This is a wonderful interview by David Lancefield and Jeremy Grant from strategy+business with Paul Polman the former Chief Executive of Unilever.
In this are a great deal of insights about how to lead a 21st century purpose driven company that is good for all stakeholders including our planet.
Some of Paul's words that I particularly like:
The average life span of a publicly traded company in the U.S. has dropped during my lifetime from 67 years to 17 years. I think one of the main reasons for that has been the myopic focus on shareholders and the increasing short-termism that has crept in.
Some companies have tried to compensate for their own successes by moving somewhat into corporate social responsibility or philanthropy and other things, but ultimately this all falls into the “less bad” category, and clearly we are beyond the point that the world can afford that. So companies need to think hard about having a positive impact.
If they do think about these models, then their development agenda is one of opportunity, and there is probably a bigger market out there waiting for them. And, actually, a very profitable market. Getting companies into this shift in mind-set from moving from CSR to what I call RSC — the “responsible social corporation” — is perhaps a big step, but very rewarding.
... keep it simple, in human language, from being a net taker to a net giver. Some people think greed is good, and some in the financial markets even more so. But generosity always wins long term.
Companies are a mere reflection of the human beings that make up that company. There is no reason companies can’t be more human either, and we somehow forgot that. Bringing companies back to humanity is what business leadership is all about: making positive contributions, trying to do that little bit more every day. This guarantees not only your company’s long-term reason for being, but also your financial success.
If you were coaching a new CEO in a large organization, what would you tell her or him to focus on first?
POLMAN: Fortunately, I come from a part of the country in the Netherlands where we keep both feet on the ground. So my first advice would be: Be a human being.
Who will you become?
What will you do next?