Runaway climate change and rampant inequality are ravaging the world and costing a fortune. Who will help lead us to a better future? Business.
Business leader, climate and equalities campaigner.
You either make the dust, or you eat the dust.
I was one of six children born in the Netherlands in 1956. My mother was a teacher and my father had an administrative job in a tire factory. They taught us the importance of working hard and the basic values of dignity, respect, equity and compassion.
I finished my graduate studies in America at the University of Cincinnati, which I left with dual honours in economics and business studies. It’s where I had the good fortune to meet Kim, my wife and the mother of our three boys.
I worked for three great companies in the years that followed – Proctor & Gamble, Nestle and Unilever – all built to last. I learnt the power of creating value through business models with clear values, and I learnt that serving all of your stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, local communities, the planet and even future generations – is the best way to serve your shareholders and build a thriving company over the long-term.
I was CEO of Unilever between 2009-19. Working with a tremendous team, our overarching goal was to decouple the company’s growth from its social and environmental footprint. We achieved a lot, including raising top and bottom line growth, and increasing shareholder returns by 290% while the company consistently ranked first in the world for sustainability. But I left understanding that no one company can, alone, solve our two most burning challenges of climate change and inequality. We need bold partnerships to move nations and industries with real speed and scale.