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When the history of stakeholder capitalism is written, Paul Polman will have a lead role. He became CEO of consumer goods giant Unilever back in 2009, and over the subsequent decade he was the leading proponent of a new kind of capitalism–one that focused explicitly on big social problems like climate change and inequality. That’s why I was eager to have him as a guest on our podcast, Leadership Next. He is, in some ways, the embodiment of our theme.
You can hear the full interview with Polman this morning here. But for CEO Daily readers, let me share this excerpt:
“Governments in this world right now have a little bit of a hard time, and global governance is broken. Populism, xenophobia, nationalism…all these things are going in the wrong direction. Meanwhile these issues are piling up. Cybersecurity, financial markets, climate change…coronavirus. These are global issues that need global coordination.
“I believe it is the duty of the private sector to step up and fill that void and be responsible. We are not elected bodies, but we do have to fill that void. And it’s in the interest of business. And increasingly, business understands that.”
Polman takes it a step further than most of his big business colleagues by declaring the current system broken. “There are two forms of a capitalism that live next to each other and frankly they are in conflict,” he said, citing long-term “stakeholder” capitalism as pitted against short-term “shareholder primacy.” It will take “major changes to our economic system to bend the curve of capitalism.”
And a news tidbit out of next week’s episode of Leadership Next, which features an interview with Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky. Chesky told Ellen McGirt and me that bookings in the U.S. in the last couple of weeks have actually exceeded last year’s levels. “It may be pent-up demand,” he said. “We don’t know…(but) it is recovering way faster than any of us imagined.”
That also could mean the home rental company is back on track for an IPO this year. Stay tuned.
More news below.