The pursuit of shareholder value is attracting criticism—not all of it foolish

30. November 2012

Date: 29-11-2012
Source: The Economist: Schumpeter
Subject: Taking the long view

HE IS the chief executive of a multinational corporation, but Paul Polman sometimes sounds more like a spokesman for Occupy Wall Street. The boss of Unilever (an Anglo-Dutch consumer-goods firm with brands ranging from Timotei shampoo to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream) agonises about unemployment, global warming and baby-boomer greed. He puts some of the blame for these ills on the most influential management theory of the past three decades: the idea that companies should aim above all else to maximise returns to shareholders.

He appears to mean it. Since taking charge in 2009, Mr Polman has stopped Unilever from publishing full financial results every quarter. He refuses to offer earnings guidance to equity analysts. He has introduced a lengthy “sustainable living plan” and attracted a new cadre of long-term investors, particularly in emerging markets. He even told an audience in Davos that hedge-fund managers would sell their own grandmothers to make a profit. Read the rest of this entry »