Rahmyn Kress is Chief Digital Officer and Chairman of the Digital Executive Committee at Henkel, a 142- year-old maker of chemicals and consumer goods headquartered in Dusseldorf, Germany. Prior to Henkel, Kress was managing director of technology ecosystems and ventures at global consultancy Accenture. Kress also served as the CEO of Digiplug, a digital technology company in Paris that was acquired by Accenture that provided digital services to the world’s largest media giants. Earlier in his career he was executive vice president of physical and digital transformation, supply chain and operations at Universal Music Group where he gained a lot of experience in digital transformation when the first disruptions hit the media industry. He met with Jennifer L. Schenker, The Innovator’s Editor-in-Chief, during Mobile World Congress, to discuss the launch of Henkelx.
Q: Henkel’s CEO Hans Van Bylen describers Henkelx as a new operating unit and dedicated platform for all of Henkel’s digital innovation by bringing together internal and external networks and collaboration events, digital engagement formats as well as new ways of working. What will that mean in practice?
RK: The aim of Henkelx, which will involve a significant cultural change, is uniting and accelerating Henkel’s entrepreneurial energy in order to drive its digital transformation. Henkelx will have three pillars: ecosystem, experience and acceleration. We want to create an ecosystem by bringing together an incredible network of mentors, collaborators and industry partners to work together on industry-wide challenges. We will identify and develop new business models, products and services for our customers and consumers as well as business partners through open innovation on a global scale. Experience refers to the fact that we are also opening up Henkel and creating new inspiring and collaborative formats like start-up pitch nights. We’ve already run two pitch sessions with well over 50% of presenters moving forward with project opportunities. Acceleration is Henkel’s commitment to work in a fast, collaborative and agile manner. My vision is to become the fastest industrial company to build, measure and learn. This is only the beginning of the journey — there’s much more to come.
Q: Every big corporate is struggling with digital transformation. Are you proposing that the heads of digital innovation at big companies in the verticals you operate in get together and exchange best practice?
RK: Absolutely. We can learn from one another through an open dialogue. We are getting together a group of mentors that we carefully select that come out of different areas of business: entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, accelerators but also our industry peers to peer network, including chief innovation and chief digital officers. Henkelx mentors and industry experts will get as much out of this network as they put in. It will be something they want to participate in. We will announce the first 50 by the end of this quarter. The positive response and enthusiasm has been amazing and serves as a testament to the fact that such collaboration between corporates and their peers and corporates and startups is long overdue. The Henkelx mentors will participate in panel discussions, mentoring initiatives of internal innovation programs, provide points of view on industry trends and act as sparing partners to our Henkel teams and business units, bringing their thought leadership and guidance from an outside viewpoint. For specific projects they will be invited to bring entrepreneurs to the table to work and collaborate with us. In a new program I call “Beautiful Minds” we will invite partners from the network community, where we discuss relevant topics of developments, trends, challenges and possible partnerships. For the venture capitalists and accelerators it will be an opportunity to bring to us their portfolio of startups or entrepreneurs and showcase those that are highly curated for the topics we are facing as an industry.
Q: So is it fair to say that your aim is start a movement?
RK: We want Henkelx to become a destination and platform for change. Henkelx will serve as a catalyst to form industry groups. Someone has to start the movement but we don’t want to monopolize industry specific thought leadership. I hope that others will follow suit and do the same in their peer groups because only if are talking together will we be able to address challenges and the growing anticipation of consumer demand for innovation. There is also a need for a certain amount of standardization. This dialogue on open innovation will allow all to participate in the trajectory going forward.
Q: What role will startups play in giving first-hand entrepreneurial experience to Henkel?
RK: We are creating new inspiring and collaborative formats like Henkel Startup Night. This allows founders of startups the opportunity to present their businesses, technology and innovation to the leadership team of our organization as well as our mentor and partner network that often comes to the Henkel Startup Night. The idea is to work with the startup on what it is they have presented by immediately launching pilots. This is not about wanting to buy into startups or morphing them into something we think we need but rather to respect startups as business partners like we would do with any other partner and through that both of us gaining experience and then making a product or service offering better. We are interested in anything that helps us work in a different, more agile way to always strive in getting better in our processes and deliver better products and services to our customers and consumers. What that allows us to do is to be very quick and be more innovative. If we find a startup that has an innovative way of addressing a problem in our supply chain for example and we agree that ‘ok this is a problem and we think you have a solution’ we can work together to fix that problem and build a business relationship . The second part of the experiences is funneling our experience, our thoughts and knowledge, back to the startup community. We can say to them ‘why don’t you focus on that huge industry problem?’ rather than focus on areas that they have perceived as being an issue. It’s important to have a bilateral beneficial relationship. But please let me emphasize it’s important to understand that Henkelx is not an accelerator nor an incubator itself.
Q: HenkelX — has just become a founding partner of AccelerateHER, a part of Founders Forum, an exclusive network of digital entrepreneurs, politicians, chief executives and venture capitalists who come together several times a year to build new partnerships and pioneer the future of digital. accelerateHER leverages this network to address the under-representation of women in technology. Why did Henkel join?
RK: accelerateHER is advancing gender equality in the sector. This is also one of Henkelx core missions. Super excited and honored to be involved in this very important initiative and movement with such a top talented team.
Q: What other areas will Henkelx cover?
RK: We will be forming partnerships with universities. As part of that we plan to offer opportunities to university students to work at Henkelx. They can get firsthand experience working together on interesting topics with us, get topics and coaching for their MBA thesis and obviously this is also a super opportunity for both sides to get to know each other and from there much more can develop. This is going to be quite awesome.
Q: How do you expect Henkelx to accelerate the company’s digital transformation?
RK: As part of the digital transformation, i am looking at three horizons. The first is optimization of the core business by utilizing digital technology. The second is incremental innovation. This involves new ways of interacting with our business partners, customers and consumers as well as innovation through digital to our products and services. The third horizon, is very much focused on disruption. Completely new business models and disruptive technologies that can reinvent the way we deliver products and services in the future — the moonshots. Depending on everyone’s digital maturity, I think you need to decide how much effort and investment you put into each of these horizons. We want to work with our network of mentors and our business partners to challenge our own ideas, to get an outside-in view on what is happening in the industry and — adjacent to our own product portfolios — invest in and partner with companies that have great innovative business concepts. This could also include taking internal ideas and finding founders to build spin-offs together with us. We live in an exciting time of change and it’s full of opportunities, opportunities that we can unlock faster if we work collaboratively with a wider network of partners.