It is an entry that has probably been buried or even omitted from Alan Jope’s CV but the new boss of Unilever once cosied up with Donald Trump as a judge on the US version of The Apprentice. Jope featured in the second series of the long-running reality TV show.
The 54-year-old Scot was president of Unilever’s home and personal care business in North America when he appeared in an episode called “Intellectual Horsepower” (missing out on an instalment called “The Butt Stops Here” by several weeks) in 2004. He was among the business luminaries called upon – the panel also included Alan “Ace” Greenberg, chair of Bear Stearns which would collapse four years later – to grill the four remaining contestants on the show.
Jope, who will succeed Paul Polman in January, earned a business degree at Edinburgh University before joining Unilever as a graduate trainee in 1985. In the more than 30 years since he has been posted around the world, with stints in Russia, Africa and the Middle East for the Marmite and Magnum ice-cream maker.
The executive, who is married with three children, also spent more than a decade in senior roles in the US. “We have raised three kids who are global citizens and digital natives,” says Jope of his family’s globetrotting on LinkedIn. They are, he says, “an inspiration for me and a hint of what the future holds”.
He adds: “When my wife gives me time off for good behaviour, I usually head off on a motorcycle adventure in some far-flung space, or for a game of football (followed by the pub) with my veteran football mates.”
In a world where chief executives pride themselves on gruelling work regimes Jope appears to have a different take. “I don’t define myself by my work at all,” he said in a 2016 interview with Entrepreneur magazine, adding his personal philosophy was “put your family first”. “It’s incredible how many people make bad life choices for their career. You can always get another job. You can’t get another family.”
He also revealed he would not miss his regular Friday night kickabout even if it meant being unable to dial into a conference call with Polman from Singapore, where he was based at the time. “I’d say I’m not available, I’m playing football.”
Jope took over the running of Unilever’s beauty and personal care division, which includes brands such as Dove, Lynx and Timotei and is its biggest in sales terms, four years ago. For the top job his salary will ratchet up to €1.45m (£1.29m) and a predominantly shares-based annual bonus worth more than twice as much again.
No one ever uttered “you’re fired” to Polman but his plans to retire after a decade in charge may have been hastened by the disastrous handling of a planned move from London to Rotterdam. Last year Polman signalled the likelihood of an internal appointment in an interview with the Guardian: “We have a deep bench of talented people that stay with us, people who go through tougher times and better times.”
During Jope’s guest appearance on the Apprentice candidates were subjected to a full day of interviews, during which one unsuccessful contestant complained that “on a scale from one to 10, the stress level was like 150 today”. Presumably the Unilever vetting process was no less rigorous.