Big-brand CEO marathoner runs for a cause

November 5, 2010, 10:36 PM UTC

by Patricia Sellers


Polman and his son Christian


In this weekend’s New York City Marathon, thousands of runners will be sweating it out for hundreds of causes and charities. One of those diehard do-gooders: Unilever CEO Paul Polman.

Polman, whose global brands include Lipton and Hellman’s and Dove, stopped by Fortune‘s offices this morning to tell us about his weekend plans. This Saturday night, he’ll be hosting a pre-marathon pasta dinner (with his company’s Bertolli pasta, of course) for 60 or so employees who plan to run the 26.2-mile course with him.

Sunday’s race will be Polman’s first NYC Marathon but his 12th marathon overall. He says he’s aiming to finish in under four hours–doable, he thinks, since he did Boston and London the same week last year and completed both in that time. Assuming he makes it through all five NYC boroughs, Polman will raise $150,000 for his pet cause: helping blind people.

The lanky 54-year-old Dutchman says he raises money the only way he knows how: “by shaming everybody into giving.” As avid a mountaineer as a marathoner, he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with eight blind friends and his two sons in 2005, when he was at Procter & Gamble . Polman, his sons, and five of the blind climbers reached the Summit, setting a record.

Today, when not consumed with trouncing P&G in world markets, Polman spends his spare time working with two groups that serve the blind: the Kilimanjaro Blind Trust, which was founded by those 2005 climbers, and Perkins International, which helps educate blind children in 63 countries. As Polman says, “There’s a little more to life than just working.”