Biggest-ever audience for RSM’s Road to Reinvention Summit

The chance to hear how business leaders are steering their global corporations onto ‘the Road to Re-invention’ after the financial crisis drew an a record audience – 100 up on last year – to the Beurs World Trade Center in Rotterdam for the Leadership Summit hosted by Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). The afternoon event also saw four alums presented with RSM’s prestigious Distinguished Alumni Award, and the awarding of the first-ever Green Master Thesis Award.  

Four senior decision-makers from leading multinational organisations and two from academia took the stage to describe their businesses’ transformations after recent and on-going financial crisis, mergers, expansions or the launches of major new projects – describing their ‘road to re-invention’. After each presentation, the speakers took questions from the audience. 

Airbus’ Chief Information Officer Guus Dekkers took part in a question-and-answer session with RSM’s recently-appointed new Dean, Prof Dr, Steef van de Velde. The audience heard that the consolidation of the European aviation industry had presented a major challenge for those in charge of bringing one of Airbus’ biggest-ever projects, the A380, into being. The long lifecycle of such commercial aircraft, and the ‘spaghetti’ of 600 technical processes involved across several countries – demonstrated using a large model of the aircraft which was assembled on stage – required a re-think of processes, supplier relationships and IT design. Achieving Airbus’ hard-won commercial success has resulted in further reward for RSM alum Guus Dekkers with the CIO of the Decade award in the category for international orientation. 

Doug Baillie, Chief HR Officer for global corporation Unilever was next on stage, accompanied by a rolling model cow. Unilever continues to launch new brands into new markets with the aim of doubling its business whilst halving its environmental impact, mostly by having ‘a shared value in the supply chain’ and influencing consumer behaviour. Doug Baillie described the current age of turmoil with its focus on sustainability, and the global shift of business focus to the east, as ‘the new normal’, and said the situation required a new style of leadership. “Sustainability fuels innovation,” he said, “and the business case for sustainability is very strong. Customers want it, it fuels innovation, it helps grow markets, and it saves money.” He also said that engineering centres of excellence would shift eastwards to India and China, where half a million young people were graduating every year. 

Doug Baillie referred to Unilever adopting the community principles of Ubuntu – a humanist philosophy originating from Africa. A long term outlook was needed he said, in order for businesses to become collaborative beyond the capacity of any single company, and where businesses would not wait for governments to act, but would face their responsibilities with a transparency suitable for a digital age ‘in which it was difficult to hide’. “We need leadership from a new generation,” he said, “and young people need to be involved because they understand the forces of change.” 

Just before the half-way break, Dean van de Velde invited Doug Baillie to present RSM’s inaugural Green Master Thesis Award to Christoffel Hiltermann (MSc General Management 2009). This award is just one aspect of RSM’s focus on the sustainability of business into the future, along with the reduction of carbon footprints and the greening of operations. Christoffel’s thesis; The impact of organic certification versus horizontal co-operation: a global value chain analysis, was chosen from the shortlist by a jury of high-profile business leaders and academics with an interest in sustainable business.  

The stage had a change of furniture for the next presentation: Søren Hansen, Vice President of the IKEA Group discussed ‘Small Steps to On-going Success’ with RSM Professor of Corporate Finance & Corporate Governance, Abe de Jong.  

IKEA’s self-service policy was born out of necessity, and its current strategy is to offer lower costs and better quality by optimising operations and using lightweight and composite materials. As a privately owned company, it cannot rely on external sources for funding; instead it uses external financing only for funding its real estate holdings. Hansen’s tips for leadership were to ‘know that no-one is perfect, hire people who are smarter than you, and who share company values and are team players’. He also advocated giving responsibility, especially to young people, and to challenge the workforce by asking them to do jobs they have not done before.  

In response to audience questions, Hansen said the company was growing slowly to ensure its supply chain could continue to deliver according to demand and brand promise. Succession in a private company was dealt with by attracting ‘good leaders who share the company values’. Most executives at IKEA have 20 years of experience with the company.  

Raoul van Engelshoven , MD of IBM NL spoke of ‘Business Leadership in the Transformation Era’ and the smarter business models capitalising on advances in technology. Unsurprisingly, it was social media users following the Leadership Summit live on Twitter using #rsmsummit, who were quick to remark on van Engelshoven’s energetic and engaging presentation.   

The founder of IBM had instilled into the company the theme of staying competitive and thinking in terms of business opportunity; as a result, the company has been reinventing itself for the past 100 years, said van Engelshoven. Initially a mechanical technology business, IBM eventually embraced electronic technology. ‘It doesn't matter how many patents you hold, but what you do with them that counts’ he said.  

Managing the complexities of the value chains in food supplies, energy, and municipal services in cities present transformational opportunities, he said. IBM’s aim is to achieve consistent global delivery, expand technical capabilities, and establish new structures such as partnerships. ‘Software is an area with infinite opportunity,’ said Van Engelshoven, referring to advances in software driven by social media, and said IBM was positioning itself for ‘bottom of the pyramid’ markets – those characterised by the largest, but poorest socio-economic groups – by making sure its systems were fit for purpose. “We should not over-engineer our approach to bottom of the pyramid markets,” he said, and admitted that he was most afraid of complacency, which he likened to a virus and was ‘the biggest worry we have’.  

Completing the afternoon’s events was the presentation of this years Distinguished Alumni Awards to: 

  • Meiny Prins (Part-time Opleiding class of 2000) and CEO of Priva BV;
  • Sukhbir Jasuja (MBA1998) CEO of ITpreneurs; 
  • Diederik Laman Trip (Doctorandus Postkandidaats 1970) former Chairman of ING Netherlands Board, Postbank and RVS insurance; 
  • Johan H. Andresen Jr (MBA 1993) owner and CEO of investment conglomerate Ferd Norway. 

Johan H. Andreson was absent from the Rotterdam event, but will be presented with his award in the next few weeks. 

The RSM Leadership Summit is open to RSM’s 20,000-strong alumni network, its corporate partners and the wider business community to stimulate the discussion between the corporate and academic world.  

The Leadership Summit provided an excellent opportunity for networking; not only during the welcoming lunch, the coffee break and the concluding cocktail reception, but also via Twitter, with live #rsmsummit tweets projected onto a screen above the stage.  

Opportunities for networking also exist within the School, and various RSM departments manned stands around the WTC hall to tell delegates about activities which they might find useful. Delegates considering recruiting were invited to use the School’s Careers Services department for direct access to RSM’s talented graduates, those wanting to find out how to conduct more sustainable business were invited to the Greening RSM stand for more information, and all delegates were encouraged to think of their future impact on business by making an ‘I WILL’ statement, declaring their ambitions for the future. RSM’s I WILL community can be found on Facebook and LinkedIn