Paul Polman, who was chief executive of Unilever for 10 years, until January 2019, has been widely hailed as one of the most visionary corporate leaders in the decade since the global financial crisis. His pledge to put sustainability and long-term value creation at the forefront of Unilever’s business model was initially greeted with investor skepticism but has since come to be recognized as a landmark strategic decision, prompting some businesses to rethink their social license. While at Unilever, Polman pioneered innovative approaches to the sourcing of raw materials and packaging of goods, developed new relationships with suppliers, produced healthier products, and improved conditions for workers. He used the size and scale of Unilever to drive transformative changes beyond his company. His most eye-catching move was to stop providing quarterly guidance and move to a long-term multistakeholder model of value creation. Yet far from hurting Unilever’s share price performance over time — as some suspected would happen — he turned the company around, delivered 10 years of consistent top- and bottom-line growth, and delivered a total shareholder return from 2009 until late 2018 of nearly 300 percent. That compared with 131 percent for the U.K.’s FTSE index (Unilever shares are… Read full this story
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