It is raining softly as the taxi drops me off at Terminal 2 of Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. I check in for my flight to Dubai and make my way to the duty free area, to buy some magazines at the newsstand. “I want to buy Time magazine and Wallpaper,” I think out loud.
As I walk towards the newsstand I see somebody I know, browsing through the international newspapers. It’s Jean-Baptiste Santoul, Henkel Benelux Sustainability Leader, whom I met last year on a sustainability conference in Brussels. I wonder what he’s up to? “Jean-Baptiste, how’s life?” I say, while putting a hand on his shoulder.
He turns round and a smile of recognition appears on his face. “Hey, nice to see you. Where are you traveling to?” he replies.
“I’m on my way to Dubai for the launch of our book Around the world in 80 Brands” I say. “Where are you heading?”
Jean-Baptiste puts back the newspaper, as if he’s lost interest all of a sudden. “Well, I’m on my way to the kickoff of the new Henkel Innovation Challenge in Riga. Students from 25 countries are invited to participate. Their mission is to develop a concept for a sustainability according to the market needs in 2050.”
“Wow, 2050!,” I say, “Henkel is really anticipating the game. You started the Henkel Innovation Challenge 6 years ago, what’s the status?
Jean-Baptiste smiles. “I’m a true believer in innovation. I believe innovation is the solution to many of the problems, like atmospheric pollution and the global water scarcity. By stimulating the new generations to find solutions, we’re getting a step closer to global cooling.”
He pauses for a few seconds to let his words sink in. “For me, sustainability is more than “doing good” in our social environment and protecting the planet. It’s a way of managing and shaping the future.” He pauses again.
“Shall we walk? I don’t want to miss my plane,” Jean-Baptiste says. “What is your gate number?”
“I have another hour,” I say, “but I can walk you to your gate. Shaping the future sounds very conceptual. How does it work in the real world?”
Jean-Baptiste smiles again. “A collateral benefit of the Henkel Innovation Challenge is the fact that it gives us the opportunity to come in contact with top young talents worldwide. In the real world we recruit top talents, which gives us the opportunity to stay ahead of the game.
We pass in front of the Rijksmuseum annex on Holland Boulevard, which houses a permanent exhibition of work by Dutch masters of the Golden Age. Next to that, a shop where you can buy Dutch cheese and tulip bulbs.
I turn to Jean-Baptiste again. “So what are the next steps?” I ask, “What happens after the students have presented their projects?”
“First there are regional semi-finals,” Jean-Baptiste replies. “Then the winning teams will get the opportunity to compete in the international final in Shanghai.”
“Cool!” I say, “That’s must be a great experience for the students.”
“Wait, the coolest experience is still to come,” Jean-Baptiste says. “The winning team will get an around-the-world ticket to make the experience life changing.”
We arrive at the gate where JB is boarding his plane to Riga. “I’m really sorry we can’t continue this conversation,” he says. “Boarding is starting in a few minutes.”
“Yes, I’m sorry as well,” I say, “because this is really getting interesting.”
“YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE,” the voice from the speaker says. “KLM FLIGHT 1233 TO RIGA HAS A DELAY OF TWO HOURS.”
Jean-Baptiste looks at the announcement screen above the gate, then at his watch, and then back at the screen again. “Great!” he says, ”That means I have enough time to tell you the rest of the story. Come on, I’ll buy you a coffee!”
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