By Sam Benjamin
When it comes to business growth and human performance, Dr. Bart Sayle‘s expertise makes him a truly innovative thinker.
Over two decades ago Dr. Sayle founded The Breakthrough Group – an organisation specialising in corporate culture change, leadership coaching and transforming business environments – all with the intention of helping their clients to grow their businesses organically and successfully.
His holistic approach to business removes barriers around innovation and invests in people at every level of a company.
Wrigley’s, Danone, P&G, Mars, Avon and Bayer are just some clients past and present that have experienced Breakthrough and successfully made the transformations necessary to grow their respective businesses.
We at Ecochem are hugely excited that Dr. Sayle will be leading proceedings for The Breakthrough Group’s workshop at our Conference in November.
Dr. Sayle kindly agreed to an interview to discuss his own background, the ways in which Breakthrough operates and what he wants to achieve at the Ecochem workshop.
Dr. Sayle thank you for speaking to us. What are you hoping to achieve from the Breakthrough workshop at the Ecochem Conference in November?
“We’re very excited at Breakthrough because we’ve never done something like this before in this way.”
“Whether the people who come want to work with us in the future is neither here nor there: I want everyone to leave with something that they wouldn’t have had before coming to the workshop.”
“I’m hoping this workshop will have the promise of allowing people to go back to their businesses with new eyes for a day or two, to help them see where they need to act for change to happen.”
As there will be many different sorts of businesses and organisations attending the workshop at Ecochem, will you alter the style of the workshop to suit the participants?
“The way I run the workshop is not in a formulaic pattern.”
“I’m not an expert in the content: what I am an expert in is human performance, whether that be the individual or in a system.”
“That applies to every one of those companies [that will participate at the Ecochem workshop].”
With the examples of Breakthrough’s clients being mostly from the food processing or chemical industries, I was interested to know whether these were the industries that Breakthrough worked mostly with.
“It’s not about the industry itself, it’s about the rate of change of that particular industry.”
“Businesses from the food processing or chemical industries tend to produce fast moving consumer goods, meaning their rate of change and innovation is faster.”
Business growth is relative – some industries experience it faster than others, says Bart.
“Einstein was right with relativity: the actual perception of time is different within different types of companies. What is fast change for one company is very slow change for another.”
“One client we work with at Breakthrough is a Russian steel company: their idea of change is very slow when compared with another company we work with such as T-mobile.”
“Think of it like time horizons. Some businesses have very long time horizons and others have short ones.”
How have the ways in which businesses grow changed since starting with Breakthrough?
“Looking at the early nineties, the amount of change that was going to happen in the next five years was much less than the amount of change that’s going to happen in the next five years from now.”
“To stay ahead of the competition it’s now about growing a business organically and innovating rapidly and successfully.”
With image being such a vital part of almost all businesses today, I asked Dr. Sayle whether innovation was more important to branding than to process and technology.
“It’s everything. If you look back at innovation ten years ago, say, it was more about the products, the technology, the processes. Now innovation is seen across the whole business system.”
“Some businesses are actually more innovative about innovation, by working on the synergy between process and brand image.”
“If you look at how Apple stands out from others in the electronics industry, it innovates across its whole system.”
Apple’s innovation across its whole business model – not just the technology – is what Bart Sayle believes is its secret to success.
Some businesses are actually more innovative about innovation
“You can walk into an Apple store and see innovation there, in how the products are presented and used, and simply just the fact that there is a store at all. It’s incredible.”
“The old idea of brand image could be considered as slightly out-of-date now, as almost everything is about brand image. It’s at the centre of everything.”
How is contact initiated between you and your clients, are they coming to you seeking your expertise or are you offering your services to them?
“Often it’s people who experienced Breakthrough at one company and have moved on to another company, and either persuade the boss or are now the boss at their new company.”
“We have a number of evangelists that recommend us when they see a potential opportunity – that’s nice because that shows that people know it works.”
People who are working in the business find it very difficult to see the business and work on it from the outside
“Some companies try to transform their businesses themselves and for the majority of the time it doesn’t work. If I can use a metaphor then it’s like a fish in water; the fish doesn’t know it’s in water until it’s pulled out.”
“People who are working in the business find it very difficult to see the business and work on it from the outside.”
“It sounds simple but there’s a big distinction to working in the business and working on the business – most people end up working in the business, and because of that they find it hard to change.”
“Also very often when you’re working in the business, you tend to go for the symptoms rather than the causes.”
Does Breakthrough work with businesses that are in some sort of financial trouble, or they’ve tried to change and it hasn’t worked for them, or simply businesses who are secure and looking to change?
“We get some that are successful and who now want to build on that success. Then there are some who really are in a turnaround situation.”
“Generally the clients that find it difficult are the ones that are doing okay, because they’re worried they’ll lose that success.”
“We get lots of companies at different stages: start-ups, successful businesses, those on a plateau, newly-acquired companies.”
One idea from Breakthrough that caught my eye and that might ring true for many businesses is intention without intentionality: can you explain exactly what this means?
“People can have the intention of changing but not the intentionality to follow it through.”
“Intentionality is all about achieving the desired result no matter what, and that’s a mindset.”
And so how does Breakthrough help these businesses to be intentional with intentionality?
“We give them the distinction. Within the Breakthrough process we allow them to experience what it would be like to be fully intentional about following through their actions”
“Breakthrough is a lot about looking at what’s working, what’s not working, what’s missing.”
By working with Bill Wrigley, Breakthrough managed to increase the Wrigley’s organisation’s sales from $2 billion to $5 billion in just a few years.
“That’s probably one of our best case studies,” says Bart. “They went from $2 billion in sales to $5 billion in under 6 years, in an industry that at the time didn’t grow that fast.”
“In the seventh year the company was sold for $23 billion once the enterprise value was massively increased.”
How was this accomplished?
Bart Sayle worked with the Wrigley Company – the world’s largest producer of chewing gum – to help the organisation grow its sales from $2 billion to $5 billion in under 6 years.
“The first thing they did was commit themselves.”
“We put a lot of investment into the leadership, to transform the way they thought about the business, the ways that they led.”
“The aspiration wasn’t to simply make $5 billion. The aspiration was to build a company that would effortlessly generate these sales.”
“This aspiration meant that for some people the number was exciting, for others it was the people to work with, for others it was the possible brands that could be launched, and for others it was the innovation that it would generate.”
“Everybody had a way of making that aspiration meaningful to them.”
“We also trained 400 facilitators and touched everyone within the company, even the factories.”
“That’s the model: leadership, then senior management, then facilitators that will go out and touch everybody else.”
In the past Dr. Sayle has worked for ICI, Shell, PwC, and for many years, Unilever – where Breakthrough began.
“The Unilever system meant there was a lot of variety in business and science areas and so it kept me interested.”
“That’s where Breakthrough began: my last assignment was looking at how to increase the innovative capacity of the organisation.”
Culture puts a glass ceiling on our ability to be more innovative, and we need to break through that glass ceiling
“The insight I had at the time was that innovation is a cultural phenomenon. Culture puts a glass ceiling on our ability to be more innovative, and we need to break through that glass ceiling: that’s where the name Breakthrough comes from.”
“I ran the first version of Breakthrough at Unilever for Unilever, and it worked out great. Not all were receptive at first, but those were the ones that we needed to work with.”
Bart Sayle will be heading a Breakthrough workshop at the inaugural Ecochem Conference between 19-21 November 2013 in Basel, Switzerland.
The Ecochem Conference & Exhibition will be providing a platform for many companies involved in, or looking to become involved, in Green and Sustainable Chemistry to present, network and share insight into new ways of thinking, new technologies, new products and new materials - all with the potential to improve competitive advantage and market value.
If you’d like to learn more about the Ecochem event and find out who will be attending, speaking and exhibiting please download our event brochure.
You can also read an Ecochem blog written by Bart Sayle, Response Ability: Business and Bears.
You can also read Ecochem’s latest report – ‘The Business Case for Green & Sustainable Chemistry’ to further your interest - please click on the image below to download the full version for free and discover more about the business case for Green Chemistry.