The winner of WIN WIN Gothenburg Sustainability Award 2014 on the theme Transformative Leadership for Global Business was the dutch businessman Paul Polman.
Paul Polman was the CEO for Unilever from 2009-2019, where he commenced a pervasive change of course towards a more sustainable operation, among other things through Unilever’s “Sustainable Living Plan”. His starting-point is that ”You cannot grow a healthy business in an unhealthy society ”. The objective is to halve the company environmental footprint by the year 2020, and to increase its positive influence on global health, prosperity and working and living conditions at the same time as the company grows.His commitment is global. In addition to his work in Unilever, he is heavily involved in organizations such as Consumer Goods Forum, One Young World and a number of different international boards for sustainable leadership. He has been elected to the high level UN Panel for the Post 2015 Development Goals.
Paul Polman exhibits, through his leadership, great courage and commitment which inspires in a global corporate world where environmental and social values are often overshadowed by more short-term financial interests. He has also shown awareness of and initiative against the short-term thinking prevailing in the corporate world and discontinued the traditional quarterly reporting. Thus, he challenged the shareholders to take part in a more long-term journey. This led to a loss of some short-term shareholders, but attracted others with more long-term interests.
Polman is an example of a courageous leader who inspires through both words and actions. He is, despite considerable humility in the face of the magnitude of the problems, a role model for other company heads to follow as they genuinely realign to a new type of business operation.