Episode 36

Paul Polman: Creating companies that give more than they take

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Time is running out for our planet. We are taking more than we are giving. CSR targets don’t go far enough. And societal inequality is on the rise. It requires a rethink of how we do business, how we lead organisations, how we measure impact.

Who better to set out the manifesto for change than Paul Polman, the former CEO of Unilever and co-founder of Imagine One. He’s done what he’s advocated; turned a global company into a force for good whilst still delivering exceptional shareholder value. He’s now become an advocate, catalyst and ambassador, writing a book called Net Positive with Andrew Winston. It sets out how businesses should and can give back more to the world than they take, and why it matters.

We talk about:

  • What ‘net positive’ means and why it’s a better concept than ‘net zero’.
  • What stops CEOs from taking the necessary action.
  • What it takes to learn and unlearn new leadership and business practices.
  • Whether it’s possible to develop a new mindset of systemic leadership if you’ve been a short-term, mercenary leader.
  • The three characteristics of CEOs he would look for.
  • Critical moments in a CEO’s tenure that can make or break their contribution to addressing these systemic issues.
  • His own personal habits that help him do extraordinary work.

The best bits of these conversations are captured in my newsletter Flashes+Sparks.

More about Paul

Paul works to accelerate action by business to achieve the UN Global Goals, which he helped develop. As CEO of Unilever (2009–2019), he demonstrated that a long-term, multi-stakeholder model goes hand-in-hand with excellent financial performance and has been described by the Financial Times as ‘a standout CEO of the past decade’.

Paul’s new book, Net Positive, is a call-to-arms to courageous business leaders, setting out how to build net positive companies which profit by fixing the world’s problems rather than creating them. He chairs IMAGINE and Saïd Business School and is Vice-Chair of the UN Global Compact, as well as B Team Leader. Paul is Honorary Chair of the International Chamber of Commerce, which he led for two years.

  • Visit the website and learn how to join the movement.
  • Follow Paul Polman on Twitter and LinkedIn and keep up with the Net Positive movement.
  • Details of the book.

“Less bad is not good enough anymore.”

Paul Polman, former CEO at Unilever, co-author of Net Positive

VIEW RUNNING ORDER

03.15 The meaning of ‘net positive’.
08.10 What stops CEOs taking action.
11.10 Learning and unlearning.
15.00 Shifting your mindset.
19.00 Paul’s role and contribution.
23.50 The three characteristics of a CEO.
26.01 Critical moments.
30.40 Paul’s habits.
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