Partnering on Purpose


Practical Insight into Data Analytics, one of the required modules on the University of Exeter’s One Planet MBA programme, is taught by Stuart Robinson, a former executive of Alliance Bernstein. In four intensive days, Stuart focuses on data understanding, preparation, modelling and evaluation. The module is enhanced by SAP’s Michael Jordan, one example of how business partners strengthen the academic modules taught on the One Planet MBA . At SAP, Mike has the curious title of Knowledge Transfer Architect. “His role is to give a practical angle to a lot of what students learn”, says Stuart. The other key partner in the module is IBM’s Jamie’s Cole, who opened the recent module with a discussion about Cognitive Computing and the Internet of Things.

It’s not unusual for the modules to be co-delivered with partners. From its inception, partners including IBM, SAP, Coca Cola, and Barclays were actively involved in the planning, curriculum design and the module delivery itself, not to mention enlisting the cohort to help solve real-life business problems. “Involving organisations in the programme ensures our curriculum remains relevant to the needs of employers and society, and the programme remains at the forefront of critical thinking and best business practices,” says Camilla Norman, Partnerships Manager at the University of Exeter business school.

Camilla notes that partners benefit tremendously from students’ fresh perspective, innovative thinking and a commitment to purpose. Partners are also the best advocates for promoting the programme within their business and wider industry networks. The better the programme and its cohort are known throughout the partnership network, the better the hiring opportunities. Beyond helping students meet their professional goals, however, partnerships are very much a matter of alignment. “We visit incubators, we also tap into those start-ups and progressive organisations and NGOs like OXFAM and The Fairtrade Foundation, whose goals are similar to the goals of the programme,” she adds.

Adam Lusby, lecturer and Senior Circular Economy Research Fellow at the University of Exeter Business School agrees. “Through the work we do as faculty, we align with those organisations that have a purpose driven commitment. Together we work hard to implement principles of circular economy,” he adds.

Nicolas Forsans, Director of the One Planet MBA programme, notes that students often help partners go further and deeper into re-thinking key business decisions. “All of our partners are experiencing change. Our programme is helping them get to where they want to be.”

Aside from common philosophy, the programme’s partners are also instrumental in providing consultancy projects for modules such as Emerging Business Models, The Entrepreneurial Mind-set, Strategic and Responsible Innovation, and the final in-depth MBA consultancy project. Some examples of students’ projects include leveraging digital technology for Sn-ap, the “Uber” of coach travel, designing circular economy solutions for Coca-Cola in Asia, defining a multi-channel strategy for the healthcare professionals for L’Oreal, and encouraging young people to use Canon cameras, rather than smart phones.

While big names bring global experience, local partners remain paramount. William Caseley, Lecturer in Management at the University of Exeter Business School, leverages his personal network, within Devon and beyond, to bring partners and guest lecturers on board. He says many enjoy their visit to One Planet MBA so much so that they want to come back. “For many, they want to give something back, there is kudos to be invited to give a lecture at the University of Exeter. It’s enjoyable to be probed by the bright minds of MBA students. Many of our guests leave to approach their business issue in a different, fresher way,” he says.

For his module, the Entrepreneurial Mindset, William encourages the cohort to work with entrepreneurs in order to get practical insights. “This module is very much shaped by how entrepreneurs learn. They learn by doing, talking, listening, reflecting,” says William. In the latest module William brought on Nick Sprague of Cobell LTD, Jay Allan from Hillside Specialty Foods, Adam Saynor from GroCycle, Gabriel Wondrausch from Sungift Solar LTD, just to list a few. All in all, students worked with nine entrepreneurs during the four-day module.

Benjamin Franklin once famously said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” This is very much the philosophy the One Planet MBA programme has put at its core – involving businesses and partners in the academic process, so much so that the students are confident in their thinking skills and future ability to take on complex problems. Problem-solving with purpose brings together academic rigour centred on critical thinking and research,  coupled with the innovation and adaptability required by forward thinking organisations. The One Planet MBA designs its programme with this intention in mind.

Nicolas Forsans asserts, “Our partners get access to some of the best minds by involving students and academics in real-life projects and sharing insights into how new business models can drive sustainable development. They get a better perspective from our students actively applying rigour and critical thinking. These insights can help our partners move their business forward and re-think and even change their existing models for the better.”

Twitter: @OnePlanetMBA


One Planet MBA shines a light on Women in Science and Technology


Young girls in Europe take a great deal of interest in STEM subjects (science, technology, math) and that interest peaks at around age 11. According to a new survey, commissioned by Microsoft, by age 15, girls’ enthusiasm for sciences wanes and all but vanishes by the time they finish secondary school. Much of this is due to conformity and social expectations, and lack of positive female role models. “Not surprising”, says Stephanie Lindan, one of the recent graduates of the University of Exeter’s One Planet MBA programme. Having been featured as an Outstanding Woman in STEM by IBM, Stephanie may very well become the role model young girls need.


Stephanie Lindan OPMBA

Hailing from College Station, Texas, Stephanie was initially attracted to the One Planet MBA programme’s commitment to change for good and strong partnerships with leading technology companies such as IBM.  “I didn’t just want an average MBA,” she says. “I believe that effective use of technology can empower positive global change and help businesses create value by addressing the key social and environmental issues facing the world,” she adds. Stephanie spent her year on the programme focusing on technology and how it can be a catalyst in the very change for good she is pursuing.  “I am passionate about innovation and digital transformation, and I wanted to work at the intersection of business and technology,” she adds.

So she did just that. Stephanie worked with IBM all throughout her tenure, which culminated in a consulting project with IBM and a big six energy provider. Her project resulted in her developing the business case for smart metering and artificial intelligence in wake of recent UK regulations. IBM’s Mike Bernard, remarked on Stephanie’s work, “Stephanie’s project delivered truly exceptional results, bringing an innovative approach to a customer problem that led to entirely new discussions with senior client executives.”

Stephanie credits much of her success to the Emerging Business module, ably taught by Adam Lusby, One Planet MBA’s lecturer, and Senior Circular Economy Research Fellow at the University of Exeter Business School. “Within this module, we are looking at emerging and disruptive technologies, social trends, and at a variety of business models that are created from the inevitable collision of social and technological aspects. We examine platforms like eBay and Amazon, co-operatives, shared economy models and more, keeping at the heart the notion that companies can and should do good,” Adam says. Because the module is relatively broad brush, the assignments are run in conjunction with partners, Barclays, Oxfam, Fairtrade Foundation, just to list a few. Students’ input into real-life solutions, not to mention the contacts gained, are invaluable.

Stephanie’s final project with IBM was so well received that she was featured at IBM’s London screening of Hidden Figures hosted by Caroline Taylor OBE and was one of the key panellists offering her thoughts on how to retain young girls’ interest and enthusiasm for sciences. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she does become a role model for girls,” says Nicolas Forsans, One Planet MBA programme director. Upon graduating with distinction in December 2016, Stephanie joined the founding team of a financial technology firm as the Chief Digital Officer and is currently participating in the prestigious Techstars Accelerator. At the end of the programme she will begin her new role at Accenture.

Stephanie’s journey, says Adam Lusby, is an example of a “tenacious intelligent businesswoman who also has the curiosity to keep looking into new areas. I think she has an entrepreneurial mind set. She networks, she studies, she is curious and she takes the opportunity when she sees it. This is where the advantage of our One Planet MBA comes in,” Adam says.  Nicolas agrees. “Stephanie is driven and focused. She brought value to her clients. She had a clear goal in mind and an insight into what she wanted to do. She never lost sight of that goal.”

“My experience with blockchain, big data and artificial intelligence has opened many doors,” Stephanie says.  “Thanks to the skillset, the confidence and the knowledge gained during the MBA, I can work across a variety of business units when I start at Accenture. The programme as a whole allowed me to identify opportunities in the market place to create value for the companies while solving big global challenges. Indeed, this was my professional aspiration,” she adds.

Stephanie tweets on : @sjlindan.



Discovery in the landscape by Hugh St Aubyn

Part two of exploring creavity by Hugh St Aubyn

The theme of place continued in the talk through a discussion of another work by, Faye, carried out on a pilgrimage trail; the St Michael’s Way where visitors were encouraged to carry stones along the trail up a hill and leave them at the top with a view of the Mount. She asked the participants to imagine the stone represented an issue, problem, pain, or person that no longer served them. Carrying the stone accessed a ritual side of experience that spoke of hope, love, and purpose. This physical participation in the landscape helped change people’s perceptions by encouraging them to slow down, listen to the environment, and their reactions to it.


Faye Dobinson, The Weight of Experience

The importance of place to making art was stated at the end of the talk:

 “I believe that it is time spent in that space that enables its richness to unfold in what becomes an archaeological dig that constantly throws up new finds. The details of the landscape are released through time and the process of making, both deepening our experience of it and embedding us within it.”

After hearing the talk it made me think about how often we are on the move or trying to find a solution to a problem, making landscape and places work for us. Putting time aside to get to know the landscape that has been created and making works of art informed by this landscape allows for a more meditative process of seeing what is waiting there, not rushing past what may be present but hidden. Faye talked about how she just knows when a work is completed, that after months of obsessing and working on something one day it will just feel finished. I wondered how much of this working until it felt completed,  was an interaction and conversation with the environment itself, that something would be communicated to the artist when they had really become immersed in the terrain.

Listening to our surroundings can help us feel at ease with them and through this awareness unexpected answers are discovered. Again the work of Faye and her colleagues at the Newlyn School of Art brought inspiration and provocation allowing me to draw many links between space and organisational decision making.

The Newlyn School of art provides, painting courses in Cornwall, taught by many of the most respected artists working in Cornwall today. Newlyn is a famous artists colony, in 1900 there were 130 artists working there, an extra train had to be put on each year to take the hundreds of paintings up to the Royal Academy for the Summer show. Many of the School’s courses take place on the coastline between Newlyn and Land’s End and Newlyn itself looks over to St Michael’s Mount.

The One Planet MBA puts the Circular Economy model to work

Circular Economy

Unilever sells some 400 brands across the world with 2016 revenues standing at some €52.7 billion. Despite the products’ vast popularity, much of its packaging ends up on landfills and oceans, not recycling bins. How can Unilever start reducing waste, especially from plastic, while putting the circular economy model to work? Gavin Warner of Unilever presented the challenge to the cohort of the University of Exeter’s One Planet MBA on Monday and by Friday the students were to present their ideas on how to repackage an item as ubiquitous as a shampoo bottle in order to create a solution fit for the circular economy. The quality of shampoo and its price, however, were to remain the same.

The dragon den panel of judges consisted of IDEO’s Chris Grantham and Sally Spinks, Unilever’s Gavin Warner and completed by Ken Webster, head of Innovation at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a leading think tank on the circular economy. Before the challenge began, Chris and Sally hailed from London for a day to present the beta version of the circular design guide. The cohort made a strong contribution and helped finalise the guide. The principles and guidelines of the circular economy had to be at the heart of the shampoo bottle solution.

Adam Lusby, lecturer and Senior Circular Economy Research Fellow at the University of Exeter Business School, set up the challenge. “We connect different purpose driven organisations across the learning experience. The challenge Unilever presented calls for a circular solution, not a linear one. The current economy is one of take, make and dispose. We take stuff out of the ground, we make it into something and we use it and throw it away. The circular economy – in short, is the extension of value. It’s restorative and regenerative. By utilising the design guide by IDEO, and creating solutions together with Unilever, students try to take on a task this complex and unpack it by applying the circular economy mind set. Many MBA programmes offer these types of challenges. But ours is steeped in creating change through doing good. This is what Unilever and many other companies are actively seeking,” Adam adds.

Nicolas Forsans, One Planet MBA Programme Director says, “For the students, the challenge was more than just re-inventing the shampoo bottle. It was about re-thinking the very business model that will give Unilever’s value proposition more legs. Every single stakeholder along the supply chain had to be convinced. This is exactly why Unilever came to our programme – our thinking and commitment to circular economy aligns with theirs. In fact, two of the students’ proposals are now being considered and progressed through the organisation.”

Delfina Zagarzazu, one of the students on the programme describes the challenge as a “unique opportunity in the middle of the year to grapple with a real life case.” She says, “Above all, the programme wants to see that we are grasping business and sustainability principles that will ultimately determine if our solutions are viable,” Justin Turquet, a fellow student, says, “Corporate challenge, though still academic, was an incredible, stimulating project that helped us balance the tension between our academic knowledge and practical skills. There was no blue-sky thinking. The solution had to be sustainable, it had to be smart and practical and above all, it had to be possible to execute.” Justin’s and his fellow students’ idea involved implementing new technologies for Unilever’s niche brand, Ren. “With a smaller brand like this, Unilever can give our solution a try and see how it goes. If successful, it can migrate to other brands,” he adds.

Adam says the results of the challenge were impressive, and described as realistic and innovative. “We engaged with progressive organisations such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, IDEO, and Unilever. And as a result, our programme created a first class learning experience that can be applicable to many other business challenges,” he says.

Find out more:

Encountering the Unexpected by Hugh St Aubyn


In discussions over the One Palnet MBA cohort’s trip to, St Michael’s Mount the theme of creativity was often talked about, Cornwall is known for its art scene and the arts play a vital role in the life of the local community and in attracting visitors to the area. We were lucky enough to make contact with the Newlyn School of Art who kindly provided one of their artist tutors, Faye Dobinson, to give a talk to the cohort about how artists respond to place. We spend a huge amount of our week applying cognitive learning and group work to challenges in sustainability, so spending a day in an area of outstanding natural beauty seemed like time we could connect with our felt responses to place.

Faye, talked about how there is a growing movement in art that sees humans as living in a landscape they hadn’t counted on. This landscape is a product of ideas, economics, urban, and spatial planning fuelled by an undercurrent of exploitation of natural resources. She asked us how we can rest easy in this landscape and how can we interrogate it? Faye described how she lets spaces unpack around her over time, as she gets to know different places and make artwork in them. One story she told us about was her and other artists moving into an industrial fish processing plant where planning to turn it into an arthouse cinema had been denied. This is Faye’s description of making art in such a space:

“When cleaning one day behind a door I saw holes in a wall, those remaining from around where someone had removed a dartboard. I was captivated- I got plastic, and made an impression of all the holes, then transferred those holes onto and through board, then created a light box with that as the lid. That was a piece that featured in the exhibition at the space, It was titled 1483 misses and it had something celestial about it, though it actually spoke of a detail in the building remaining from when those working there would be on a break, talking, laughing, playing darts. It was an alternative viewpoint on the place- an intimate detail.”


Faye Dobinson, 1483 Misses

Encountering the unexpected and engaging with the details of place in ways that help us re-imagine them could be seen in this work which after looking for long enough reveals itself as a solar eclipse like a magic eye picture created through darts. After the artists had staged a show of their work planning was granted and the processing plant is now a thriving art house cinema.

The art-work brought out a response from the group of feeling intrigued and a curiosity in how works of art can change our perceptions of our surroundings. It felt like a live example of the process of spaces starting to speak to the artist and actions from the past leaving a trace in the present. The session provided a powerful metaphor for the impact of business and organisations.

Continued in part two….

The Newlyn School of art provides, painting courses in Cornwall, taught by many of the most respected artists working in Cornwall today. Newlyn is a famous artists colony, in 1900 there were 130 artists working there, an extra train had to be put on each year to take the hundreds of paintings up to the Royal Academy for the summer show. Many of the School’s courses take place on the coastline between Newlyn and Land’s End and Newlyn itself looks over to St Michael’s Mount.

Thinking through the 4th Industrial Revolution


“We stand on the brink of a revolution”, writes Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum. A revolution so profound, it will “fundamentally alter the way we live, work and relate to one another. In its scale, scope and complexity this transformation will be unlike anything humankind has ever experienced before.” It may seem like Schwab is overreaching at first, but Adam Lusby, lecturer and Circular Economy Research Fellow at the University of Exeter Business School, says that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is indeed characterised by how new technologies are fusing digital, physical and even biological worlds. “This disruption impacts all disciplines, economies and industries. It will challenge what it even means to be human,” he says.

In the intense, four-day module appropriately titled “Leading in the 4th Industrial Revolution,” Adam, the module’s creator and lead, covers everything from Artificial Intelligence, robotics, digital manufacturing, blockchain, cloud computing, mixed reality, augmented reality and much more. The standard model of a module was also flipped. Instead students have the preceding weeks to first immerse themselves into online content, watch videos, complete assignments and even produce videos of their own.  Only at the end of a five week lead in, the cohort gathers for a four-day “living lab” of hacking and immersion in technology including Raspberry Pis, NodeRed, and BlueMix from IBM.

Accenture’s latest research shows that the new relationship between human and machine and its impact could boost productivity by as much as 40 per-cent, profoundly changing the very notion of how work is actually performed. In the United Kingdom alone Artificial Intelligence could add an additional $814 billion to the economy by 2035. The growth of 3D printing is also set to skyrocket. Gartner projects that 3D printing will grow from $1.6B in 2015 to some $13.4B by 2018. Some 67% of manufacturing is already using 3D printing, according to PwC, and it will only get faster, and cheaper.

To bring the module to life, Adam engaged a local company, Devon Drones alongside one of the key corporate partners on the programme, IBM.  “My goal is to call on our partners and create a challenging yet common thinking space. Above all, the module gives the students the knowledge and therefore, the confidence to question what they hear, to confirm what they know and to dig deeper into what they don’t know. We don’t know what we don’t know. Whether I am looking for a business solution or running a business – the question is when and how can my business perhaps be catastrophically disrupted through a piece of technology I am not aware of,” says Adam. “Simply put, if we don’t know this technology exists we can’t respond to it.”

Much of the criticism of the new technologies, especially automation, focuses on the potential loss of income and skill, especially within the middle class, significantly affecting its earning potential. What if automation makes many of the jobs obsolete? “We do address this on the programme,” says Nicolas Forsans, One Planet MBA Programme Director. “ As with any industrial revolution, the Fourth Industrial is as likely to create jobs as it is to destroy jobs. The difference here is the pace of change. The impact of this revolution is far quicker than any of the three previous ones. So very possibly it will release people from say, the distress of office or manufacturing work and bring a greater deal of flexibility to the workplace.” A recent Gallup survey found that only a meagre 13% of employees are engaged at work. That only means that the vast majority of adults simply don’t enjoy what they do for a living. That very loss of motivation is costing US companies between $450 and $550 billion each year, according to the survey. “Maybe this is the time to re-organise ourselves as a society and re-think the role of the government,” Nicolas adds. “The universal basic income does just that – it ensures that everyone can attain a certain level of living. It gives protection against jobs becoming obsolete. In this module we raise awareness of these very opportunities and threats.”

Delfina Zagarzazu, an MBA candidate says, “This module is incredibly relevant because just this week, Financial Times, The Economist, and other big publications, not to mention UK government officials, are talking about how technology will profoundly and irrevocably disrupt our lives. This module is also a unique opportunity for academia to remain in step with the real world.”  Her fellow MBA candidate, Justin Turquet, agrees. “Our newly gained knowledge has immediate application in the corporate world. This is absolutely the most awesome module on the programme,” he jokes. “We are looking at working practices at IBM and SAP, for example, and determining what’s here to stay, like say, 3D printing, and what may turn out to be just a fad, like Smart Cities.”

Tom Sisk, another member of the current cohort, agrees. “It’s a cutting edge module, that a lot of business schools are probably not looking at. They are too steeped in traditional finance and business models. Because of the nature of our programme we have the flexibility to dive into the topic of tech very deeply. You have 3D printing that is still in its relative infancy but it may allow you to mix technology and biological materials for example. Think of the implications for the medical community. This isn’t just a wow factor, but a critical change to the business model itself,” Tom adds.


MBA Students Step Back in Time: A retreat to St. Michael’s Mount – By: Delfina Zagarzazu


Picture Credits: Chayaporn Kongcharoenkitkul

Conscious of time with deadlines fast approaching in the next few days, we departed Exeter at 7AM to spend a day away from the books. Away from Devon, we  stepped into Cornwall – a first for many international students who had yet to explore all of the Southwest treasures!

The day was co-designed by Hugh St. Aubyn and myself to allow the 30 person cohort a creative and inspiring visit to balance off the business theory from class. We placed colourful and inviting signs to find the emerging leader within each of us.

Don’t ask what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people that have come alive

– Howard Thurman, Great Civil Rights Leader

The day promised to be filled with friends, nature, personal reflections and a beautiful historic castle to carry our minds away into imaginary stories and tales that made us step back in time – couldn’t have asked for more on a cold February morning halfway through Term 2 of our MBA.

The magic about St. Michael’s Mount is that you can only access it during low tide, something very rare in the 21st century of drones, planes and automobiles. The patience and timing for our visit set the pace for the day, as we removed our MBA ‘speedometers’ and tried to slow down to the pace of the tide to connect with the magic of the island and the castle.

Upon arrival we immersed ourselves in the Island’s history through a tour of the Castle & Gardens which took us back 1000 years to hear about the people and incidents which have shaped this incredible island through monks, generals, civil wars and more to get to what it is today. As a tourist destination it receives more than 300,000 visitors per year as well as being home to the beautiful St. Aubyn Family incredibly dedicated to the legacy of the castle for generations to come.

Our afternoon included a one-on-one conversation with James St. Aubyn, who is Lord St. Levan, about the challenges of climate change for the island and how it is responding to them. This was a topic very relevant to the OnePlanet MBA students looking to understand and work with businesses seeking resilience in confronting changing environments.

Sitting on the island, and watching an approaching storm, I can say I felt alive as Howard Thurman proposed. It was an incredible place to reflect upon the impacts of climate change and our fragility as a human race, being so openly exposed to the sea and hearing its strength over us. During this afternoon, sand boards were put up by the local villagers to protect their homes from the arriving storm. Watching the activity rush around us reminded me of the role we each must play in business to learn to be resilient and have dynamic business capabilities to respond to these challenges. Being creative and collaborative during such times is a fundamental aspect of resilience that must not be forgotten at the time of making decisions with such uncertainty as climate change brings us today.

I know my day at St. Michael’s Mount will always remind me to be present of this conversation wherever business may take me post-MBA. I hope to return many more times to enjoy its uniqueness and outstanding beauty. To me, it shall be symbolic of our fragility and humbleness towards nature, to learn to treat nature with more respect than we have as a human race, and to integrate into our daily lives the changes it demands of us to nurture a more sustainable future.

Delfina Zagarzazu

One Planet MBA Candidate 2017


Dear Donald………..

We recently invited One Planet MBA lecturer Morgen Witzel,  business theorist, consultant, lecturer and author of many management books,  to advise President Donald Trump on his first 30 days in office.


Dear Donald

You’ve had a chance to get your feet under the desk at the White House now, and – I think we must be honest with each other – it could be going better. Things aren’t really turning out as you had hoped, are they? Street protests, criticism in the press, judges overturning your executive orders; and worst of all, more and more people are making fun of you.

You wanted to be a leader who was respected, admired, even feared. Instead, you are turning into one that people laugh at. Oh, Donald. There is no sadder figure than a leader who is mocked. Do you really want to be the next Jeremy Corbyn?

But, the good news is, it’s not too late to turn things around. You can become a respected and admired leader, Donald, but first, you have to do a few simple things.

First, stop messing around on social media. People are starting to get the impression that you would rather spend time on Twitter than govern America. Just because you can tweet something doesn’t mean you have to. Listen to Melania; she’s been telling you this all along.

Second, remember that leadership isn’t about you. It’s about other people. As the rugby player turned philosopher Jonny Wilkinson recently said, you don’t get to call yourself a leader. Other people decide whether you are a leader. If you want to lead people, you have to be worthy of them; and that means all of them, Donald, not just the ones who voted for you.

Third, you have to get out of the White House – and off the golf course – and start leading by example. All those people who voted for you out in the rust belts, the unemployed and the underemployed who are expecting you to turn the economy around and give them meaningful work; they’re still waiting. Go to them, talk to them, listen to their needs and fears, and then enact some meaningful programmes for job creation and industrial strategy that will give them hope.

Stop messing about, Donald. Immigration controls and walls and withdrawing federal funding for abortion services will appease the right-wing nutters, but they’re not the ones who put you in power. Get rid of Bannon and Spicer and Conway and all the other power-hungry, greedy manipulators around you, and hire some real people onto your staff, people who understand what life is like for the majority of Americans. Leave Obamacare alone, it will cost more to dismantle it than to leave it in place.

You’ve spent too long in reality television, Donald. You can’t tell fantasy from fact any more. It’s time to get real. If you don’t, it’s not just history that will judge you. The present will have its say as well. If you want to survive your first term, Donald, then it’s time, as one of your aides said, to get with the programme.

Yours sincerely

Morgen Witzel, Fellow, University of Exeter Business Schoolwitzel

Reflections on Paul Polman’s vision


Coinciding with the 5th Anniversary of the One Planet MBA, Paul Polman CEO of Unilever shared with Exeter graduates, faculty, business leaders and current students his thoughts on how a leading consumer goods organisation can thrive in a global world.

Polman Breakfast-38

Reflections: Tom Sisk, One Planet MBA Cohort member

The recently deceased English writer John Berger wrote “The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich.”

We live in a world where financial wealth comes at a cost to us all (including the rich) when contrarian vested interests between shareholders and stakeholders are having destructive effects on the state of our planet. If our planet destructs, businesses too will become extinct and recent OPMBA guest and keynote speaker, Paul Polman CEO of Unilever understands this very well. Corrective behavior has to be a collaboration between corporations and the consumers they serve and the long term survival of businesses is only possible when the interests of both shareholders and stakeholders align.

Paul Polman strongly believes that growing sales and profits, and decreasing negative externalities, are not mutually exclusive and thus he implemented the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) in 2010 with the goal to reduce Unilever’s environmental footprint and increase the company’s positive social impact without decoupling these policies from profit growth.

Paul Polman is a man on a mission, a trailblazer with vision who is determined through his role as one of the 17 eminent persons appointed as an advocate of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to redefine the responsibilities of corporations and their leaders. With a mandate to support the Secretary-General in his efforts to generate momentum and commitment to achieve the SDGs by 2030, the SDG Advocates have been working to promote the universal sustainable development agenda, to raise awareness of the integrated nature of the SDGs, and to foster the engagement of new stakeholders in the implementation of these Goals.

Unilever has seen the potential threats of the environment it operates in and has made the choice to pre-empt the risks they face by increasing their ethical standards and in the process finding more efficient and resource friendly ways of conducting their business. As a publicly listed multinational, Unilever also has responsibilities towards its shareholders and Paul Polman has not lost sight of this. Ultimately, Polman and his leadership team have to answer to their shareholders and they, de facto, will decide if he is at liberty to further pursue his views.

The shareholders have to fully support that mission and the price of the shares has to reflect this support. But it doesn’t really end there as the company still has to be financially profitable and therefor is dependent its customers. It is the customers who ultimately represent the vast majority of the stakeholders and this majority will bear the ultimate cost of companies that conduct their business in an unsustainable manner.

Some are critical about Unilever’s motives, linking back to that shareholder accountability but I do believe we owe Paul Polman the benefit of doubt. After hearing him talk, witnessing his passion and drive to steadfastly implement his vision, I feel confident that he is the real deal.

In a talk lasting an hour, Polman also stressed that Unilever will not shy away from using its bargaining power to motivate its trading partners to also adopt best practice. Only the future will tell if Unilever will have truly pioneered a shift in how companies do business and if sustainable practices can drive profits. Unilever most certainly is opening its eyes to reality and Paul Polman is putting personal and corporate short term interests aside as he focuses on the long game.

Shifting the paradigm in order to create value – Tom Sisk


As individuals on the MBA, we are on a path to transform for the better, to give back to society and make a difference. The One Planet MBA promotes change and innovation and our lecturers and mentors have one year to provide us with a skill set that will enable us to transform ideas into real projects and execute change for good. Continue reading