Final Exam-Reading

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Read the text and choose the best alternative to complete the sentences.

Innovation and inspiration

By Michael Steen

DSM still goes by the initials that stood for Dutch State Mines when it was founded more than a century ago. The letters are one of a few things that haven’t changed for a company that has been in a continual state of transformation throughout most of its history.

The coal mines in the south of the Netherlands are now closed. But, even when coal was central to its business, DSM expanded into fertilisers as a way of using the ammonia produced during coal processing operations. Over the decades, the focus shifted to plastics and, later, chemicals. Today, it is once again reinventing itself, this time seeking out the higher-margin and less cyclical sectors of life sciences and material sciences.

The company has tried to attract the finest technical minds and put research and development at the heart of the business. But, argues Feike Sijbesma, chief executive, a greater focus on good management is just as important.

‘Innovation, coming up with new products and launch concepts and business models, is one of the main drivers of our strategy,’ Mr Sijbesma says. ‘The whole idea about our business education starts with our strategy … You need a lot of technical knowledge but you also need to change the company in terms of culture and behaviour.’

The company wants to create managers who can show inspirational leadership. Mr Sijbesma defines this as combining ‘authenticity and vulnerability with clear direction’. DSM now works with four business schools – IMD in Switzerland, Wharton and Babson University in the US and RSM in Rotterdam – and sends top executives to all four schools to develop leadership skills, gain industry insight and work on special projects that can feed into overall corporate strategy.

The links with the universities help graduate recruitment. It also puts its executives in contact with other business people. ‘Our executives get to meet people from other companies and learn a lot from them during these leadership discussions about industry developments.

‘The programmes are focussed on two things: personal leadership skills and business elements,’ Mr Sijbesma says. He adds that learning is a key part of his drive to transform the group into an innovative life science and material science company.

‘What we want to do with this whole learning architecture and with those universities is to make a stronger foundation to support or speed up this whole change process,’ he says.          FT

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