March 20, 2017 Last Updated 8:19 am

Brexit D-Day to be March 29; Unilever may sell off food brands

Morning Brief: Two Uber executives leave as issues of sexual harassment, treatment of drivers, continues to plague the San Francisco-based company

The prime minister’s spokesman has confirmed the date on which Theresa May will trigger Article 50, the provision in the European Union treaty that outlines the steps a member country must take to leave the EU. That date will be Wednesday of next week, March 29.

After that date the UK will begin negotiations with the EU to establish a new relationship, negotiations which will likely be difficult. But that date may also mark the start of the end of the union itself as Scotland may demand a second independence referendum, and other regions demand more local control, if not outright independence.

Photo: Little England by Diamond Geezer used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

“Last June, the people of the UK made the historic decision to leave the EU. Next Wednesday, the Government will deliver on that decision and formally start the process by triggering Article 50,” Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis said.

“We are on the threshold of the most important negotiation for this country for a generation. The Government is clear in its aims: a deal that works for every nation and region of the UK and indeed for all of Europe – a new, positive partnership between the UK and our friends and allies in the European Union.”

The Dutch-British transnational consumer goods company Unilever is in a bit of turmoil following its rejection of a takeover bid from Kraft Heinz. The bid last month, worth £115 billion, was plenty attractive to its institutional owners who were looking to pocket profits, but certainly not attractive to the global company looking to protect itself and its reputation.

But there remains pressure to sell off some food brands in order to boost the company’s stock. Ah, the dangers of being a public company as the private equity firms begin to line-up to see they can scoop up any undervalued assets.


Unilever prepares 6 billion pound sale of food brands

Unilever is preparing a 6 billion pound ($7.44 billion) sale of some of its food brands, British newspapers reported on Saturday.

The Anglo-Dutch company is planning to sell Flora margarine and Stork butter brands, the Sunday Times said.

The Sunday Telegraph, which also cited a 6 billion pounds figure, cited sources as saying private equity firms Bain Capital, CVC and Clayton Dubilier and Rice have started working on offers for the “spreads” business, citing sources.

The Independent, James Moore:

GMB urges investors to defend the Unilever model. They need to listen

With a fog of uncertainty hanging over all those working at Unilever, the GMB union has written to its leading investors, including BlackRock Investment Management and Legal & General Investment Management, in the wake of a pledge by the company’s management to turbo charge shareholders’ returns.

Unilever bosses have promised a “comprehensive review of options available to accelerate delivery of value for the benefit of our shareholders” after sending suitor Kraft Heinz packing…

…While not a saint, the martmite maker has long stood for a better sort of capitalism. Indeed, the GMB highlights Unilever’s “proven track record of investment, decent pensions, good working conditions and recognising trade unions like GMB” its “proud history of treating workers with respect” and its “status as a model employer”.

However, union leaders are concerned that the aforementioned statement points to the impending sacrifice of this on the alter of “accelerated delivery for the benefit of our shareholders”, and that workers, whom CEO Paul Poulman last week said should be considered when a UK champion receives a takeover approach, will reap a Kraft-style whirlwind despite the latter’s retreat back across the Atlantic.

Hard to see this as anything other than a good move: Uber’s president is leaving after only six months.

“Clearly Uber’s image has been tarnished and, unless the company mends its ways, it may soon find itself in more trouble,” said Hari Tsoukas, of Warwick Business School. “It could be the pains of growing up to become a more mature organization. Or it could be just a few bad apples that need to be thrown away. Or it could be a deeper problem of organisational culture. My guess is that it is the latter.”

“If Mr Kalanick wants to move ahead, he needs to restart his start-up. Nothing is better than openly acknowledging problems (as he has already begun doing) and suggesting a plan for tackling them. He may begin by articulating what Mr Jones ‘saw and experienced’, offering his thoughts on it, and suggesting a plan for action.”

The New York Times, Mike Isaac:

Two Executives to Leave Uber, Adding to Departures

The number of executive departures from Uber is growing.

Jeff Jones, Uber’s president of ride sharing, has left the company after just six months, Uber said on Sunday. In addition, Brian McClendon, vice president of maps and business platform at Uber, also plans to leave at the end of the month.

The two men are exiting Uber under very different circumstances. Mr. Jones, who was poached from Target to be Uber’s No. 2 executive, resigned after the ride-sharing company’s chief, Travis Kalanick, said he needed leadership help and began a search for a chief operating officer.

Mr. McClendon is departing amicably from Uber and will be an adviser to the company. In a statement, he said he was moving back to Kansas, where he is from, to explore politics. His exit has been in the works for some time, and his last day at Uber is March 28.

Recode, Kara Swisher and Johana Bhuiyan:

Uber president Jeff Jones is quitting, citing differences over ‘beliefs and approach to leadership’

Jeff Jones, the president of Uber, is quitting the car-hailing company after less than a year. The move by the No. 2 exec, said sources, is directly related to the multiple controversies there, including explosive charges of sexism and sexual harassment…

…Jones also confirmed the departure with a blistering assessment of the company. “It is now clear, however, that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride sharing business,” he said in a statement to Recode.

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