leadership | June 19, 2011

From Zero to $9 Billion: Arkadi Kuhlmann's ING Direct Success

Last week, ING Direct USA—the U.S. wing of the online bank that Arkadi Kuhlmann built from scratch—was sold for a staggering nine billion dollars to Capital One. With this historic sale, it’s worth reflecting on how Kuhlmann, an unconventional business leader, created a bank and brought it from zero to $9 billion in a matter of years. Under Kuhlmann, ING Direct’s “save your money” mantra became a commonsense call to action that points Americans to a culture of savings.

Kuhlmann outlined the formula for his groundbreaking success in his first book, the highly-regarded The Orange Code: How ING Direct Succeeded by Being a Rebel with a Cause. With the help of brand consultant Bruce Philp, Kuhlmann did something radical. He essentially transformed branding into a viable strategic template—the brand, under his watch, became the moral compass of ING Direct, guiding everything it did. From leadership strategy to employee hiring to marketing to customer care, ING Direct’s carefully designed brand led the way. At core, Kuhlmann’s belief in careful savings (his cause) became the guiding force behind the massive financial growth of his bank. This belief in advocacy and values set Kuhlmann apart, and it continues to mark him out as a different kind of business speaker—a man unafraid to fuse ethics and commerce, but who is always careful to make sure the bottom line (like, say, a $9 billion sale) is always in play.

Kuhlmann’s new book, Rock Then Roll: The Secrets of Culture-Driven Leadership, will hit shelves this fall. It offers more of the insights people expect from a rebel, Harley riding, financial reformer CEO like Kuhlmann. He guides leaders to adopt innovative business strategies and exploit the creative power of disruptive ideas in our new culture-driven environment. The future, as he sees it, will require everyone to be leaders and to expect the unexpected in a corporate world that is seamlessly merging technology, business, and entertainment.

Read more about leadership speaker Arkadi Kuhlmann

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