Diana den Held

Subject: Cradle to Cradle & Circular Economy (Full-time MBA and Executive MBA)

Diana den Held is a strategist with 20 years of professional experience. She has worked for companies like IKEA, Yamaha, Telfort, and  ABNAmro, walked the red carpet at the Cannes International Advertising Festival, and won a silver Esprix award and a FEDMA-’best of Europe’ award, amongst other recognitions. She describes the common thread in her work as “effective, targeted implementation strategy.” And that’s exactly why Michael Braungart asked her, in 2008, to support him in the implementation of Cradle to Cradle. She contributes to various projects in companies and governments and was a team member in the C2C Islands project, as well as Project Director for phosphate recovery. Diana gives lectures and workshops and is one of the 88 renowned scientists invited by the ‘Groene Zaak’ to contribute to the ‘Groene Brein’.

Can you describe your teaching experience at RSM so far?

I’ve been teaching this course since 2013. What is most important to me about C2C & CE is that it’s such an optimistic and empowering model. We all know that we need to change things in society and in how we do business, but instead of focusing on doing things “less bad” we should look at doing things “better”. It’s a paradigm shift to move from only dealing with negative externalities to actively aim for positive externalities. It needs ambition, yes, but that’s why I’m at RSM, isn’t it? The agenda of the elective is all about turning things around 180 degrees; it’s about asking questions such as “how can we do this right?”, “how can we generate more renewable energy than what we need?”, “how can we make products that add to the soil, when we don’t need and use them anymore?”. I always encourage the students by saying “I need your brains to do something great”. I see the effect of this approach on CEOs, on boards, on students, but also on people who do the middle management tasks, because for everyone is the same thing and question “How can you add your skills, your talents, your ideals to make things better?”. Every student in my elective gets a lot of freedom in the choice of the topic they want to work on for their individual assignment. I’ve developed a tool for them to find what reaches their heart, what their true passion is so that they can work with  their passion; if a topic matters to them, it probably matters to a lot of other people as well. I make sure to guide and coach them through this process.

What has been the most memorable moment teaching at RSM so far?

The most memorable moment was when I received the individual assignment papers from my first group of students at RSM. I had some ideas about what to expect, as I monitor the students during the course, but seeing that pile of papers together literally brought tears to my eyes. They had exceeded all my expectations; such an avalanche of very professional, idealistic and high-quality pieces of work. If these are the top managers of the future, we’ve got something amazing waiting for us.

What is your favourite book?  

Günter Wallraffs book "Lowest of the Low". I read it as a student, and it hit me in the stomach; he gave us a look around the corners of our society. Wallraff is on my list of heroes, so you can imagine how happy I was that a few years ago we met in person when he was between undercover operations. I have been internationally awarded in business, but I’ve always kept looking around those corners as well. That’s what I love so much about working on C2C & CE; it gives me an opportunity to bring both together: making a great business out of doing the right thing. For the economy. For ecology. And most of all: for people.

Do you like travelling? What is your favourite destination?  

My most favourite destination is Iceland. A lot of people dislike Iceland because it’s cold, the weather constantly changes, it’s lonely, and there aren’t any trees. But somehow for me, if Iceland were a person, I would have been in love. Even before I first set foot on it, I knew I wanted to build up a long-term relationship with that place. It’s raw, rough circumstances somehow for me are a source of endless beauty and inspiration.   Unlike most of the people I know, who travel to different destinations for three days, for me it’s far more priceless and interesting to build a long-term relationship with a certain area on this globe, get to know the culture, get to know the people. I guess it reflects my long term approach as a strategist.