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Unilever Boss Is Top Footsie Communicator

Unilever’s Paul Polman is the most influential communicator among chief executives of the FTSE-100 companies, according to a new study published today (28 November).

Polman was ranked ahead of Sainsbury’s boss Justin King and Kingfisher CEO Ian Cheshire in the ‘Footsie Influencer 2012′ report, compiled by communications agency Aberfield PR. The Aberfield researchers examined the profiles of each of the chief executives, and looked at how their messages are communicated – and received – within their own industry sectors, the wider UK business community and the general population.

Aberfield looked at the extent to which the CEOs adopt leadership positions on key issues, and how successfully those positions and opinions have been communicated. The research also looked at third party endorsement of the CEOs’ communications, including media and competitor comments. By attaching weighted scores to each of the influencer criteria – and taking into account the profile that would normally be expected of a company and its CEO in that industry sector – Aberfield was able to produce rankings for each of the CEOs.

The overall top ten was:
1 Paul Polson Unilever
2 Justin King Sainsbury
3 Ian Cheshire Kingfisher
4 Sir Martin Sorrell WPP
5 Angela Ahrendts Burberry
6 Dame Marjorie Scardino Pearson
7 Willie Walsh IAG
8 Henry Engelhardt Admiral Group
9 Jeremy Darroch BSkyB
10 Marc Bolland Marks & Spencer

Dutch-born Paul Polman topped the table largely for his successes in driving Unilever’s sustainability agenda, and for increasing the overall profile of corporate sustainability and responsible business practices. He has been described by media commentators as being in “a league of his own” and “a true leader” on those issues, and applauded for “laying down the gauntlet” on environmental responsibility. He has also won a number of awards for his investor relations approach.

Second-placed Justin King has been at the helm of Sainsbury’s for eight years. He has used his position to champion British business, encourage greater industry investment in skills training, promote sustainability across the retail sector and endorse clearer food labelling. Ian Cheshire, who has run the B&Q-owning retail group since 2008, has driven the company’s sustainability strategy and has very publicly encouraged other businesses to take a more responsible and “unique approach” to reducing their environmental impacts. Cheshire, the new chairman of the British Retail Consortium, has been called “a pioneer in the field of sustainable business” by one commentator.

American-born Angela Ahrendts, who will shortly be one of only two female chief executives in the FTSE-100, was the highest-ranked woman in the ‘Footsie Influencer 2012′ report. Ahrendts has used social media extensively – both personally and for the Burberry brand – in order to engage with a younger, fashion-savvy customer base. Tim Downs, director of Aberfield Communications, said: “Being an exceptional and influential communicator isn’t top of the job description for a Footsie company boss, but our report suggests it probably should be.

“Looking at the results, there appears to be a definite correlation between influence and financial success. It can’t be a coincidence that the best communicators are at some of the best-performing companies.”

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