Paul Polman

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Former CEO, Unilever; Sustainable & Responsible Business Leader

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Synopsis

In a decade at the top of the global food and consumer products giant, Paul made Unilever a widely admired leader in sustainability and responsible business. He put tackling climate change, inequality, and employee and customer concerns central to the culture and goals of the company whilst also improving financial performance.

Biography

Paul Polman is best known for his decade as CEO of consumer products giant Unilever. Widely acclaimed for leading a culture of responsible business, sustainable practices and people-focused operations he has been described as ‘the epitome of the 21st century CEO’. He is now the co-founder and Chair of Imagine, a foundation whose aim is to engage business leaders around the world in embracing the UN Global Goals of addressing climate change and inequality.

As CEO of one of the world’s largest food and consumer products companies, with a long history of socially responsible business, Paul improved the company’s financial performance whilst also building a much-admired reputation for serving all stakeholders, both within and outside Unilever. His time in charge was typified by overseeing many projects around diversity, sustainability and innovation, as well as programmes addressing hunger and health in developing economies. Paul’s leadership saw Unilever frequently cited as a positive force in business, a leading employer, and a role model to others.

Prior to joining Unilever Paul served as CFO of Nestle, and before that he spent almost 30 years at Procter & Gamble, starting out as a cost analyst and rising to MD of P&G’s UK division, and then taking on senior European and global roles.

With Imagine, Paul and his co-founders have created an organisation that aims to focus and support business leaders and redefine business models to create companies that are both purpose driven and high performing. Paul is also Chair of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and of the International Chamber of Commerce. He also chairs The B Team, the group of business leaders established by Sir Richard Branson to gather together business efforts on sustainable and humanitarian progress.

Paul was a key business representative during the Paris UN Climate Change Conference and was invited by the Secretary General to serve as one of 27 panel members charged with overseeing the UN Sustainable Development Goals process, and he remains an official UN SDG Advocate. As well as many non-governmental and academic honours, Paul is the recipient of official honours from the French, Singaporean, and British governments.

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