Thai woman to lead Unilever

Unilever NV, an Anglo-Dutch consumer product company, has for the first time in its 82-year history here appointed a Thai woman to lead the local unit, effective Oct 1.

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Supattra Paopiamsap, 51, was appointed Unilever Thailand's chairman, replacing Bauke Rouwers, currently chairman of Unilever Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, who will take over as chairman of Unilever France on Oct 1.

Ms Supattra is the second Thai executive to lead the local operation after the late Viroj Phukakul, who was the first Thai chairman from 1979-95.

With a MBA from Georgia State University in the US, Ms Supattra has worked with Unilever for 22 years and has considerable marketing experience.

She will bring her knowledge and expertise to fulfill her new role after working in regional roles in China, Malaysia and Singapore.

Unilever chose a local to lead the Thai operation against arch rivals like Kao Commercial (Thailand), Colgate-Palmolive (Thailand), Proctor & Gamble and Johnson and Johnson (Thailand), which have foreign executives at the helm.

"In the tough Thai consumer product market, having a local executive lead the company is meaningful. Ms Supattra can help to increase Unilever's competitiveness because she deeply understands local customer demand," said a market analyst.

Ms Supattra is behind Magnum Cafe, which opened at Siam Centre in 2012. The gimmick of Magnum Cafe resulted in a 400% increase in sales of Magnum ice cream in 2013 and also helped change Thai consumer behaviour to buying ice cream bars for consumption at home.

Mr Rouwers led Unilever Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos to sustainable growth during a crucial time for the company. During his tenure, annual turnover almost doubled while the company successfully reduced its environmental impact.

He said Ms Supattra reflected all the strengths of Unilever's talent strategy, which combined a well-rounded managerial development plan with a deep understanding of local consumers.

"I feel very confident that with our senior management team and talent, Unilever Thailand will continue to grow but in an even more sustainable manner," Ms Supattra said.

She plans to double the business size of Unilever Thailand by 2020.

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