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Unilever's New Global Strategy: Competing through Sustainability Net Present Value (NPV) / MBA Resources

Introduction to Net Present Value (NPV) - What is Net Present Value (NPV) ? How it impacts financial decisions regarding project management?

NPV solution for Unilever's New Global Strategy: Competing through Sustainability case study


At Oak Spring University, we provide corporate level professional Net Present Value (NPV) case study solution. Unilever's New Global Strategy: Competing through Sustainability case study is a Harvard Business School (HBR) case study written by Christopher A. Bartlett. The Unilever's New Global Strategy: Competing through Sustainability (referred as “Polman Uslp” from here on) case study provides evaluation & decision scenario in field of Global Business. It also touches upon business topics such as - Value proposition, Corporate governance, Ethics, International business, Marketing, Social responsibility, Strategy execution.

The net present value (NPV) of an investment proposal is the present value of the proposal’s net cash flows less the proposal’s initial cash outflow. If a project’s NPV is greater than or equal to zero, the project should be accepted.

NPV = Present Value of Future Cash Flows LESS Project’s Initial Investment




Case Description of Unilever's New Global Strategy: Competing through Sustainability Case Study


In January 2009, when Paul Polman was appointed CEO of Unilever, he inherited a company in long-term decline at the beginning of a major global financial crisis. As the first outsider ever recruited to lead the company, Polman lost little time in challenging the existing strategy and organization. But the biggest change he made was to introduce the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP), a commitment that placed three "sustainability" goals at the core of the company's strategy: to help 1 billion people improve their health, to halve the environmental footprint of making and using Unilever products, and to enhance the livlihood of those in its value chain. The case describes how the new CEO then had to convince skeptical internal and external stakeholders why a struggling company in a tough competitive environment should embrace such bold nonfinancial goals. It then follows how he translated his radically different vision into strategies and priorities that could be implemented by a global company with 170,000 employees. In the process, the case explores how Unilever's top team had to adapt and adjust is structures, systems, processes, people and culture in order to implement USLP. The case concludes as Polman and and his top team face some key decisions in 2015. Should they double down on their original 2020 US LP objectives? Should they scale back in the face of some strong economic headwinds? Or should they pivot to a new transformational strategic agenda?


Case Authors : Christopher A. Bartlett

Topic : Global Business

Related Areas : Corporate governance, Ethics, International business, Marketing, Social responsibility, Strategy execution




Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 6% for Unilever's New Global Strategy: Competing through Sustainability Case Study


Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 6 %
Discounted
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10000972) -10000972 - -
Year 1 3449899 -6551073 3449899 0.9434 3254622
Year 2 3963529 -2587544 7413428 0.89 3527527
Year 3 3966893 1379349 11380321 0.8396 3330680
Year 4 3244219 4623568 14624540 0.7921 2569725
TOTAL 14624540 12682554


The Net Present Value at 6% discount rate is 2681582

In isolation the NPV number doesn't mean much but put in right context then it is one of the best method to evaluate project returns. In this article we will cover -

Different methods of capital budgeting


What is NPV & Formula of NPV,
How it is calculated,
How to use NPV number for project evaluation, and
Scenario Planning given risks and management priorities.




Capital Budgeting Approaches

Methods of Capital Budgeting


There are four types of capital budgeting techniques that are widely used in the corporate world –

1. Profitability Index
2. Internal Rate of Return
3. Net Present Value
4. Payback Period

Apart from the Payback period method which is an additive method, rest of the methods are based on Discounted Cash Flow technique. Even though cash flow can be calculated based on the nature of the project, for the simplicity of the article we are assuming that all the expected cash flows are realized at the end of the year.

Discounted Cash Flow approaches provide a more objective basis for evaluating and selecting investment projects. They take into consideration both –

1. Magnitude of both incoming and outgoing cash flows – Projects can be capital intensive, time intensive, or both. Polman Uslp shareholders have preference for diversified projects investment rather than prospective high income from a single capital intensive project.
2. Timing of the expected cash flows – stockholders of Polman Uslp have higher preference for cash returns over 4-5 years rather than 10-15 years given the nature of the volatility in the industry.




Formula and Steps to Calculate Net Present Value (NPV) of Unilever's New Global Strategy: Competing through Sustainability

NPV = Net Cash In Flowt1 / (1+r)t1 + Net Cash In Flowt2 / (1+r)t2 + … Net Cash In Flowtn / (1+r)tn
Less Net Cash Out Flowt0 / (1+r)t0

Where t = time period, in this case year 1, year 2 and so on.
r = discount rate or return that could be earned using other safe proposition such as fixed deposit or treasury bond rate. Net Cash In Flow – What the firm will get each year.
Net Cash Out Flow – What the firm needs to invest initially in the project.

Step 1 – Understand the nature of the project and calculate cash flow for each year.
Step 2 – Discount those cash flow based on the discount rate.
Step 3 – Add all the discounted cash flow.
Step 4 – Selection of the project

Why Global Business Managers need to know Financial Tools such as Net Present Value (NPV)?

In our daily workplace we often come across people and colleagues who are just focused on their core competency and targets they have to deliver. For example marketing managers at Polman Uslp often design programs whose objective is to drive brand awareness and customer reach. But how that 30 point increase in brand awareness or 10 point increase in customer touch points will result into shareholders’ value is not specified.

To overcome such scenarios managers at Polman Uslp needs to not only know the financial aspect of project management but also needs to have tools to integrate them into part of the project development and monitoring plan.

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 15%

After working through various assumptions we reached a conclusion that risk is far higher than 6%. In a reasonably stable industry with weak competition - 15% discount rate can be a good benchmark.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 15 %
Discounted
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10000972) -10000972 - -
Year 1 3449899 -6551073 3449899 0.8696 2999912
Year 2 3963529 -2587544 7413428 0.7561 2996997
Year 3 3966893 1379349 11380321 0.6575 2608297
Year 4 3244219 4623568 14624540 0.5718 1854893
TOTAL 10460099


The Net NPV after 4 years is 459127

(10460099 - 10000972 )






Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 20%


If the risk component is high in the industry then we should go for a higher hurdle rate / discount rate of 20%.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 20 %
Discounted
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10000972) -10000972 - -
Year 1 3449899 -6551073 3449899 0.8333 2874916
Year 2 3963529 -2587544 7413428 0.6944 2752451
Year 3 3966893 1379349 11380321 0.5787 2295656
Year 4 3244219 4623568 14624540 0.4823 1564535
TOTAL 9487557


The Net NPV after 4 years is -513415

At 20% discount rate the NPV is negative (9487557 - 10000972 ) so ideally we can't select the project if macro and micro factors don't allow financial managers of Polman Uslp to discount cash flow at lower discount rates such as 15%.



Acceptance Criteria of a Project based on NPV

Simplest Approach – If the investment project of Polman Uslp has a NPV value higher than Zero then finance managers at Polman Uslp can ACCEPT the project, otherwise they can reject the project. This means that project will deliver higher returns over the period of time than any alternate investment strategy.

In theory if the required rate of return or discount rate is chosen correctly by finance managers at Polman Uslp, then the stock price of the Polman Uslp should change by same amount of the NPV. In real world we know that share price also reflects various other factors that can be related to both macro and micro environment.

In the same vein – accepting the project with zero NPV should result in stagnant share price. Finance managers use discount rates as a measure of risk components in the project execution process.

Sensitivity Analysis

Project selection is often a far more complex decision than just choosing it based on the NPV number. Finance managers at Polman Uslp should conduct a sensitivity analysis to better understand not only the inherent risk of the projects but also how those risks can be either factored in or mitigated during the project execution. Sensitivity analysis helps in –

What are the key aspects of the projects that need to be monitored, refined, and retuned for continuous delivery of projected cash flows.

Understanding of risks involved in the project.

What will be a multi year spillover effect of various taxation regulations.

What are the uncertainties surrounding the project Initial Cash Outlay (ICO’s). ICO’s often have several different components such as land, machinery, building, and other equipment.

What can impact the cash flow of the project.

Some of the assumptions while using the Discounted Cash Flow Methods –

Projects are assumed to be Mutually Exclusive – This is seldom the came in modern day giant organizations where projects are often inter-related and rejecting a project solely based on NPV can result in sunk cost from a related project.

Independent projects have independent cash flows – As explained in the marketing project – though the project may look independent but in reality it is not as the brand awareness project can be closely associated with the spending on sales promotions and product specific advertising.




References & Further Readings

Christopher A. Bartlett (2018), "Unilever's New Global Strategy: Competing through Sustainability Harvard Business Review Case Study. Published by HBR Publications.