Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Managing New Business Innovation: Rob Van Leen: As DSM's Chief Innovation Officer, Rob Van Leen Has Helped the Company Apply Its Core Competencies in New Markets

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Managing New Business Innovation: Rob Van Leen: As DSM's Chief Innovation Officer, Rob Van Leen Has Helped the Company Apply Its Core Competencies in New Markets

Article excerpt

I'm a biochemist by training, and I started my career as a research scientist. I ended up in 1987 in the labs of Gist-Brocades, which was acquired in I998 by DSM. At Gist-Brocades, after a while in R&D, I did an MBA and moved to the business side. Since then, I've been going back and forth between business jobs and R&D/innovation-related jobs.

The main thing you learn from the business jobs is that R&D is different from innovation. Innovation is bringing products to market profitably; innovation is creating a business. R&D is an important element, but a lot more is needed to extract the value from the research. Innovation is basically a general management capability, whereas R&D is more a functional capability.

Seven years ago, the role of Chief Innovation Officer didn't exist at DSM. It emerged from a five-year strategic review in 2005, during which we decided that we needed to be much more externally oriented and that innovation needed to have a bigger place in our strategy. The Chief Innovation Officer is more or less the catalyst for increasing the speed of innovation in the company.

One thing that has been critical to our success is continuity of support. Our managing board decided not to cut anything during the 2008-2009 crisis, which was very important. Another thing that has been important has been taking a customer-centered approach to the market. We really try to understand customers using a "jobs to be done" framework. Collaboration and co-creation with customers has been critical.

An example of this approach is our move into health care. People are aging, and over time they will need more replacement body parts. We thought we had the capabilities to play a role in that trend, so we looked at materials that we already had in the portfolio to see how they might be used in health care. We made a medical grade of Dyneema that is starting to be used in sutures. There are now 6 million people in the world who have Dyneema in their bodies, and it is the strongest suture that you can find. …

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