Former chairman of Unilever Caribbean Ltd, Gary Voss, said the market capitalisation of the company plunged by $1.4 billion between 2015 and 2023.
Speaking at Unilever’s annual meeting at the Hyatt Regency in Port-of-Spain yesterday, Voss blamed the British multinational consumer goods company for the decline in shareholder value.
Prefacing his comments by saying he had “some very serious questions” about Unilever’s 2022 accounts and the performance of the company, Voss said: “In 2015, the market capitalisation of this company was $1.8 billion. The share price then was $68. The share price now is about $15. The market capitalisation of the company is now $400 million. So the value that has been destroyed under the watch of this board is $1.4 billion.”
Unilever announced the retirement of Voss as chairman of the board of Unilever Caribbean Limited effective May 21, 2015.
He said half of the loss in market capitalisation, some $700 million, was absorbed by Unilever, which Voss said had brought the loss on itself.
“But $700 million has been lost by the people sitting in this room,” he pointed out.
Voss questioned how the value of the company managed to fall by so much in eight years.
He also questioned the independence of the current Unilever Caribbean board, saying that the multinational company had placed a majority of its directors on the board.
Stressing on the company’s corporate governance, which he said Unilever claims to be a champion of, Voss questioned whether its employees or shareholders were consulted about the decision to reshape the firm entirely by ending manufacturing in T&T.
“Unilever has run roughshod over the rest. They have in fact hijacked this company. They have hijacked the company without any reference to anybody else and they have destroyed $1.4 billion worth of value,” Voss said, adding that Unilever was once a fine example of a private sector company in this country.
“It was respected. It was seen as a well-run company, doing the right things with quality brands and with motivated employees.”
Speaking earlier in the meeting, the current Unilever Caribbean chairman, Ignacio Segares, explained why the company had decided to stop manufacturing at its long-time Champ Fleurs location last year.
He said the company’s global focus is to bring its brands to its customers, which it has been doing for the last 95 years here.
“Now, in order to do that, at one moment in time, the decision was made to manufacture here and for many years we did that. But the core business is to sell those brands to consumers. Things have all been changed and there came a point when manufacturing in Trinidad and Tobago was no longer competitive, due to some changes in the global economy,” said Segares.
He cited as an example the fact that laundry power can be ordered on the internet and imported into T&T at a price that is competitive to the Unilever brands.
“The decision to stop manufacturing in T&T is basically to remain competitive because the consumers want good products, but pricing is also key,” he said.
Headquartered in London, England, Unilever products include food, condiments, bottled water, baby food, soft drink, ice cream and instant coffee as well as laundry and personal care products.