Inspired Leadership Award

Each year since 2006, the Performance Theatre Foundation has bestowed the Inspired Leadership Award upon a global business pioneer – an exemplary leader who is helping to steer the world to a better future.

The ILA recognises individuals whose personal leadership has generated more sustainable and socially responsible business practices, elevated ethical standards in business, and set an example for other organisations and individuals to emulate.

The award committee

  • Geoff Colvin (chair), Senior Editor at Large, FORTUNE Magazine
  • Jeremy Hillman, Director of External Communications, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Sven Mollekleiv, Senior Vice President and Head of Corporate Relations & Corporate Social Responsibility, Det Norske Veritas and President of Norwegian Red Cross
  • Michael Nobel, Chairman of the Nobel Charitable Trust
  • Betty Williams, Nobel Laureate and President, World Centres of Compassion for Children International

Award Criteria

  • leaders of businesses with a global impact
  • visionaries, with an ability to anticipate trends on the horizon and meet their challenges
  • driven by values and the highest moral and ethical standards
  • outstanding performers, with a track record of delivering environmentally sustainable growth


2012: Andrew Liveris, President, Chairman and CEO, The Dow Chemical Company

Andrew Liveris is President, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Dow Chemical Company (Dow). When Mr Liveris became CEO in 2003, he committed to extending the fundamental changes to the company’s environmental record that had been initially established in 1995. In Dow’s
2015 sustainability goals, he endorsed a more ambitious, next generation set of goals that has dramatically improved the sustainability of the company’s operations, using energy, land and water more efficiently and with less impact on the environment. Most recently the company has launched a multi-year collaboration with The Nature Conservancy to study the value of nature and to share the findings publicly. Mr Liveris believes Dow can do far more, turning the power of Dow’s scientific expertise to issues of sustainability faced by enterprises and individuals worldwide – an insight that has become a central part of the company’s new strategic direction. Today Dow connects chemistry and innovation with the principles of sustainability to help address many of the world’s most challenging problems through a broad range of technology-based products and solutions in areas such as clean water and renewable energy generation.

The financial crisis and recession were particularly punishing to the chemical industry, yet through it all Dow, under Mr Liveris, has maintained its commitment to achieving its sustainability goals. As he has often said, confronting the world’s most important environmental challenges is good for the planet and good for business.

For leading the transformation of a major global company by introducing a fundamentally new strategy, with sustainability at the core of every part of the business, Andrew Liveris is the recipient of the 2012 Inspired Leadership Award.

Click here to find out why the ILA Committee chose Mr Liveris.

2011: Zhang Ruimin, CEO, Haier Group

When Zhang Ruimin was appointed director of the Qingdao Refrigerator Factory in 1984, it was a small business that manufactured poor-quality products. Operations were badly managed, wasting resources. Products were energy inefficient. Workers were disengaged and poorly paid, not caring about the business or its products. Mr Zhang revolutionised the company through a series of managerial changes that combine Chinese and Western practices.

Today this small, failing business, now known as Haier, is a highly successful major global company with revenue last year totalling $20.7 billion. More than any other Chinese company, Haier has built its brand into the top among brands for major appliances and one of the best-known and most valuable in the world. Under Mr Zhang’s leadership, Haier products have become high-quality, longer lasting and with less impact on the environment; they use energy more efficiently; and employees of the company are able to develop their abilities to higher levels, are better paid and more engaged.

Mr Zhang’s extraordinary achievements have been widely recognised. He has been named to lists of the world’s most respected and influential leaders. By combining outstanding business success with benefit to the society and the environment, and doing so in a way that continues to inspire leaders around the world, Mr Zhang has earned the 2011 Inspired Leadership Award.

Click here to find out why the ILA Committee chose Mr Zhang.

2010: Paul Polman, Chief Executive Officer, Unilever

After being appointed Chief Executive Officer of Unilever in 2009, one of Paul Polman’s early acts was to articulate a new strategy for the company. The goal which he has set is extraordinarily ambitious for a business of Unilever’s scale. It is to double the size of the company while reducing its overall environmental impact. The sustainability goal covers the full spectrum of Unilever’s activities. The company is taking responsibility not just for the direct impacts of its factories, laboratories and lorries but also for those indirect impacts incurred in the sourcing of its raw materials and the use of its products by consumers in their homes.

Since the company has some 10,000 suppliers spread across 65 countries, and its products are present in nine out of ten households on the planet, this is a tall order. Success will require Unilever to embed the principles of sustainable agriculture in the practices of hundreds of thousands of farmers around the world. It will also require it to design and bring to market new products which can be used by consumers in a more energy efficient fashion and with much less water.

While pursuing all these programmes and initiatives, Unilever has performed well financially. That is an essential element of the criteria for the Inspired Leadership Award: no business can hope to do the world much good through promoting sustainability unless the business itself is sustainable.

It is this rare and important combination of achievements, creating an inspiring example for leaders of global businesses everywhere, that has earned Paul Polman the 2010 Inspired Leadership Award.

Click here to find out why the ILA Committee chose Mr Polman.

2009: William Weldon, Chairman and CEO, Johnson & Johnson

At the Performance Theatre in Washington DC, William Weldon received the 2009 Inspired Leadership Award.

Though Johnson & Johnson walks softly, its consumer brands – Band-Aid, Tylenol, Listerine and Neutrogena, to name a few – resonate almost everywhere. William Weldon, Johnson & Johnson’s Chairman and CEO, has deftly navigated the company through the recent financial crisis – all the while raising the bar for social and environmental standards.

The foundation of J&J’s strong ethics is its Credo, written in 1943 by Chairman Robert Wood Johnson. Its famous opening words are: “We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses, and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services.” The J&J Credo doesn’t mention shareholder return until the final sentence. And it makes no grand promises: “When we operate according to these principles, the stockholders should realize a fair return.” Weldon has himself emphasised this point, saying the company is committed to “not necessarily the absolute best return we could deliver, but a fair return.”

Click here to find out why the ILA Committee chose Mr Weldon.

2008: Ratan Tata, Chairman, Tata Group

Tata Chairman Ratan Tata was named winner of the 2008 Inspired Leadership Award on 12 November – during the Performance Theatre in New Delhi.

The chair of the ILA committee, Geoff Colvin, said: “It would be difficult to imagine a business leader who matches the criteria of the Inspired Leadership Award better than Ratan Tata. He has devoted his career to achieving business success ethically and responsibly – exactly what this award seeks to celebrate.”

Osvald Bjelland, founder of the Performance Theatre, “I am delighted that Ratan Tata has received this award for his outstanding contribution to the business world over many years. He is a true inspiration to all who wish not only to be successful in business but also to contribute so significantly to their communities.”

2007: Lars G. Josefsson, President and CEO, Vattenfall

On 21 June 2007, at the Performance Theatre in St Petersburg, Lars G. Josefsson was awarded the ILA for that year.

The ILA committee bestowed the award in recognition of Mr Josefsson’s success in transforming the Swedish company into Europe’s fourth-largest electricity generator and the region’s largest producer of heat. Mr Josefsson had delivered double-digit sales growth while also re-positioning the company as a leading exponent of environmental sustainability.

2006: Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Group

The inaugural ILA prize was awarded to Sir Richard Branson. Sir Richard’s innovative and inspiring business practices have created a highly profitable global brand. His calculated risk-taking has challenged business thinking.