Case Study

DSM: Mobilizing the organization to grow through innovation

24 pages
June 2009
Reference: IMD-3-2111

In February 2009, Rob van Leen, Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) of DSM – a world leader in life sciences and materials sciences – felt his company had made a lot of progress in the way it managed innovation since transforming itself from a commodity chemical company to a high value-added specialty chemical company. However, a lot remained to be done to achieve the ambitious organic growth target of €1 billion through innovation, which was set by top management as part of its “Vision 2010” program. Although management entrusted most of its growth and innovation mission to its business group (BG) directors, it also counted on its high-profile “Corporate Innovation Center,” under van Leen’s leadership, to stimulate, steer and sustain the company’s innovation drive. In the three years since its creation, the Corporate Innovation Center and its various technology and innovation management mechanisms had become operational. But van Leen felt a number of challenges remained: 1) The Innovation Center had been established to create innovative new businesses and help the various BGs achieve functional excellence in innovation. But did it have the right organization and priorities, as well as sufficient resources and competences to do so? 2) In the rather decentralized culture of DSM, how strongly should the CIO push to align the powerful and traditionally independent BGs behind a unified innovation agenda? How could he operate as an effective innovation catalyst without interfering in BG affairs? 3) How could the Innovation Center trigger a deep mindset change towards value creation through customer-centric innovation, in an organizational culture that remained focused on technology push, operational excellence and risk avoidance?

Learning Objective

The case addresses the wide range of challenges large companies face when they decide to mobilize their organization to grow through innovation. It describes one approach, i.e. the empowerment of a strong Chief Innovation Officer and setting up a broad range of innovation enhancing activities within a dedicated Innovation Centre. But how to find the appropriate balance between business unit autonomy and a centrally catalyzing innovation function? The case addresses management issues such as having the right organization and setting priorities with sufficient resources and competences to drive an innovation initiative. It discusses what it takes to trigger a deep mindset change towards value creation through customer-centric innovation, in traditionally technology oriented, risk avoiding culture.

Culture Change
Field Research
© 2009
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