Leading Global Growth by Protecting What Really Matters Most

author: Ellen J. Kullman, DuPont
published: Dec. 9, 2013,   recorded: February 2008,   views: 2201
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After 205 years, DuPont has transformed itself substantially while remaining true to its character, suggests Ellen Kullman. “We’re a company with a passion for science,” says Kullman. DuPont, which got its start making black powder for explosives, pursued chemicals for its first 100 years, but is now taking its science into energy, biotechnology and nanotechnology, with products and services in agriculture, nutrition, coating and color technologies, performance materials and safety and protection.

Kullman says that in its first 180 years of existence, DuPont did everything itself. “We believed firmly that nobody could do it better than us.” Now, the company is “thinking without borders,” seeking customers and collaborators globally. With a central lab in the U.S., the company targets R&D and application development close to customers in such key markets as Japan, India and China. The company also partners with research institutions worldwide. Says Kullman, “We talk about interdependent innovation, which has to be mutually dependent and mutually beneficial,” in order to convert technology rapidly into new products and processes, as well as to “develop deep market insights and strengthen our marketing and technical integration globally.”

These innovations must spring from “pressing human needs,” and to be successful must be introduced to the marketplace and accepted by society via “partnerships and dialog with all stakeholders, including governments, NGOs and academia,” she says. Sometimes it’s possible “to invent ahead of the curve, ahead of understanding what the payoff will be.” One of her favorite examples is Kevlar, the tightly woven material used in bullet proof vests. It was originally invented 40 years ago to replace steel in tires, when the price of steel went sky high. After 10 years in development, DuPont introduced Kevlar to tire manufacturers, at which point the steel industry dropped its price, and DuPont had to figure out what to do with an invention on which it had spent tens of millions of dollars. Today, Kevlar has found uses not just as life protection material, but as a way of strengthening structures against bomb blasts and hurricanes, in sails and ropes, in hockey sticks, and yes, finally, in tires.

Kullman offers some parting advice: Collaborate with customers and suppliers; seek opportunities beyond your assets; open up new business models; embrace the future; and think big and think different.

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