Championing Sustainability and Responsible Capitalism: Paul Polman at Unilever

Case Code: LDEN109
Case Length: 15 Pages
Period: 2009-2016
Pub Date: 2016
Teaching Note: Not Available
Price: Rs.400
Organization : Unilever
Industry : Fast Moving Consumer Goods
Countries : Europe; US; Global
Themes: Responsible Leadership, Corporate Sustainability, Business Ethics
Global Economic Impact of Coronavirus – Assessment and Mitigation (B)
Abstract Case Intro 1 Case Intro 2 Excerpts


Embedding sustainability

When Unilever named Paul Polman (Polman) as its new CEO in late 2008, it created history. Polman was the first external candidate the board had chosen an for this position. Polman was expected to continue the turnaround process initiated by his predecessor Patrick Cescau between 2005 and 2008, which included overhauling Unilever’s management structure, cutting costs, and merging its two big divisions, food and consumer products, so as to allow them to share marketing expertise and distribution networks.

Polman had earned a BBA/BA from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, in 1977 and an MA in Economics and MBA in finance/international marketing from the University of Cincinnati in 1979...

The compass strategy

While leading Unilever, Polman did not focus on increasing the market share of the company. Instead, is emphasis was on implementing sustainable business practices and driving systemic change...

Five levers of change

In an effort to integrate sustainability into its strategy, brands, and innovation so as to help drive business growth, Unilever encouraged behavior change among consumers...

Leadership style

Polman had spent 35 years in the FMCG sector, holding senior positions at Procter & Gamble and Nestlé before joining Unilever...

Sustainability achievements

Launched in 2010, the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) was the key driver of Unilever’s sustainable growth. The USLP set out three goals, at the bottom of which were nine commitments supported by Unilever’s social and environmental performance...


During his tenure at Unilever, Polman had been facing some criticism too. While some analysts lauded his efforts to promote responsible business, others criticized his leadership style and said they were disappointed with the company’s growth...

The road ahead

Polman was applauded by industry experts as a visionary leader and a champion of sustainable development and responsible capitalism. So far, his efforts had earned rave reviews. A 2014 survey of “sustainability experts” by GlobeScan , ranked Unilever first for having the most comprehensive strategy of enlightened capitalism of any global firm...


Exhibit I: Unilever’s Product Portfolio*
Exhibit II: Unilever’s Financial Performance
Exhibit III: Paul Polman’s Profile
Exhibit IV: The Compass Strategy Exhibit V: Unilever Sustainable Living Plan
Exhibit VI : Unilever’s Business Model
Exhibit VII: Unilever’s Five Levers for Change
Exhibit VIII: Unilever’s Share Price Chart (2009-2015)
Exhibit IX: Unilever’s Sustainability Commitments & Achievements
Exhibit X: Unilever’s Sales Growth (2006-2014)
Exhibit XI: Unilever in Sustainability Survey

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