The Lonely Quest of Unilever's CEO Paul Polman

The Lonely Quest of Unilever's CEO Paul Polman

By Jeroen Smit
Translated by Jenny Watson

The Great Battle or The Lonely Quest of Unilever's CEO Paul Polman describes the origins of Unilever and the role former CEO Paul Polman (2009-2019) played in Unilever’s quest for acting responsibly in a world that is being threatened by climate change, lack of biodiversity, pollution and growing tensions between rich and poor. In The Lonely Quest of Unilever's CEO Paul Polman Smit reconstructs the lessons we can learn from a courageous pioneer who was also ahead of his time.

EPUB, 452 Pages


July 2023

£24.95, $29.99

PDF, 452 Pages


July 2023

£24.95, $29.99

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About This Book

Companies that do not contribute to a better world do not have the right to exist. They need to focus on becoming a force for good. If focussed on making the world a better place profitability will follow. In February 2017, Kraft Heinz’s tried to buy Unilever for 135 billion euros. Unilever CEO Paul Polman frustrates the bid, he refuses to work for the benefit of a few billionaires. Companies must be a force for good and work for the billions of people who have nothing.

Polman is popular with governments and charitable organizations, but confidence among financial analysts and investors is thin. They are more interested in short-term sales projections; there is no place in their calculations for good deeds. But how sustainable is that in the long run?

His attempt to steer Unilever into a safe Dutch haven in order to escape Brexit and seek refuge from shareholders focused on short-term profits ultimately hits the rocks. Walking the line between making money and doing the right thing, Polman, more ‘priest’ than CEO, is too far ahead of his time.

The world is crying out for big businesses to address the major issues of our time, such as climate change. The Great Battle The Lonely Quest of Unilever's CEO Paul Polman is a compelling call to action for us all to rethink our behavior. This is the only way to save capitalism’s soul.


“This book is a great read about leadership as well as opportunities and new challenges to future-proof an organisation.” — Jan Zijderveld, Former Unilever President Europa / CEO of Avon, Supervisory Board-Member of (a.o) Ahold Delhaize

“The Lonely Quest of Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman portrays the struggle of CEO Paul Polman to turn Unilever into a more sustainable company. He was ahead of his time, able to withstand headwinds of shareholders and yet not succeeding at the end. The book is a page-turner, written with swung, depicting what responsible leadership is all about.” — Professor Dr. (Emeritus) Leen Paape, Corporate Governance, Nyenrode Business University

“In a thriller-like style, investigative journalist Jeroen Smit describes how Unilever boss Paul Polman gets stuck.” – NRC Handelsblad (the Dutch quality-newspaper)

“Every sentence is spot-on. Jeroen Smit is perhaps the best economic journalist in the Netherlands.” – Shortlisted in ‘best journalism book / MJ Brusse prijs 2020’

Author Information

After finishing his MBA Jeroen Smit (1963) worked as a strategy consultant before starting a 30-year- career in business journalism. He wrote books about the rise and fall of the CEOS’ of Ahold, ABN Amro, and most recently Unilever. What makes leaders come to believe in their own truth? Turning their companies into victims of groupthink and tunnel vision! With his investigative approach, Smit shows the inner workings of these companies to the general public.


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Table of Contents

PART 1 Doing well and Doing Good, 1994–2007; 1.Mea Culpa, We're Completely in the wrong: 1994–1998; 2.Two Captains, One Helm: 1998–2001; 3.Mutinous Men; We Can’t Go On Like This: 2001–2005; 4.A French Bookkeeper Puts Share Price Centre Stage: 2005–2007; 5.Outsiders in Charge: 2007–2008; PART 2 Doing Good and Doing Well, 2008–2016; 6.Only Responsible Companies Go the Distance:September–December 2008; 7.Growing, Growing, Growing […] and Doing Good: December 2008–January 2010; 8.It’s Not a Job, It’s a Calling: February–November 2010; 9.Colours to the Mast: November 2010–October 2011; 10.But We Can’t Do This Alone: January 2012–March 2013; 11.Making Money Can Never Be the Goal: April–October 2013; 12.The World’s Biggest NGO: November 2013–February 2015; 13.More Priest Than CEO: March–December 2015; 14.Too Far Ahead of His Troops: January 2016–January 2017; PART 3 Doing Well and Doing Good, 2017–2019; 15.‘Rescued’ by Warren Buffett: 11 February–7 March 2017; 16.A Mayor in Wartime: March–April 2; 17.For Sale: Dutch DNA, Milked Dry: May–December 2017; 18.‘Rotterdoom’: Mission Impossible: January–September 2018; 19.The Pioneer Feels Misunderstood: October–December 2018; 20.Paul Polman’s Lonely High Road: January–July 2019; Acknowledgements; Notes; Bibliography; Glossary of Names


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