Company Vitae: Reckitt Benckiser

The company behind Cillit Bang and Disprin is one of the most successful FMCG firms in the world. Where did it come from?

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Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Formative years: The Anglo end of this Anglo-Dutch union starts with mustard magnate Jeremiah Colman, whose Norwich flour mill ground to life in 1814. Some 26 years later, Isaac Reckitt's Hull-based laundry goods firm began the quest for whiter-than-white whites that continues to this day - your granny might have done her washing with Reckitt's Blue. The two formed Reckitt & Colman in 1938.

Across the Channel, in the southwest German town of Pforzheim, a chemist named Johann Benckiser opened for business in 1823. By the 1970s, Benckiser was big in household goods, thanks to brands such as Calgon and Finish. The Reimann family, descendants of the founder, remain shareholders to this day.

Having flogged its food business to Unilever, Reckitt & Colman joined forces with Benckiser, by now based in the Netherlands, creating Reckitt Benckiser (RB) in 1999.

Who's the boss? Bart Becht, the UK's highest paid CEO, who trousered a whopping £92m last year. Despite once saying that he doesn't care about shareholders, just customers, he has remained in charge since the 1999 merger. And since RB's share price has risen on his watch from under £6 to well over £30, it's hard to say he hasn't earned it.

Recent history: During the recession, RB refused to compete with rivals' rushed-out budget ranges, gambling that customers would continue to pay premium prices for its premium products. It worked - sales rose as the downturn deepened. RB remains on course for continued growth and in July shelled out ú2.5bn on condoms - Durex manufacturer SSL, to be precise.

The secret formula? Like that of most 'overnight' stars, RB's success has been a long time in the making. Its focus on big-earning 'power brands' such as Vanish, Harpic and Dettol, plus a commitment to innovation, has resulted in a firm that excels at giving punters what they want, before they even know they want it: 35% of revenues derive from products less than three years old, such as the Clearasil Pimple Blocker pen.

Proudest moment: Achieving 10% sales growth in 2009, a year in which even the mighty Procter & Gamble was powerless to stop revenues falling.

Don't mention: The Gaviscon scandal. In 2008, RB was accused of costing the NHS up to £40m by trying to delay cheaper, generic competitors to its popular Gaviscon indigestion treatment.

RECKITT BENCKISER VITAL STATISTICS
HQ Slough
Employees 23,000 in 60 countries
Annual revenue £7.8bn (2009)
Net profit £1.4bn (2009)
Offering Maker and marketer of home, health and personal care products

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