An invitation to a no-holds-barred conversation with Paul Polman was always going to be an illuminating evening… and he didn’t disappoint.
Famous for honesty, integrity and telling some of his investors to “get lost”, Paul shared lessons learnt from Unilever, highlighting:
- Long term thinking: longer term financial reporting prevents too much focus on shareholder value and enables businesses to act responsibly
- Purpose: making time and space for strategy leads to big ideas (like Unilever’s progress on oral care, public health, sanitation etc.) and positive behaviour change
- Leadership: put simply, “the ultimate leader puts themselves before others”
Paul argues that we are all able to manage 'our energy not our time', sharing an anecdote on how managing his jet lag led to meeting Caroline Binc at a conference when she called for global leaders to act on disability. Unsurprisingly, Paul rose to her challenge.
Caroline’s movement The Valuable 500 aims to put disability (or diff-ability, Paul’s phrase) on the business leadership agenda. As she points out: 20% of our population have a disability and around 7% are vegan, yet business currently caters more to vegans….
At Unilever, to tackle unconscious bias, a move to anonymous CVs led to higher numbers of disabled leaders. Caroline pointed out that these colleagues are often good with technology, are comfortable working with ambiguity and resilient.
There is a huge opportunity for leaders and brands to tap into under recognised talent, create ads that reflect society and unlock the business potential of people living with disabilities.
Paul called for Marketing Society members to 'bring humanity back to what you do' arguing that marketing can be a force for good and blindly pushing consumption isn’t helpful.
Reflecting on the 'heart vs. head' argument for acting on social issues, Paul reinforced that 'you are the CEO of your circle' and in his view, it’s our duty to follow our hearts….
So – if we have personal responsibility, professional accountability and powerful networks to influence… what’s your commitment?