Paul Polman, a ‘Crucial Voice’ for Corporate Responsibility, Steps Down as Unilever C.E.O.
By David Gelles
When Paul Polman was made chief executive of Unilever in 2009, he was regarded as a safe choice to lead the maker of Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Dove soap and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. A veteran executive from Nestlé and Procter & Gamble, he was known for his fiscal discipline and international experience.
But Mr. Polman, who on Thursday announced that he would step down at the end of the year, quickly set about making dramatic changes when he took over Unilever.
He stopped issuing quarterly guidance, signaling to Wall Street that he was not going to make decisions to improve the short-term stock price. He rolled out a long-term strategy to make Unilever a better steward of the environment and a more socially responsible business, known as the Sustainable Living Plan.
In time, Mr. Polman, who is Dutch, began acquiring brands known for their ecological bona fides, like Seventh Generation and Tazo tea. And last year, he fended off a takeover attempt by Kraft Heinz, a deal that would have been a near-term win for investors but would have set up a clash of diametrically opposed corporate cultures.