased by 70 percent. The division oversees several food brands, including Klondike, Good Humor, Breyers and Birds’ Eye.

Born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Polet has a varied international background. He studied business administration at Nijenrode in the Netherlands and earned an MBA from the University of Oregon. During his Unilever career, he has worked at several marketing and senior executive positions — including a brief stint as executive vice president of the group’s home and personal care unit — in places such as Paris, Milan, Brussels, Hamburg, Germany, and Malaysia. As Gucci chief, he will be based in London.

He speaks Dutch, English, German, French and Italian. Weinberg stressed that he thought language skills were a critical indication of a person’s inquisitive nature.

“Language skills are interesting,” he said. “They always indicate the interest that you have in a culture.”

Asked what Polet’s first order of business would be, Weinberg said that he would need to familiarize himself with the business and review the performance of each of the group’s brands. Rather than act as a mere cost-cutter, Weinberg said the new ceo would be charged with developing strategies for each business to improve the bottom line.

Weinberg said he’s not worried about losses at start-up labels like Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen as long as there’s evidence that the brands are growing.

“We have to be sure that the losses we have in certain businesses are building for the future,” he said. “Losing money is not an issue if those losses are investments.”

After the shareholders’ meeting, Weinberg also ruled out the possibility of any brand disposals or acquisitions.

Turnout at the shareholders’ meeting was sparse, with only 54 investors interspersed throughout a grand chandelier-graced ballroom at the Amstel Intercontinental Hotel. Weinberg, other Gucci board members and a small army of lawyers went over the technical details of PPR’s offer to buy out all remaining Gucci shares. The offer started on April 1 and runs through April 29. The session was dominated by one gadfly shareholder who quibbled over whether PPR had better access to Gucci’s financial results and forecasts than other shareholders, now faced with the decision of whether or not to tender.
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