Bright, Quick, & Flexible

paul-polmanBehind every great company there has got to be some passion.  Unilever, the British-Dutch firm is no exception.  Unilever is famous for soaps, shampoos, food, and all sorts of everyday products such as Dove, Lipton, Vaseline, and even Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.  Unilever products are used by an estimated 2 billion people globally each day.

Recently Unilever Global CEO and Dutchman Paul Polman visited Tokyo and shared some of his passion at several meetings with embassies, Unilever clients, and business groups.  Mr. Polman is very impressive as a public speaker with his attention to fine details and statistics peppered his talk, it would be hard to deny the credibility of what he is working to convey.  His question and answer sessions are not Q then A.  They are 3 questions at once and three answers all in rapid fire response.  A favourite saying is “If you don’t measure it, you don’t treasure it”.

He describes himself as a long term CEO as he had been at the helm for some 6 years already when most CEOs are changed before they can really get things done.  He talked about his passion to be better stewards with the environment we work in.  As 60% of the world’s population will live in cities, Mr. Polman said he wasn’t an environmentalist but that it did make sense to stop cutting down all of our forests and depleting the search of our resources as this way of doing business (living) is not sustainable.  Unilever is a major producer of household goods.  Revenue annually is some 60-70B USD.  This is a lot of production.  The firm has moved towards green and renewable energy and away from anything that pollutes.  Packaging and every part of the business has been examined in order to make sure what the firm is doing is sustainable.  This is referred to as ‘sustainability” now.

Mr Polman highlighted that most of the wealth in the world is held by a very small percentage at the top of society while people living in poverty is a growing number in nearly every nation around the world.

Regarding food production,some very interesting points are that the average age of farmers in Nigeria is 57 years old.  This is very similar to Japan. Seeing this similarity in both developed and developing nations should be a wake up call that we have to think about life for future generations.  Food production is becoming a more and more important part of the future of mankind.  Holland provides food throughout the world via a very strong farming business and greenhouses that grow products year round that are shipped around the world and competitive.  Countries that supply food to others have some of the best international relations records.  If you want your country to be well liked, you should start producing and exporting more food.

There are many things that Unilever is doing worldwide to leave a positive mark. Probably the reason why Mr. Polman is so successful at leading the mammoth firm is his desire to have a ‘brand with a mission’.  He says politicians can’t really lead society as much as great businesses can when not afraid to say no to depleting limited resources, being a great place to work, and just not focused on being profitable or meeting some quarterly guidance from some analyst of the stockmarket.  People don’t live lives quarterly and neither should businesses.  Unilever is a great company as it is led by outstanding executives.  Looking for a great company?  Look at the bosses or as we say in the AINEO group, look at the coaches as the team is a direct reflection of why they do what they do.