Responsible business before shareholder value

One of the podcasts I listen to regularly is HBR Ideacast. Recently Paul Polman, Unilever's CEO, was interviewed. I thought the interview was great and inspiration. You can find the podcast and transcript here.

There's lots of talk about social business lately. What does it mean? How can it be done? And how does it relate to new social tools? I like the way some are stressing social business as human business. Businesses consist of humans and should do what is good for humans inside and outside of the company.

The interview with Polman give a short insight into what a human business could or should be. A human business is a responsible business. It takes it's responsibility for the world, environment and humans in general. This has to do with how they produce products and services, the packaging they choose, the way they take care of employees and partners, etc. Polman went even further by stating that responsibility and sustainability comes before money and shareholder value. Money and value will come if a company takes up his responsibility and is sustainable.

Based on the interviewers questions it was clear he could hardly believe the ceo really meant what he was saying. It's basically a good story, good marketing to say Unilever focuses on being a responsible company. The interviewer is not alone. We've become used to nice polished stories with no practical follow-up. We've become so focused on money and shareholder value that all else has become secondary. The way Polman answers the interviewer's (and my) unbelief with concrete answers and specific examples is great and inspirational. I hope many companies will follow his example.

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