Kraft Heinz vs. Unilever

By Julian Birkinshaw via   Article

Kraft Heinz Vs. Unilever: A Contest Between Two Models Of Capitalism

“Kraft Heinz is managed with ruthless efficiency by a team of mostly Brazilian executives installed by 3G Capital. Plants have been closed, corporate jets sold, everyone now flies economy class.  According to Fortune Magazine, overhead costs in the company dropped from 18.1% to 11.1% in the last two years.

The corporate ethos is meritocratic: people are held accountable for their actions, high-performers are well rewarded with bonuses and share plans, long hours are expected, non-performers are let go. They have essentially transplanted the performance culture of an investment bank to the world of fast-moving consumer goods. Perhaps surprisingly, 3G Capital is not playing a short term game of asset stripping and unbundling: it is happy to hold its assets for the long term, and it makes investments accordingly. But make no mistake, the goal is profit growth: the raison d’etre of the corporation is to create wealth for equity owners.

Unilever represents the other end of the capitalist spectrum – it exemplifies the view of a corporation as a force for good in society.  Unilever’s mission is to ‘make sustainable living commonplace’.  CEO Paul Polman has set a long-term goal to double the size of the business while reducing its environmental footprint and increasing the firm’s positive social impact. He has also disavowed the quarterly reporting cycle that the capital markets favour. Look inside and you see a range of policies and initiatives to help deliver on Polman’s ambitious objectives. Unilever is also a meritocracy, but in a more easy-going way. Values such as integrity, impact and partnership are highlighted. High performers don’t earn as much as their peers in Kraft Heinz, but they enjoy a more accommodating and relaxed workplace.

These companies are standard-bearers for their respective ideologies.  3G Capital, which essentially controls Kraft Heinz, has swept all before it over the last fifteen years, and has become the most feared and admired player in the consumer goods sector. And among large, publicly-traded firms, Unilever has pushed the social responsibility or ‘conscious capitalism’ agenda further than any other company I can think of.”


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