Influential Leaders

Paul Pohlman

Paul Polman

University of Cincinnati, Carl H. Lindner College of Business

Consumer Products

Paul Polman has distinguished himself with decades of successful leadership at several of the world’s most prestigious consumer products companies. Just as impressive as his professional successes are the many ways in which Polman has used his influence and visibility to champion the causes of social responsibility and sustainability.

After earning his two degrees from the University of Cincinnati, Polman joined Procter & Gamble and began a 26-year tenure that ultimately positioned him as the company’s group president of Europe. In 2006, he joined Nestlé as its chief financial officer of the Americas, and three years later, Polman was lured away by Unilever to serve as its CEO.

As CEO, Polman has achieved average growth rates of 5 percent per year, while simultaneously transforming Unilever into a global ecofriendly steward of resources that has been repeatedly hailed as one of the world’s most socially responsible companies. Unilever has consistently been ranked the No. 1 company in the GlobeScan/SustainAbility Survey of Sustainability Leadership, well ahead of the No. 2 company, Patagonia.

Forbes magazine named Polman an “inspirational inclusionista” for transforming Unilever into a socially conscious corporation. Earlier this year, Polman received the prestigious Oslo Business for Peace Award for his role in helping to create a better union between business and society. Under Polman, Unilever has built consumer relationships in emerging markets, focused on the utilization of sustainable resources and minimized unnecessary waste of materials. The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan is widely recognized for its forward-thinking approach and for the way it is helping to reinvent capitalism for the 21st century, calling as it does for a decoupling of growth from environmental impact and increasing overall social impact.

In addition to his role as CEO of Unilever, Polman currently serves as chair of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and sits on the board of directors of the Global Consumer Goods Forum, the UN Global Compact, and the Leadership Advisory Council for UN Women. Polman accepted an invitation from the UN Secretary General to serve on its UN High Level Panel of Eminent Persons looking at the post 2015 Development Agenda. He was also appointed to the board of the International Council of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, led by the former president of Mexico. Polman also cofounded the Dutch Sustainable Growth Coalition and is a member of the World Economic Forum International Business Council and the global task force for Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN).

Polman’s realignment of the Unilever’s values to a socially focused agenda helped recapture lost market share, improve Unilever’s shareholder return by almost 100 percent, and grow the company into one of the world’s largest and most respected consumer products companies.