Unilever CEO Paul Polman: Pursue Your Purpose | Summary and Q&A

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May 20, 2016
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Stanford Graduate School of Business
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Unilever CEO Paul Polman: Pursue Your Purpose

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Summary

In this video, Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, discusses the importance of sustainability in business and the challenges that need to be addressed. He highlights the need for a broader vision to manage the challenges of climate change, poverty, and inequality. Polman also emphasizes the role of business in solving these issues and calls for a different type of leadership and partnership. He concludes by urging individuals and companies to work with purpose and serve others.

Questions & Answers

Q: What does Polman mention as the oldest profession in the world?

Polman shares a humorous story about an engineer, an economist, and a doctor arguing about the oldest profession. The doctor argues that being a doctor is the oldest profession because the first successful operation occurred when Eve came out of Adam's rib in the Book of Genesis.

Q: What challenges does Polman say need to be solved?

Polman mentions the challenges of climate change, energy, water, biodiversity, and natural capital. He believes that these challenges require a broader vision and a new set of skills to manage successfully.

Q: According to Polman, what skill sets are needed to be successful in life?

Polman believes that in addition to hard work, intelligence, and integrity, individuals need to have a deep understanding of sustainability. He suggests that knowing about topics like climate change, international development, and business development are crucial in managing the challenges of the world.

Q: What positive developments has the world seen in the last 15 years, according to Polman?

Polman mentions that in the last 15 years, more people have been lifted out of poverty, more people have access to education and clean drinking water, and more women are participating in the global economy.

Q: How does Polman describe the crisis of 2007-2008?

Polman considers the crisis of 2007-2008 to be more of a crisis of morality than anything else. He believes that the system that had created prosperity had also come at an enormous cost, including high levels of debt, overconsumption, and leaving too many people behind.

Q: What is the current state of global debt, according to Polman?

Polman states that global debt has increased by another 57 trillion, which is a 40% increase. He attributes this increase to the behavior of companies in the financial sector and highlights the limited amount of money entering the real economy.

Q: What issues does Polman identify in the consumption pattern?

Polman points out that the current linear consumption pattern is not sustainable. He mentions that only 10% of packaging gets reused, while the rest ends up in landfills and oceans. He also highlights the disparity in resource consumption between the top 1.2 billion and the bottom 1 billion people in the world.

Q: What effects does Polman associate with climate change?

Polman argues that climate change is a human development agenda and impacts the poor the most. He mentions the risk of coral reefs disappearing, which would put about a billion people at risk. He also mentions the World Bank's estimate that staying on the current trajectory would push 100 million more people into poverty.

Q: What historic events took place in 2015, according to Polman?

Polman mentions two historic events in 2015. First, the signing of the Sustainable Development Goals in September, where countries committed to eradicating poverty and addressing sustainability issues. Second, the Paris Agreement, where countries submitted their intended nationally determined commitments to combat climate change.

Q: What does Polman believe is needed to solve the development agenda?

Polman believes that the private sector needs to be involved in solving the development agenda. He emphasizes the importance of partnerships and the responsibility of businesses to take action. He also mentions the financial evidence that responsible and transparent companies have lower costs, better operational performance, and better stock prices.

Takeaways

Paul Polman emphasizes the importance of sustainability and the need for businesses and individuals to work with purpose in addressing the challenges of climate change, poverty, and inequality. He highlights the role of business in solving these issues and calls for a different type of leadership and partnership. Polman believes that transparency and trust are crucial in building a better future, and he urges the financial market to get involved in this agenda. He encourages the next generation, particularly millennials, to be actively involved in shaping the future.

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