Amsterdam: The world’s second biggest consumer products maker, Unilever NV plans to replace more of its top 100 managers next month, chief executive officer Paul Polman said.

Cutting cost: Unilever chief executive officer Paul Polman. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint

Polman, a former Nestle SA and Procter and Gamble Co. (P&G) executive, this year became the first outsider to lead the Rotterdam- and London-based company in its 79-year history, in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. To evoke a sense of urgency within the company, he froze salaries, including his own, and made bonuses dependent on volume growth of Unilever products instead of earnings per share.

“The economic crisis was the best thing that happened to me," he said. Having made a lot of progress under his predecessor Patrick Cescau, Unilever wasn’t aware of standards of the outside world and the decline gave Unilever no time to waver.

Polman also increased ad spending, boosted promotions and accelerated new-product introductions to stoke sales growth, which had lagged behind that of P&G and Nestle for years. Last month, the CEO broke a nine-year streak of avoiding major takeovers to pursue the €1.28 billion (Rs8,960 crore) purchase of Sara Lee Corp.’s shower gel and European detergents business.

“We’re in for a long and slow recovery of the economy," Polman said. “I assure you, we will get out of this crisis stronger."