Editor's Comment: Unilever's Paul Polman: a CEO worth every penny

It's easy to be cynical about chief executives these days. Andrew Moss of Aviva is the latest scalp of the 'Shareholder Spring' revolt against excessive pay at underperforming companies.

Unilever and its chief executive, Paul Polman, are not in that class. Since he took the helm in 2009, Unilever's share price has risen 68%. This picture isn't perfect: the group's operating profits grew by just 1% in 2011.

Today (Wednesday) at Unilever's AGM, shareholders are expected to register concern about a fresh incentive scheme for Polman. He will no doubt defend his package eloquently. His near-evangelical speaking style had the audience at last week's Marketing Society annual lecture rapt in admiration.

Earlier that day, Marketing interviewed Polman, a former Procter & Gamble marketer whose strong views on the discipline are informed by experience (see page 28). He left us in no doubt that brands should succeed only if they are a force for good.

He's credible, too, when he rues the prospect of marketing being run by accountants and in observing that most Unilever marketers, because they come from the best schools, are unfamiliar with consumer hardship.

So, Unilever shareholders, take note: as consumers demand the highest ethical standards from brands, Polman's mission to ensure Unilever is run with a conscience deserves to be richly rewarded.

Noelle McElhatton is editor of Marketing

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