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Some Wise Words from Paul Polman

In our office, we often point to Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, as the poster child for corporate purpose work.

You could make a case that Howard Schultz at Starbucks or Yvon Chouinard at Patagonia have moved mountains for missions, but there is probably no one who has done more to passionately, forcefully, and authentically advance the case for incorporating purpose into brand strategy than Polman.  So whenever we see him mentioned in the news, we sit up and take notice.

Thus, no surprise - this Paul Polman interview and video clip from the Yale School of Management feature some truly inspiring thoughts. Among our favorites:

  • “These [human rights] standards are quite stretching, and should make you feel uncomfortable.”

  • “There are too many companies that have a hard time verbalizing their purpose.  And then you really should ask yourself, if that is the case, why are they there in the first place?”

  • “Consumers are desperately screaming for it. They might not use fancy terms like ‘climate change’ or ‘corporate social responsibility’ or “sustainability,’ but they are definitely asking every day, Why isn’t somebody helping me?”

  • “…the average lifespan a publicly traded company in the U.S. is now 17 years.”

  • “We are at a point right now when the cost of not acting is starting to become higher than the cost of acting….  It is cheaper to attack the issues and invest in solving them than to deal with the costs.”

Good stuff.

The heroic pedestals of our times are usually reserved for athletes, politicians and entertainers, or for tech entrepreneurs; but clearly there should be one with Polman's name on it.  He is an oracle of impact and uncommon good sense.


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