Clift told Marketing Week that the move was initiated by him and is based on his desire to spend more time with his family in Brazil. He has no plans to take on a new permanent role immediately.
He adds: “I’ve been mulling this over for a while. I’ve spent my whole career at Unilever and for a long time I was able to move to a new country every three years. This CMO role has essentially seen me in the same office for ten years.”
Clift joined Unilever in 1982 and was the company’s first chief marketing officer.
As CMO, he was responsible for developing Unilever’s marketing strategy across all categories for brands such as Flora, Knorr, Persil, Dove, Lynx and Peperami. His tenure took in the Dove Real Beauty initiative and the trial of crowdsourcing with Peperami.
He reported to chief executive Paul Polman, who joined the company in September 2008.
Clift told Marketing Week last year that the highlights of his career were when he “made space for talented people to push the boat out a bit”.
“If that constitutes a maverick,” he said, “then we need lots more mavericks.”
Clift confirmed that an investigation by Marketing Week reporters following the news of his departure breaking on Stuart Smith’s MarketingWeek.co.uk blog, forced Unilever to release details of his decision earlier than intended.
A Unilever spokesperson says: “After almost 30 years with Unilever, chief marketing officer Simon Clift has decided it’s time to move on, and intends to retire from the company in a few months’ time.
“It’s a completely amicable parting, prompted by his desire to spend more time with his family in Brazil and to pursue other creative opportunities.”
Clift has held marketing positions with the company in the UK, Portugal, Austria and Mexico, including chairman of Unilever’s Latin American personal care category, global president of marketing for home and personal care, and group vice-president for personal care where he was responsible for worldwide strategy and marketing.
Unilever has just revealed its global media agency roster following a six-month review. Mindshare will handle its media planning and buying account in Western Europe, including the UK, North America and Canada.
Creative agencies on the Unilever roster include JWT, Tullo Marshall Warren, Iris, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Karmarama and Ogilvy &Mather.