leadership | December 14, 2011

Arkadi Kuhlmann Rethinks Corporate Culture for the Protest Generation

Arkadi Kuhlmann—the founding CEO of ING Direct, and a champion of disruptive ideas within the banking industry—spoke to Forbes this week about how to adapt corporate cultures to the needs of the new "protest generation."

When asked about Occupy Wall Street, Kuhlmann candidly addressed the criticisms of the movement:

They’re really raising what you or I, and anyone on the planet, would consider legitimate concerns. What we all criticize them for is that no one has got an answer. But you know what? 310 million Americans don’t have the answer either. So I don’t buy into that.

Kuhlmann goes on to argue that businesses have been letting their customers down, especially in the financial industry where "right now we’re at an all-time low of trust and loyalty." Instead of blaming protesters for pointing out the deficiencies in today's financial institutions, businesses should listen and adapt to their concerns. They should build corporate cultures that breed brand ambassadors instead of angry, dissatisfied customers. "Think about what you’d need to do to reinvent a bank today to get people to actually love it" says Kuhlmann. "You’d have to start with the culture, and you’d have to earn that with every transaction and every moment of truth. You have to find a way to get a groundswell going, and then someone can come out of that and say, ‘We’re the ones that reinvented this place.’”

In his new book, Rock Then Roll: The Secrets of Culture-Driven Leadership, Kuhlmann stresses that an organically grown business culture, like the one described above, is the key to success. “Culture-based leadership,” he says, “is necessary in order to adopt innovative business strategies and to unleash the power of disruptive ideas.”