Unilever’s CEO on sustainability, poverty alleviation and running one of the biggest "NGOs"
The Financial Times’ recent profile of Unilever CEO Paul Polman portrays a chief executive focused on many of the same crucial issues of human capital, natural capital, social capital and financial performance that our Mutuality Lab was created to measure and address.
Unilever is a $59.4 billion dollar company that made more than $8 billion in profits (before tax) last year. However, when Polman talks about the commitment to sustainability and to ending poverty, he says that he “represents one of the biggest NGOs.”
This commitment to balance long-term profits with these new goals risks the wrath of shareholders, particularly those more accustomed to companies using the sole metric of maximizing immediate returns to guide their business strategy.
As the article makes clear, Polman has his supporters and critics, and as with any high-profile person seeking to drive change, there are questions about his ability to make his new business model stick. Our friend and colleague Colin Mayer, professor of management studies at Oxford’s Saïd Business School is quoted:
“He has demonstrated immense courage and vision in promoting a concept of the purpose and function of business that initially met with considerable resistance, bordering on hostility, from several quarters.”
What do you think?
-- Clara Shen