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How Morgan Stanley helped Unilever win the 'seven day war'

Investment bankers in Europe describe Unilever as one of the most sophisticated users of investment banks in the world. “They know all of our strengths and all of our weaknesses,” says one banker who has covered the Anglo-Dutch conglomerate for many years.


So when Kraft Heinz, the US food giant that is co-owned by aggressive Brazilian private equity group 3G Capital and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway group, made an unsolicited bid for Unilever at the beginning of February 2017, and its very existence was in play, it had to turn to an investment bank it could trust. 

Boutique adviser Centerview was already on board with Unilever, having been hired some time earlier to deal with activist investor issues. Unilever also needed a big hitter in defence mandates. In such circumstances, there are usually two options: Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley. Unilever chose the latter. 

What followed was described as a “seven-day war of independence” for Unilever. And at the heart of the defence was what one Morgan Stanley colleague calls the firm’s secret weapon – Mark Rawlinson. He joined Morgan Stanley as UK chairman of M&A in 2016 from law firm Freshfields. 

Rawlinson worked as a lawyer for three decades, although he points out that many investment bankers he worked with on deals during that time joked that he was far more interested in the strategic advice about mergers than he was the legal technicalities.

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