A sustainable R&D agenda for AkzoNobel Industrial Chemicals [EN]

Squarewise and AkzoNobel Industrial Chemicals about: collaborating on a sustainable product portfolio. Industrial Chemicals is a subsidiary of Akzo Nobel that produces a number of basic chemicals. This project was special because we addressed business and management issues within a technological setting, in combination with sustainability objectives. It was a lengthy and close collaboration. We started with a part of the problem and were given the opportunity to build on the required strategy step by step. Industrial Chemicals was assembled over a number of years to become the strong unit it is today. It’s a logical unit, but because its parts come from different backgrounds, archives for example, were not shared. There was actual resistance towards sharing information. Squarewise was originally tasked to implement a number of operational measures to improve the internal sharing of knowledge.

Subsequently, the focus shifted towards the R&D portfolio as a whole. The aim was to optimize its functioning across the sub business units. We wanted to find out what that would mean, now and in the future. Industrial Chemicals is made up of a number of sub business units, all large, robust companies. To get them to collaborate was a complex challenge, especially in the context of the economic downturn, when the bottom line becomes even more important. It wasn’t always easy in a field where highly specific knowledge is key, to discuss other, non-technical issues. It’s a demanding process, but we succeeded in the end. It meant that we had to learn a lot about the technology involved to be able to discuss matters at a level that felt comfortable for everyone.

For me, the most striking aspect about the Squarewise method is the personal touch. We worked together as people and personally shared the ambition to achieve results. It really was our project. I think the team members’ mixed backgrounds and interests allowed us to achieve a good combination that could get beyond the partial focus to a unified analysis of the portfolio as a whole. The spirit of collaboration is in the Squarewise DNA, I think, and it pays big dividends. Ultimately of course, the objective was to achieve certain sustainability goals for the Akzo Nobel Industrial Chemicals portfolio. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and this one is eaten fairly slowly. We won’t know for sure for a few years yet, but the tools that were developed and the strategic guidelines put into play are very clear.

We were able to either force or facilitate certain necessary decisions within the business unit. Sustainability is now a central concept there. The people we worked with are enthusiastic and they still call us with questions on related issues. That’s a guarantee that the changes set out are really taking place. For us as consultants, it’s vital to get real results and in this case, that’s what we did..