Dr. h.c. Feike Sijbesma – follow-up

Chairman, CEO DSM

"Transforming business in a changing world"

German version

As the CEO of DSM, he clearly underpinned the dynamics and importance of this change whilst still upholding eloquence and enthusiasm by challenging his audience by answering controversial and captivating questions of his audience.

Mr Sijbesma offered an important hypothesis on the basis of Darwin’s theory (survival of the fittest) in which he concluded that it is crucial to understand the world’s constantly changing nature which all companies depend on. He linked this approach to DSM’s history. DSM was founded as a Dutch coal mining company and due to its success, it expanded, which is proven by the fact that DSM’s first customer was Belgium. Early speculations on the obvious future supply needs of petroleum lead the company to being active in the petrochemical industry, leading to the abandoning of coal mining. However, currently, DSM has diminished its petrochemical industries as the Fossil-Age is now over and the Bio-Age is anticipated, which implies that there will be a greater need for Life Science and Material Science in the future. This colossal change from being a state coal mining company to a big market leader in Life Science, with a constant rise of dividends, even compared to the dividends from other companies in the AEX (Amsterdam Exchange Index), has additionally proven to be a useful strategy. It has also supported Darwinism through the theory’s idea of environmental change and an organism’s ability to adapt – a useful metaphor for any economist.

However, in order to be successful, one needs more than just profit; the people and planet also need to be taken into consideration. This can be found in DSM’s manifest, which states “Our purpose is to create brighter lives for people today and generations to come.” Sijbesma also emphasises that it is vital to not just simply write assignments that can be read aloud at appropriate moments but rather to internalise key intentions that can expressed with conviction.

Finally, Sijbesma explained that DSM’s goal is to increase sales in fast growing economies like in Asia and South America, therefore becoming a major interconnected global company in which it will be crucial that DSM moves some divisional headquarters into these regions.

In order to determine when it is optimal to change, Sijbesma offered the following four rules:

Main law of change: S = R (C)
Here, success is determined by the reaction multiplied change. The change must be visible.

The law of reverse democracy: > 50% W = > 50% D
This law proves that the majority wants what the majority does, which is an enormous problem within a lot of companies. In order to change, well-calculated risks must be taken.

Rule for successful change: SC = 3W (+H)
Successful change is given by the “Why-What-Who-STOPP-How”-strategy. A big issue in the decision making is that people start too early with discussing ‘How’ related topics. Before starting to figure out how to solve a specific problem, rethinking the fundamentals such as the ‘Why’ component is important before getting confused in the ‘How’ stage.

Consistency in Successful Change SC = 4/5 CD + 1/5 NCD
Once a decision has been made, it must be finalised. Here, Sijbesma referred to the 80% of decisions which are later on reconsidered or abolished.

In conclusion, there are various strategies in which companies can become great. However, DSM’s vision of itself and its approach to its markets clearly demonstrates a fundamental philosophy. Sijbesma did this by employing Darwinism as a metaphor for his own company DSM, and earned great success in doing so. He also emphasises the need to profit from improvements within people and communities. Sijbesma has shown that DSM has a novel way of defining success while at the same time, the company redefines itself.

Verfasser: Josephine Conrade and Michael Rieser (RealWWZ)


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