Shaun Tomson encourages the audience to write their own code.

What does it mean to live and lead with a sense of purpose? How can purpose be defined, and why is it so important for organisations and people? Five exciting keynote speakers explored these topics at the RSM Leadership Summit on Friday 12 October 2018 to a capacity crowd in the historic Van Nelle Fabriek. Moderator Dorothy Grandia seamlessly wove together many layers of ideas, ideals and actions as presented by the speakers and audience.

Michiel Muller:  disruptive groceries

The first keynote was presented by ‘serial entrepreneur’ Michiel Muller, who has launched such industry-changing, consumer-empowering businesses as Tango (unmanned filling stations) and Route Mobiel and now, online grocery store Picnic.

How disruptive can groceries be? “We started Picnic with a clear purpose: the food system needs to be changed. Food waste, food miles, unfair trade, wasted time and air pollution from vehicles is creating big human problems, difficult problems – and big business can’t solve this,” he said. With Picnic’s app-only ‘shop’, fleet of electric trucks, overnight order fulfilment, and free delivery at a pre-determined time Picnic is doing more than satisfying customers’ needs: it is boosting sustainability and busting an outmoded grocery industry.

Prof. Daan Stam: in organisations, purpose comes from linking high and low goals

With his academic keynote entitled A science of purpose: a leadership perspective, RSM Professor Daan Stam provided insights gleaned from recent research into leadership, goal-setting, and communication. “Here’s a spoiler: I’m going to say a purpose is a goal, but not every goal is a purpose.” Discerning between high-level, long-term, abstract, self-defining goals – for example, I want to transform my industry – and low-level, tactical, concrete, short-term, get-the-job-done goals like I need to finish this tonight – Prof. Stam said: “I don’t think the low goals or the high goals are purpose. I actually think that purpose is in the lines that run between these high and low goals, and that everything done in the organisation needs to be linked to the high goals in order to be purposeful.”

After a roundtable discussion and plenary feedback on the first part of the day, attendees enjoyed a networking lunch.

Immediately after lunch the RSM Distinguished Alumni Awards were presented by Sue Martin, RSM Director of Alumni and Corporate Relations.

Marlies Dekkers: to define your purpose, find your fire

Marlies Dekkers, creator of the eponymous brand that has been shaping the world of lingerie since 1993, added a crucial element to the discussion of finding personal and organisational purpose:  the cultural and societal context in which one lives. Dekkers discussed the various waves of feminism – “We’re now in the third, moving to the fourth” – and the difficulty that women have had in finding individual purpose when historically their purpose was almost wholly dictated by society. Sent to housekeeping school by her parents because they couldn’t imagine a better life for her, she rebelled. “I knew it wasn’t my journey, but I didn’t really know what else was out there. I had to find my inner fire, and follow that inner purpose – and it doesn’t always give you a clearly marked road,” she said.

Vincent van den Boogert:  empowering people

“Banking is not always popular. So if there's one industry that needs a purpose, it is banking,” said Vincent van den Boogert, CEO of ING in the Netherlands, during his keynote. So what is the purpose of a bank? If you’re as diverse and international as ING, it’s not easy to have a shared purpose, said Van den Boogert. “ING’s purpose is empowering people to stay a step ahead in life and in business,” he said. “We empower our customers to make smart financial decisions, since money matters,” he said.

Shaun Tomson: write your own code

“We find our purpose or our purpose finds us,” said Shaun Tomson, world-renowned surfer and entrepreneur who found his purpose – helping others to know, own and activate their own purpose – through personal loss. The author of The Surfer’s Code presented his simple tool for connecting with purpose: writing a personal code of commitment, 12 key personal statements that start with the words ‘I will’. “This is a tool for collective engagement, which helps distill and frame one’s purpose into an actionable 12-line mantra for positive change.”

After a wrap-up by Dorothy Grandia and a final word of thanks from Dean Van de Velde, the 450+ attendees enjoyed hosted networking drinks and appetizers.

The next RSM Leadership Summit will be held on Friday, 4 October 2019.

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China.

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Marianne Schouten, communications manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at

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