Business Matters

Unilever CEO will be keynote speaker at Mason’s 51st Commencement

Unilever CEO Paul Polman, who has been recognized for his commitment to sustainability and corporate responsibility, will be the featured speaker at Mason’s Spring Commencement. The university’s 51st annual Commencement will take place at 10 a.m. Friday, May 18, at EagleBank Arena.

Paul Polman has set a goal for Unilever to use only renewable energy by 2030. According to the corporation’s website, in 2016, more than 600 Unilever sites sent no nonhazardous waste to landfills.

“The question you ask is, ‘Do you run this for society or not?’” Polman said in a 2017 Fortune profile. “The real purpose of business has always been to come up with solutions that are relevant to society, to make society better.”

In 2018, for the seventh consecutive year, Fortune ranked Unilever as one of the World’s Most Admired Companies Top 50 All-Stars, citing its reputation for social responsibility, people management, and global competitiveness, among other factors.

One of the company’s recent social impact projects entailed the installation of thousands of water pumps and toilets in Africa and India to decrease the spread of disease.

Unilever’s portfolio of more than 400 brands—from soap to mayonnaise to ice cream—are used by 2.5 billion people every day in more than 190 countries.

Polman, until recently the chair of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, has spearheaded efforts to build a network of conscientious executives and investors committed to tackling the biggest issues of our time. Including malnutrition, poverty, gender inequality, and environmental challenges while at the same time building brand loyalty with customers in developing markets, turning profits, and satisfying shareholders.

Bloomberg Businessweek calls Polman’s ambition for his company “a vast experiment with few parallels in the recent history of business.”

Before joining Unilever as CEO in 2009, Polman held executive positions at Procter & Gamble from 1979 to 2006, and at Nestlé from 2006 to 2009.

Polman is a member of the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum and sits on the Board of the UN Global Compact and the Consumer Goods Forum. He has received the Rainforest Alliance Lifetime Achievement Award and the UN Environment Programme’s Champion of the Earth Award.

In 2016, Polman received France’s Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, in part for the role he played in the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. Earlier this year, he received an honorary knighthood (KBE) in the United Kingdom for services to business.