Christiaan De Wilde, CEO of international biotech firm Innogenetics, has a background in finance and an eye for innovation. As restructuring and external demands took a toll on the company’s culture of innovation, De Wilde is clear about his role: “I’m not the most innovative guy, but I’ve never been a typical number cruncher either. My job is to create the environment for others to innovate.”

“The business was built on innovation and discovery. Our history and culture was about excelling in research and science,” says Christiaan, who joined Innogenetics as chief financial officer following a 17-year career with Johnson & Johnson. He became CEO in 2007 and is the winner of CCL’s 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award. “But as the business changed, so did the culture. With restructuring, external demands and decisions to stop some programs, employees started to say ‘we’re not innovative anymore’.”

“One of my priorities now is to re-install innovation,” he continues. “But not just in R&D. We need innovation across the business — in finance, in HR, in IT, in management.”

Christiaan, who attended both CCL’s Leadership Development Program and Leadership at the Peak, is clear about his role: “I’m not the most innovative guy, but I’ve never been a typical number cruncher either. My job is to create the environment for others to innovate.”

Creating a culture of innovation requires collaboration and communication across silos. “We all have to move out of our area of competence or expertise. We have to hear and understand multiple views. When people talk to each other and interact, we get more fresh ideas.”

Christiaan also is intent on supporting employees when they speak up, take risks and try new things. “We can make mistakes. We just need to learn,” he explains. “In the past, people felt they would be punished for making mistakes. I have to make sure people are not afraid. If you are afraid, you can’t be innovative.”

Another key to innovation at Innogenetics? “We are killing bureaucracy. We had too many people creating procedures and layers of administration. When we kill bureaucracy, it gives us more oxygen for innovation, more space to be more creative.”

Christiaan’s leadership strengths — including his ability to bring together strong teams, draw on the skills and perspective of others, manage conflict and keep pushing himself and others to learn — evolved over the years. “I always thought a good finance guy needed to be more than the numbers,” he recalls, adding that his experiences with CCL broadened his perspective even more.

“What stands out most for me is the value of the assessments and feedback. Throughout the process, you are confronted with who you are — as a person and as a leader,” he says. Leadership at the Peak was particularly powerful, giving Christiaan insights that served him well both at Johnson & Johnson and in the move to Innogenetics. “Making this move was the best decision. The CCL training was deep and in-depth, and it is something I keep going back to.”

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