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Innovation Is… with Stephan Tanda, Managing Board Member, Royal DSM

October 23, 2013
The term "innovation" is thrown around more often than Peyton Manning’s name during Fantasy Football season. But if any industry can truly capture the essence of innovation, it is the biotech industry. Innovation is inherent in what we do – from curing or treating illnesses that were once considered a death sentence to feeding a growing population to helping to reduce our dependence on foreign oil through the production of biofuels. But what is innovation, and how can we inspire other industries to be more innovative? We asked a few of our top CEOs to share their perspective – what they told us will surprise and inspire you.

Stephan Tanda, Managing Board Member, Royal DSM

Q: Can you share an example of innovation?

A: Together with POET, we turn cellulose into sugars, and then we turn those sugars into chemicals and fuels. It took nature millions of years to make plants stand upright and be resilient to all kinds of pests and for trees to stand tall. We engineer microorganisms and biological processes to revert that process to convert cellulose into sugar within a few hours. For me, that is an example of true innovation.

Q: What inspires you to be innovative?

A: As a parent, it is about turning dreams into reality. Not just any reality, a reality that makes the world a better place. Make the planet a little better than how we found it. That really inspires me personally.

Q: What drives innovation in the industry?

A: First and foremost, innovators who can see a future that isn’t there yet. They can see a potential market. Then of course they will be joined by others – we call that competition. Competition and desire for innovation is always good. Others will join in through competition, but it always starts with the visionaries.

Q: Who is your innovation idol?

A: My innovation idol is Elon Mosk. He has revolutionized multiple industries. He is co-founder of PayPal. I’m very excited he is working with SpaceX, creating new means of space transportation at a much lower cost. And it sounds like he also is going to innovate high speed trains.


Stephan joined DSM on March 1, 2007 and became a member of the Managing Board on May 1, 2007, where he is responsible for the Nutrition Cluster. In addition he has corporate responsibilities for the Americas, Switzerland, and the Sales and Marketing functions. On April 28, 2011, he was re-appointed for a new term of four years ending in 2015. Access Mr. Tanda’s full bio here.