The courtship began in May 2017 over dinner at Casa Lever, an upscale Milanese restaurant on the first floor of a landmark Park Avenue skyscraper. Richelieu Dennis, the 49-year-old cofounder of Sundial Brands, had spent 20 years avoiding meals like this with the U.S. president of Unilever, the $54 billion (2017 sales) Anglo-Dutch consumer goods conglomerate. But he finally caved after Unilever executives began imploring Dennis’ friends to talk him into the meeting. “My whole universe just started to say, ‘Hey, you need to talk to these guys,’” he recalls.
Unilever badly wanted to buy New York City-based Sundial, a $240 million-in-revenue maker of shampoos, conditioners and lotions (under brands like SheaMoisture and Nubian Heritage) targeted at black and Latino customers. But Dennis had a list of terms he wanted, and he figured Unilever would never agree to all of it. Primarily he wanted to keep control of his company with no strings attached. To his surprise, Unilever said yes to everything. Then the Unilever execs laid out their supply chain in Africa—to demonstrate its sustainability—and amid a white-hot M&A market for beauty companies, Unilever offered an estimated $1.6 billion for Sundial, a rich sum. Dennis and his mother, Mary, who had cofounded the company with him in 1991, owned 51% of the company. The two stood to walk away with an estimated $850 million fortune. FULL STORY