Paul Polman has been selected as this year’s AIB International Executive of the Year Award by the Fellows of the Academy of International Business (AIB). This distinguished honor will be conferred on Mr. Polman at the AIB annual international conference in Warsaw, Poland, where he will deliver the Keynote Speech at the Plenary Opening Ceremony on July 6, 2023.
The International Executive of the Year Award recognizes business leaders who have significantly improved the reputation and performance of their respective firms on the international stage. Recipients typically have been individuals with a reputation of impeccable integrity and a performance track-record admired by stakeholders and competitors alike.
Mr. Polman is awarded this honor in recognition of his unsurpassed leadership in the area of global business and sustainability. Born and raised in the Netherlands and educated in the University of Groningen and University of Cincinnati, Paul went on to become the CEO of the British consumer goods company Unilever in the period 2009-2019. He propagated and practiced a management philosophy which emphasized the dual role of business – creating financial value and contributing to addressing societal problems. During his tenure, the company increased shareholders’ returns by 300% while also achieving a #1 global ranking on sustainability. Reflective of this outstanding record, Financial Times called him “one of the most significant chief executives of his era” and his approach to business and its role in society “both valuable and path-breaking.”
Paul Polman’s contribution to the field of global business extends beyond his own company, as he is actively involved in dissemination of management knowledge and best practices. In his recent book Net Positive, he and co-author Andrew Winston describe the practical ways in which companies can help address some of humanity’s greatest challenges like climate change and inequality, while building thriving businesses. They challenge the common assumption that the only function of business is to maximize profits, and critique the limits of Corporate Social Responsibility practice, proposing instead an approach where “courageous companies thrive by giving back to the world more than they take.” The book has been widely recognized as one of the best business books of 2021 and a must read for business executives by Financial Times, Thinkers50, The Economist, The New York Times, and many others. The ideas developed in the book are being taken on by business executives around the world trying to position their companies on this inspiring Net Positive journey. His impact continues through the new organization Imagine that he founded in 2019 to help businesses “eradicate poverty and inequality, and stem runaway climate change.”
Awarding Paul Polman this distinguished award reaffirms AIB’s position on the broad societal role of international business. Having him as a keynote speaker at the annual meeting will be informative and inspiring for our members. We congratulate Mr. Polman and look forward to welcoming him and celebrating his achievements at the AIB annual meetings in Warsaw, Poland on 6 July 2023.
Lorraine Eden, Dean of the AIB Fellows
AIB International Executive of the Year Selection Committee
Tatiana Kostova (Chair), Julian Birkinshaw, Paula Caligiuri, Peter Williamson, Udo Zander
About Paul Polman
Paul Polman is a business leader, climate and equality campaigner, and co-author of “Net Positive:how courageous companies thrive by giving more than they take”, a Financial Times Business Book of the Year.
Polman works to accelerate action by business to tackle climate change and inequality. He believes, above all, that humanity will only overcome our greatest shared challenges through far- reaching systems change and bold new partnerships to deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which he helped develop.
As CEO of Unilever (2009-2019), Paul demonstrated that business can profit through purpose, marrying a long-term, multi-stakeholder model with excellent financial performance. During Paul’s tenure, shareholders saw their returns increase by 290% while the company consistently ranked 1st in the world for sustainability and as one of best places to work.
Today Paul works across a range of organizations and initiatives to help speed the global action needed to regenerate our planet, renew our economies and unite our societies. He helps business move further and faster on these ambitions, including through his work with Systemiq and through mobilizing private equity.
He helps drive bold new coalitions within industries such as fashion and food, as well as between the private sector, government and civil society, including through his work leading the UN Global Compact and as an Ambassador for the Race to Zero and Race to Resilience.
Paul is also passionate about developing our next generation of leaders, which he does as chair of the Oxford University Saïd Business School, and through his work with INSEAD, IESE and the Boards of PRME and One Young World.
Last year Paul’s published his critically-acclaimed book with sustainability expert Andrew Winston, “Net Positive”, which sets out how to build companies which succeed by fixing the world’s problems, rather than creating them. He actively campaigns on a range of human rights issues, including promoting disability inclusion through the Valuable 500 and the Kilimanjaro Blind Trust, which he set up with his wife Kim.