"The purpose of inviting everybody to help identify a new strategic direction for the company was to send a signal that we are in the same boat. I wanted people to understand: nobody is coming to save us. We either float – or drown together."
The theme of the conference was Leading with Purpose and among the speakers were Bill Clinton, former US president, Cees't Hart, CEO at the Danish brewery Carlsberg, and Costas Markides, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, London Business School.
"History is full of examples of companies who had the eyes fixated on the speedometer or the oil pressure - but no clue about where they were going", Carsten Hellmann said.
"By looking at allergy as a consumer play and not just a therapy field – as we have been doing for 100 years – we have started to lift our heads and look up. Our goal has become to help as many people with allergy as possible."
The big why
Also in Merial, the animal health company lead by Carsten Hellmann before he took office in ALK, processes were disrupted to get teams to think openly about what should be done to regain success as a company. The big question everyone was invited to give input to was: How can we as a company help solve some of the world’s most important problems?
"For example: How can we help the 1 billion people in Asia, moving to cities, eating meat and processed food? And: How can we help prevent a production loss of 20 percent in meat production due to animals getting sick?"
"It is not enough to say you want to increase your growth with 5 or 10 percent. People need to be part of something relevant and inspiring."
Not an experiment
After his speech, Carsten Hellmann was asked how he measures success when at the same time he boasts skipping KPIs, power points and long meetings?
"I look at sales figures, profits, net working capital etc. It is not an experiment. Of course, we need a company fit to survive. What I am talking about is how to develop a business that has a future. How we move on."
That sounds easier said than done?
"It is all about looking up from our excel sheets and start concentrating on people. Everybody wants to make a difference, everybody wants to be part of something bigger. So it is really about finding out: What is our common goal? Are we doing the right thing to get there? Are we moving fast enough? Or are we moving too fast?"