Unilever has reportedly appointed recruitment company Egon Zehnder to begin the search to find a successor to CEO Patrick Cescau.

According to reports in the Sunday papers, Cescau is likely to step down of his own volition sometime next year, possibly at the company's 2009 AGM in May.

A spokesman for Unilever declined to comment on the rumours.

Cescau has been credited with turning the company around since his appointment and has led the Anglo-Dutch group's charge to dispose of non-core businesses - including last week's EUR630m (US989.2m) sale of Bertolli to SOS Cuetara.

It has been suggested that Cescau's successor will likely come under pressure to split the business in two - with the group's food business forming a separate company.

"This would have a number of benefits, notably increased strategic focus," one analyst told just-food this morning (28 July). "There's a long way to go, but it is interesting that the suggestion is being touted already."

Possible replacements for Cescau include internal candidates such as Unilever's finance director, Jim Lawrence, and head of foods, home and personal care, Vindi Banga.