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  • Jan Zijderveld to succeed Sheri McCoy at cosmetics seller
  • Avon seeking to build international business after London move

Avon Products Inc. named its first male chief executive officer in almost two decades, appointing Unilever veteran Jan Zijderveld to succeed Sheri McCoy as the cosmetics seller seeks to revive its business outside the U.S.

Zijderveld, the Anglo-Dutch consumer-product giant’s European president, joins the door-to-door makeup seller after it split off its declining U.S. business and moved its headquarters to London. The company said the shift was aimed at helping it focus on farflung international markets.

The move puts a man at the helm of a business that calls itself “the company for women.” The 131-year-old beauty brand uses female empowerment as a core part of its marketing message. Avon has not had a male CEO since 1999, as McCoy was preceded in the role by Andrea Jung, who stepped down in 2012.

Sheri McCoy Source: Avon Products Inc.

McCoy’s departure, announced in August, followed pressure from activist investors, who called for the appointment of a new chief after disappointing financial results. A group led by Shah Capital, Barington Capital Group and NuOrion Partners — collectively owning about 3.5 percent of the shares — also urged the board in January to hire financial advisers to explore a possible sale.

Prior to serving as Unilever’s president of Europe, Zijderveld held top posts in the Hellmann’s mayonnaise owner’s Southeast Asia and Australasia operations, as well as its Middle East and North Africa business. Avon, which has retained a U.S. stock listing, said the appointment was effective immediately.

“With his 30-year track record as a proven global leader, Jan has driven profitable growth in large, multichannel, complex consumer businesses across emerging, developing and developed markets,” Avon Chairman Chan Galbato said in a statement.

Avon sees brighter prospects for its business model in emerging markets, after struggling to keep pace with American women who now take their makeup cues from social media rather than door-to-door sellers.