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Burgmans studied business administration at Nyenrode in the Netherlands, and political and social sciences at Stockholm University in Sweden. He then completed a Master of Arts in Marketing at Lancaster University Management School in England.
Burgmans joined Unilever in 1972, working as marketing assistant at Lever, the Netherlands on the dishwater detergent Sun. Later, he held marketing and sales positions in the company's detergents businesses in Indonesia and the Netherlands. In 1982, he was appointed marketing and sales director of Lever in the Netherlands and in 1985, became marketing director of Lever Germany.
Three years later, he was appointed chairman of PT Unilever Indonesia. In 1991, he became director of Unilever with responsibility for personal care products. Burgmans took over responsibility for Ice Cream and Frozen Foods - Europe in May 1994 and, later that year, was appointed chairman of the Europe Committee, which co-ordinates Unilever's European activities.
In October 1998, he was appointed vice chairman of Unilever N.V. and became chairman of Unilever N.V in May 1999. In May 2005, Burgmans was elected chairman Unilever N.V. and PLC.
In January 2007, it was announced that he would be replaced by Michael Treschow upon standing down as Chairman in May 2007.
Burgmans also serves as member of the Supervisory Board of ABN AMRO, a member of the International Advisory Board of Allianz AG and a non-executive director of BP plc. He is also co-chairman of the Global Commerce Initiative (GCI) and chairman of the Supervisory Boards of, WWF-Netherlands, the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague and the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam.