After participating in a private conversation with a small group of students from the Ross School of Business, Polman joined co-host and University of Michigan Professor Andrew Hoffman to kick off the virtual event. The discussion was centered around one question: How can business leaders take action to create a positive impact on the world?
In their 2021 book Net Positive, Polman and co-author Andrew Winston propose that in order to thrive today and tomorrow, companies must become “net positive” by giving more to the world than they take. In doing so, a company improves the lives of those it touches; takes ownership of social and environmental impacts its business model creates; and partners with competitors, civil society, and governments to drive transformative change that no single group or enterprise could deliver alone.
“The only mindset that will allow us to successfully live in harmony with the planet and future generations is to think regenerative, restorative, reparative,” said Polman. “That is what we call net positive.”
Polman and Hoffman discussed the application of net positivity in business practices and what the concept means for business curriculum. The pair also provided guidance on how to build a career driven by purpose, meaning, and impact. “True leadership is about putting yourself in the service of others,” Polman commented. “Find the sweet spot between what you’re good at, what you like to do, and what the world needs.”
The public event drew in over 280 attendees from across the United States and 12 other countries. Nebraska College of Business student Michael Smilko, BA ’23, reflected on Polman’s honesty, candor, and vision for the future. “He spoke on what needed to change, but unlike most, he proposed solutions as well,” Smilko said. “He left the audience inspired to keep chasing their dreams and to do it the right way by society.”
The next installment of the Leadership Dialogues speaker series will be held in the fall. Additional details will be announced soon. Learn more by visiting the Sanger Leadership Center’s website.
(Left) Paul Polman – Former CEO of Unilever
(Right) Andrew Hoffman – Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan