Cescau will retire from Unilever after 35 years at the end of the year. He has led Unilever for the last four, initially as chairman and then as the company's first Group Chief Executive.
The Unilever board will propose Polman at an extraordinary general meeting to be convened during the autumn.
Unilever chairman Michael Treschow: ‘Paul Polman is a great talent with significant international experience and an excellent track record. He has all the attributes necessary to build on Patrick's achievements. We are delighted that he has agreed to join the business and to lead Unilever into the next stage of its development.'
Polman joined Nestle in 2006 as chief financial officer. Prior to that he had a 26-year career in Procter & Gamble, culminating as group president, Europe - a position he held from 2001 - 2005.