ON MARCH 13TH Alan Jope, boss of Unilever, a consumer-goods conglomerate that makes everything from Dove soap to Knorr soup, ordered the firm’s 60,000 office workers in all countries bar China to work from home. The 56-year-old Scot took a train to Edinburgh where he joined his family. Sitting in his study, he recently spoke to Schumpeter via an online video-chat that he uses to run a business empire. In a world gone awry, it all felt rather normal. Mr Jope, in his habitual casual garb, looked relaxed. Despite the gravity of the covid-19 pandemic, remote working is “dead easy”, he says; without commuting, he has more time to liaise with underlings around the world.
That is good news, and not just for Unilever. Since January the company has been on the front line of the covid-19 outbreak. As one of the world’s biggest consumer-goods firms, it sells food, hygiene products and other more or less essential staples to 2.5bn customers in 190 countries. Without continued availability of its wares the pandemic’s toll would almost certainly be even greater.
Listening to Mr Jope it becomes clear how many rules of business the pandemic has shattered. The impact on production, consumption and generation of profit is even greater than on office work. The nature of the top job, which he has held since January 2019, has changed, too....
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