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A former bulk chemical company is reportedly flying high a decade after its new CEO made the decision to dramatically alter the direction of the business.

Fortune this week detailed the journey of DSM under Feike Sijbesma, a biologist who decided that the company's legacy was more important than earnings levels.

“People will forget those numbers," Sijbesma told the magazine.

He decided that the world needed solutions to poverty and climate change more than it needed additional chemical plants. During his tenure, DSM sold off its chemical and pharmaceutical businesses and added 25 new ventures in an effort to focus on planet-friendly initiatives. The company also linked half of executive compensation to meeting sustainability targets.

Although the company's overall revenues remain below the levels under Sijbesma's predecessor, its focus on materials and nutrition produced sharply higher profits — particularly recently.

DSM's stock price, meanwhile, is up more than 60 percent over the past decade.

DSM officials conceded that the company needs to stay profitable to keep the lights on, and executives previously acquiesced to shareholder demands to streamline its operations and cut costs.

But as his company continues to push the envelope in a variety of industries — such as a state-of-the-art ethanol plant in Iowa and a product to curb the gases emitted by cattle herds — Sijbesma also said that employees are more inspired to work for a company that seeks solutions to global problems.

"They are proud if they can say, 'Our company is changing the world, making the world cleaner, the food healthier,'" Sijbesma told Fortune.

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