Co-creating a sustainable future with HELM AG.

HELM is a German, Hamburg based family-owned company established in 1900. With up to 100 subsidiaries and participations in more than 30 countries, HELM is one of the largest independent chemical companies worldwide. HELM is active in the chemicals and energy materials industry as well as agriculture and pharmaceuticals.


Transitioning from a profit-oriented company to one that equally takes into account people, planet and profit, together with partners. A tough challenge, especially for a leading company in the chemical industry, a sector notoriously impactful on loss of biodiversity and in climate change.


Establish a clear dot on the horizon for the businesses HELM operates in, co-created and embraced by the global team. Understanding: what impact do we aim to achieve, and what strategic path will take us there? A shift in business, mindset and culture.


Brought about a transformative movement within the organization, rallying their collective efforts to shift direction and amplify their positive impact on the world.

HELM in 2024.

Stephan Schnabel, 3rd generation CEO of HELM AG, took on the courageous journey to transition this €8b family business from profit-driven to impact-driven. “It is up to us”, he said to his 1,600 employees, “to develop a sustainable business that has a positive impact–from a social, environmental, economic, and emotional perspective.”

Stephan understood very well that to create a brighter future for all, he would only be successful if he engaged all stakeholders: his strategic partners as well as his employees. Now, HELM is on its way to developing its businesses to generate a positive impact for everyone. Read on to learn more about their journey so far.

Building a company, and a legacy.

A lineage of ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ in the Schnabel family led Stephan to start working on his legacy. He knew he needed to change course for the future HELM employees, and everyone who is impacted by the company. Since 1900, the business transitioned from a modest enterprise to an international commodity trading firm prioritizing profit, and then to a marketing company focused on generating value for its partners. Now, Stephan has rallied his employees to pivot towards creating value for all stakeholders. This is what we call a true stakeholder shift.

Navigating change.

Making a shift of this caliber, especially for businesses in the commodity space, is not easy. The Business Models Inc. team was right there to work with Stephan and his dedicated team to guide everybody at the company along the way. We aimed to shape and launch a sustainable strategic frame towards 2030, referred to as ‘the HELMbild 2030’ (see Figure below). It was important to shift from a single focus on financial metrics to a strategy that creates value across environmental, social, economic, and emotional dimensions. Together, we worked on clearly defining what this means for the overall company as well as the strategic direction for the different business units.

Understand the past as a springboard for the future.

Our journey with HELM began with a deep dive into how the company evolved. This deep dive into the company’s rich history was a way to collectively reflect on events, choices, and changes contributing to the company’s value creation and accomplishments over time. By doing this, we created a shared understanding that not only celebrated HELM’s legacy but also collective insight into why certain decisions were made. By distilling the key building blocks of how value was created, a springboard for thinking about future value creation was provided. This was the foundation for constructing the next phase of HELM’s journey, ensuring that new strategic decisions would be guided by the essence of what makes HELM unique.

It starts with why.

The next critical step was fostering a sense of urgency for change among the employees. We cultivated an environment where everyone could contribute to making a difference. By inviting experts in fields such as equality, biodiversity, and climate change, we sparked conversations that led to a collective realization: change wasn't just necessary; it was imperative.

It wasn't about following a directive from the top. Stephan, their leader, was deeply motivated, yes, but it was crucial that this motivation wasn't his alone. We connected everyone's individual stories and values into a unified narrative that highlighted why the company had to evolve. It was essential that everybody boarded this ship together, ready to navigate the sea of change as one. Especially, since the journey toward creating positive impact is challenging and complex.

Co-creation as a key ingredient.

The co-creation of HELM's vision and high-level strategy for 2030 was a monumental milestone in the journey, engaging 200 employees from across the globe in a 1,5-day strategy workshop. This was about co-creating a shared why for the entire company and understanding the strategic direction for each business unit to make change happen. The co-created content of 13 teams was used as input for the HELMbild 2030 vision story, to be launched later that year.

A global story shared locally.

The launch of HELMbild 2030 was designed as a catalyst for conversation and engagement across the entire organization. By facilitating local conversations, we created engagement across the whole company, ensuring that every employee, regardless of their role or location, felt a part of this ambitious journey. The launch was obviously just the beginning. As HELM continues this journey, the vision that was crafted together serves as a guiding star, brightening the path toward a sustainable and inclusive future.

Working together to create the future.

Stephan made co-creation and strategic dialogue a key ingredient of their transformative journey. He ensured that every voice was heard, making employees feel valued and part of the change process. This was completely in line with the company’s core values “We create, We care, We enjoy”.

The collective activation was crucial in not just envisioning but also in activating the new strategy effectively. It served as a reminder that the entrepreneurial spirit—a willingness to innovate, take risks, and lead with conviction—was not just a historical trait but a living, breathing aspect of HELM's identity.

This approach worked exceptionally well because it was deeply human-centric, leveraging the intrinsic motivations, values, and aspirations of the people within HELM. It tapped into the collective desire to not just witness but actively shape the company's future together, like a family.

HELM is reshaping business.

Today, HELM is actively demonstrating tangible progress in line with the HELMbild 2030 vision. For example, by forming partnerships for circular solutions in the chemical sector and developing tools for precision farming. Their mission to create lasting impact and ensure careful management of resources, and encouraging collaboration among all partners and stakeholders is becoming more visible every day. These efforts drive momentum, in creating a future where proactive, thoughtful actions are celebrated and carried forward by the next generations within and around HELM.

How can you make a commitment through your business to contribute to a better future and build a legacy of lasting positive impact?

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Roland Wijnen
Roland Wijnen