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Former CEO of Unilever and sustainability proponent
Paul is Co-founder and Chair Emeritus of IMAGINE. A leading proponent that business should be a force for good, Paul has been described by the Financial Times as “a standout CEO of the past decade”.
Paul Polman's 2024 biography
About Paul Polman
Paul Polman was one of six children born in the Netherlands. His mother was a teacher and his father had an administrative job in a tyre factory. They taught them the importance of working hard and the basic values of dignity, respect, equity and compassion.
Paul finished his graduate studies in America at the University of Cincinnati, which he left with dual degrees in economics and business studies. It’s where he had the good fortune to meet Kim, his wife and the mother of his three boys.
He worked for three great companies in the years that followed: Procter & Gamble, Nestle and Unilever – all built to last. He learnt the power of creating value through different business models driven by clear values, and he learnt that serving all your stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, local communities, the planet and even future generations – is the best way to also serve your shareholders and build a thriving company over the long-term.
He was the CEO of Unilever between 2009-19. Working with a tremendous team, they showed that responsible business models can go hand-in-hand with strong performance, raising top and bottom line growth and increasing shareholder returns by 290% while the company consistently ranked first in the world for sustainability, and one of the best places to work.
Today he work at the intersection of global business, government and civil society, where he try to accelerate action on our shared global challenges, and none more burning than the twin challenges of climate change and inequality. Paul was honoured to sit on the high-level United Nations panel which originally developed the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. They are the best blueprint they have for a more inclusive, more resilient and more prosperous global economy, and they are the business opportunity of a generation.
Paul co-wrote a book, “Net Positive: how courageous companies thrive by giving more than they take”, to help support a mindset shift in business. They need to reimagine what good looks like. Collectively, they need to think beyond traditional “Corporate Social Responsibility” and making their companies “less bad”, instead embracing business models which repair, restore and regenerate our world, and which build great companies in the process. When business leaders swap timidity for ambition and collaborate with others – their peers, their critics, governments and civil society – they can fix broken systems and help find solutions to humanity’s biggest problems. They need leadership and courage, and they need to remember the human element in all this. This is also why they co-founded IMAGINE, to drive transformative leadership and partnership. Transforming systems always starts with transforming ourselves.
With Kim he is learning to be a farmer; they bought a farm in the south of England that they are rewilding. It’s a place to house the steadily growing number of grandchildren.
Sometimes he’s asked what he would tell young execs who are coming up, based on what he have learnt over the years. Simply, Paul’s motto is that it’s better to make the dust than eat the dust. Take risks. Be bold. And never give up. Be human and be humble enough to seek out partners and allies in your endeavours. Don’t waste time on things you don’t believe in. In fact, don’t waste time at all.
Paul Polman's 2024 talks & topics
Paul Polman's 2024 speaking fees
- United Kingdom
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