Transformation is a much-used word, but global life sciences player DSM has undergone not one, but several radical transformations in its history. Founded as a Dutch coal mining company over 115 years ago, it evolved into a well known chemical company before its current incarnation as a science-based global leader in health, nutrition, and materials.
DSM is focused on 'making the planet a better place for all', with CEO Feike Sijbesma pursuing a sustainability agenda to fuel growth and innovation. "Over the last 20 years we went on our journey where we divested our chemical activities and created the science-based company as it is today," he explains. "The company we have created today has grown by addressing climate change, by making our food healthier, and focusing on people living long and healthy lives through the innovative materials we develop, which work in areas such as hip replacements and heart valves."
Sijbesma outlines the critical role innovation will play in that goal. Its Innovation Center is a major business cluster within the company and Sijbesma sees it fulfilling three major roles.
"First, our innovation center is a nursery for new innovations that we want to develop but which are too small currently to put in the business,” he explains. "If you take the plant out of the ground every day to look at whether the roots are growing, they won't. We leave them in the nursery room so they have solid roots and then transfer them into the main business. Second, we develop new areas to operate in, as we did with new areas for us such as solar and bio. Third, it provides oversight of innovation processes in the company. For example, do we have the right R&D competencies and what we do we see as innovation best practice?"
DSM also co-creates with organizations outside its own walls. “We have all kind of partnerships,” says Sijbesma. “Sometimes these will be joint ventures, sometimes alliances. We work with industry peers to create sustainability measures and we work with other parties to develop the latest technologies, such as using agricultural waste to create green energy. In today's world, where technology and science play such an important role, you cannot do it all alone.”
Sijbesma emphasizes how DSM’s focus on big societal trends has driven significant results and value. “We address the big societal trends as we feel it’s our responsibility, but it is also rooted in our business model,” he says. “Today, we have over 10 billion euro sales (including non-consolidated companies), more than 25,000 people around the globe, and over 250 worldwide locations. It's all to do with adapting our portfolio, divesting the things we don't believe in so much anymore, and acquiring and constructing a new company that is fully focused on the big mega-trends of the world. Addressing sustainability is mainstream in our company.”