24 / 08 / 2017

DSM – a company with a social mission

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Jumping from the 31st spot last year to the 24th in the Inspiring 40 of 2016, DSM has proven its inspirational value for marketing and business professionals. This company was founded in 1902 and has reinvented itself multiple times. Though its origins lie in mining, it has transformed into a global science-based company, active in health, nutrition, and materials. Their high rating is largely due to their strength in the customised solutions and products and boundary breaking organisation pillars. Global Brand director Jos van Haastrecht says, ‘The most unique part of DSM is that mission, strategy, brand, and organisation identity are united and expressed in an integrated way. Our mission is the basis of everything we do. We also have just one core value as a company: everything we do has to contribute to a sustainable world.’ DSM works hard to bring this vision and mission to life.

clouded image?

It makes sense that this organisation, which is still often called a ‘chemical giant’, scores comparatively low on the relationship pillar. For many people, it probably isn’t clear how DSM tries to connect people. Likewise, on the ‘authentic vision’ pillar, DSM only scores 942. For an organisation that appears to be an example of a visionary organisation, this is lower than expected. not only has the company changed their course multiple times, it has also actively aimed at improving lives on a global scale. Led by Chairman Feike Sijbesma, DSM is a partner in the World Food Program of the United nations. When explaining the social role of DSM, Van Haastrecht says, ‘Our mission is to ‘create brighter lives’ for people today and for generations to come. We strive to be involved in the development of solutions and products that make a positive difference for the earth and the people that live on it. Our products deliver noticeable added value to society and the environment.’

In the book ‘nog lang en gelukkig’ by Laurentien van Oranje and Jeroen Smit, Chairman Feike Sijbesma says that young people tell him DSM stands for ‘do Something Meaningful’. He concludes with, ‘That’s what we practice here.’ According to Jos van Haastrecht, ‘employees from every country talk about how they contribute to a better world through their work for DSM and we pass along these ideas to the rest of our organisation, via videos or on online platforms’.

It seems that Dutch marketing and business professionals don’t have a complete picture of DSM. The enthusiasm about the products and the organisation is in contrast with its appreciation score and the NPS. This can be simply explained by the wide panel of respondents: many people have heard of DSM, but few have a direct relationship with the organisation. At the same time, it is remarkable that an organisation that is committed to a ‘better world’ isn’t recognised as such. does DSM justly put the focus on partners, clients and large scale programs like the World Food Program? Or do business and marketing professionals expect DSM to take a more visible role in (Dutch) society?

doing well by doing good

In a way, DSM can be seen as a social enterprise. The enterprise uses its economic strength to build a better world. And it shows that social vision also pays off. In the case of DSM, this social vision is ‘a powerful bet on sustainability’. Jos van Haastrecht comments, ‘We see sustainability more broadly than just socially responsible entrepreneurship. It’s an important driver of business growth and our sustainable innovations generate relatively high margins. We call this ‘doing well by doing good’. For example, the sales figures of products with the label eco+ have increased by ten percent per year since 2010. Our stakeholders recognise this. At DSM, sustainability and stakeholder value go hand in hand. We are doing well on the AEX today, but we are also doing well in the long term. When you look at the past 15 years, DSM has outperformed the AEX index.’

building a better world

When DSM, an organisation with such a powerful vision, fails on this very pillar, it leads us to ask the question: is DSM simply not visible enough in its own country? Or is the question itself less relevant for a global company? One notable detail to point out is that almost all of the organisations that score higher in the ranking than DSM are companies that sell their products or services directly to ‘consumers’. The one exception is ASML. That particular multinational is at 10th place in the list and also scores better on the stimulating relationship (1020) and authentic vision (982) pillars. One possible explanation for this is that ASML manages to be more visible and audible in its home market? DSM is principally focused on building a better world in general: they do not talk about the how, they just do it.

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Joris van Zoelen

Strateeg en Partner


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