Patrick Stal on leadership, vision, and economic growth

Patrick Stal, managing director of Interbrand Amsterdam, talked with me about economic growth, leadership and brand vision in leading Dutch companies.

Interbrand recently published the ranking of Best Global Brands, and 3 of them are Dutch brands: Philips, Shell, and Heineken. The Social Media crowd was very enthusiastic and Twitter was flooded with messages like these:

“A tiny country with big names: three Dutch Brands made it to the top-100 of the world’s most valuable brands!”
“ So proud! Best brands list includes three Dutch names”

Even though it’s a great achievement, says Patrick Stal, it could be much better if the Dutch CEOs would have more confidence and stop being so humble. Dutch companies are really good at what they do but they are too modest, it’s part of our Dutch Calvinist culture, but that needs to change, he continues.

Patrick says that now when the economic crisis is almost over and economic growth can begin again, Holland needs leaders with a brand vision. CEOs, together with their senior leadership teams, must develop a vision to articulate to the staff, create a roadmap and commit to it, and then rally the organization with measurable goals and incentives to reach them.

The majority of Dutch CEOs are failing to steer their companies towards a more impactful use of branding, which prevents their organizations from business growth, says Patrick. If companies will invest in branding and brand-leadership, this will lead to the business growth they seek for their Durch Corporations. Good examples of visionary leaders are DSM CEO Feike Sijbesma or Unilever’s Paul Polman. Both CEOs are clear about the brand vision and visible in proclaiming it to the world. This affects internal and external branding, and yes, it influences financial results too.

Other companies that Patrick includes in his “well-done” folder are Nissan, IBM, Heineken, Shell, and Philips. By analyzing these companies’ brand positioning we can learn a lot, he says.  These companies’ executives share “a strong vision”, invest in and manage brand vision activities quickly, and therefore these companies reap the most rewards.

Having a clear vision will also help to retain talent. Nyenrode Business University, the leading business school in The Netherlands, trains top talent for top positions. People want to work for companies that mean something and that have long term growth plans. Then maybe we can stop top marketing and creative people leaving the country and working for brands abroad, he adds.

But Patrick is not just saying what should be done, Interbrand under his leadership organizes regular educational debates and round-table conferences to discuss with corporate professionals complex business issues related to branding, such as the value of brand architecture in mergers and acquisitions, the role of multi-branding in innovation or brand consistency in times of a constantly changing social media environment.

This is also his approach for growing the company’s client base: people go where they’re invited, entertained or informed. You don’t “earn” interest from your customers with hard-boiled sales pitches or brand information. You earn it by providing inviting, helpful or entertaining information in lots of formats such as white papers, blogs, demos, you name it, he continues.

I asked Patrick to be included in his next round table workshop and I will let you know what I learned. I will keep you posted.

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