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Purpose and the art of long term value creation

To drive change towards long-term, societal value creation, corporate boards need more creativity and diversity, perhaps even an artist. Many artists are frontrunners in society. They look at the world in a different way and find different ways to express what they see. Their perspectives may challenge us and cause fierce reactions. And that’s exactly what’s needed if we want to drive positive change with purpose.

The foresight of artists

Joining the perspectives from the art world with the business world, made for great discussion with the diverse audience that joined the event at Nyenrode Business University, which I staged and co-hosted late September 2019. Art historian Yteke Spoelstra shared her concerns about not protecting art for the long run – and what she’s done to change this in the city of Amsterdam. Art curator Catharien Romijn shared how DSM’s art collection has evolved over time, along with the purpose of the company.

The power of purpose

For companies to survive in the long run, they have to develop – and evolve – a clear societal purpose. This requires leadership at different levels in the company. Willemijn Brouwer, lead sustainability engagement & learning at DSM, shared how DSM’s purpose has evolved over time. To remain relevant in society, it has changed its business model completely, from the Dutch State Mines through chemicals, to the life science company it is today.

She’s proud to work for DSM, yet she urged the audience to keep challenging companies like DSM, to fuel their strategy and action – and to avoid greenwashing. Only then can they provide value to their stakeholders – including shareholders – over time.

The rationale for reporting

As the financial component of companies decreases over time (now down to less than 20% of the value), non-financial performance becomes increasingly important. This changes the role of the accountant as well, argued Danielle Landesz, partner at KPMG Assurance & Sustainability. She highlighted the role of accountants to challenge companies on their sustainability reporting and communications, to avoid greenwashing. Companies need to focus on material sustainability topics that have a clear link to corporate strategy. Just like financial performance, accountants now increasingly audit non-financial or sustainability performance of companies as well. Sustainability reports – especially if they are audited – help companies meet the transparency requirements of their stakeholders.

Creativity for purpose

Nyenrode Professor André Nijhof positioned art as an invitation to look at the world or an issue from a different perspective. He sees this as a crucial skill for corporate leaders and accountants. Only by asking questions to understand the other side can companies turn generic stewardship into purpose. And even if a company has a great purpose and the will to act on it, it can be tough to make it come to life.

The event closed with an interactive discussion with the diverse audience, expertly moderated by Joep Stassen. The key conclusions from the discussions were that:

  • Companies are more likely to invest in sustainability if it adds to the long-term value creation for the business itself;
  • Even if the average life span of companies is decreasing, all companies have opportunities to define their purpose and long-term value creation path, but it may be harder work for companies that have existed longer;
  • The world would be a better place if there would be more creativity and even more artists in the boardroom.

Dialogue and drinks for the long term

After the heated discussion on the topic, we kept talking for hours over drinks in the centuries-old Nyenrode castle. The castle and the art within it themselves are great showcases of long-term value creation!

This event was organized by Marjolein Baghuis, in her role as Chair of the Alumni Circle for Sustainability at Nyenrode Business University, together with Pol Schevernels of Art Fund Nyenrode. Big thank you to Jin Byun, who captured the event beautifully in pictures. For more information on her event photography services, please visit her website.

This blog also appeared on the Nyenrode alumni website. To read about interesting people, book reviews and other posts about sustainability, change, and communications please subscribe to this blog in the right-hand column.