- Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
- At Business Area RD Technology
- At AkzoNobel since 1984
"If we want to be successful in the future, we must innovate and work together with others."
“My view of the future of innovation in AkzoNobel is easy to say: if we want to be successful in the future, we must innovate. And to be successful, we must work together with others. We’ve got to be willing to open our doors, share and engage in rapid learning. We always have to challenge the status-quo, adapt and transform ourselves, build new business models and encourage an open innovation culture. It’s survival of the fittest.”
“Together with my team, I need to make sure we provide sufficient ammunition for the technical experts in the company, allowing them to develop products that will deliver value and help our customers,” says Klaas. “At the same time, my job also involves scouting the world outside our direct scope for new or even disruptive technologies that could become part of our business.”
The world moves fast
When Klaas looks back to the beginning of his career, he points out color matching as a great example of innovation.
“Thirty years ago, color matching required equipment that took up an entire table, literally a truck load of panels and highly specialized color matchers,” Klaas says. “Now, in the age of digital color matching, you just need your cell phone and a piece of kit the size of an analogue film case. All the data is in the cloud now and we have miniaturized it to something that fits in the palm of your hand. But we did not do this all alone; we worked intensively with partners and shared expertise efficiently.”
As CTO, Klaas is looking for more of those revolutionary shifts that will change our world and way of working – realizing this requires an open mindset to both internal and external sources.
Exploring new opportunities
There are so many ideas to explore. Klaas explains: “Now we are a focused paints and coatings company, we’re able to focus on that market, and that market and its customers alone. AkzoNobel is already setting the industry standard with some of our technologies – but we must never be complacent. We have to continue driving those developments that will keep us ahead of the pack.”
Klaas always has appreciated the open culture he always experienced in the company. “It’s easy to talk to people,” he says. “Entrepreneurial behavior and taking initiative are stimulated. People with good ideas find there is space to maneuver – of course within some boundaries, which themselves often reveal opportunities. Understanding the business and its limits empowers you to make the most impactful contributions.”
Lessons from childhood ring true
It’s no surprise that Klaas values an open culture when innovation depends very much on collaboration with others.
Recalling a story from his childhood, Klaas says: “When I was young, a tile used to hang on the wall above my bed. I don't recall why and I cannot ask my parents anymore. But I’ve found, more than 50 years later, its message has come back to me on our open innovation journey. It said, ‘we can only be successful when working together, and the picture reveals two boys and two girls, diversity at work! I really understand that message now.”
He adds: “By the way, with the help of Google I just found the tile back.”
Collaboration is the future of innovation
The recent announcement of Paint the Future, AkzoNobel’s startup challenge, reflects such an open, collaborative approach of working together, both inside and outside the company.
“Changes are coming so fast and new developments are sometimes so alien to us – the only way forward is to connect parties with ideas,” says Klaas. “That’s essentially the definition of innovation: creating something new by making new connections between things that already exist on their own.”
He continues: “My view of the future of innovation in AkzoNobel is easy to say: if we want to be successful in the future, we must innovate. And to be successful, we must work together with others. We’ve got to be willing to open our doors, share and engage in rapid learning. We always have to challenge the status-quo, adapt and transform ourselves, build new business models and encourage an open innovation culture. It’s survival of the fittest.’’