Richard Kooloos describes himself as a tenacious optimist. With a mission to convince 3.5 million homeowners to prioritize the energy efficiency of their houses, he has to be. As Director of Sustainable Banking for ABN AMRO, Richard is driven to have a positive impact on his colleagues, clients, and society as a whole. As a member of our 11th Amsterdam Creative Leadership Program, we spoke to Richard about what he hopes to achieve during this 6-month part-time learning journey starting in March.
Originally educated as a Business Engineer at the University of Twente, Richard has been working in the financial sector for 20 years and focusing on sustainability for the past 10. Richard has lived and worked in Brazil, Germany, Sweden, and the UK. He also plays a supervisory role with several start-ups focused on renewable energy and heads an ambitious work stream with the Dutch Central Bank. Last but not least, he is a corporate activist for Human Rights, COP21 participant, Member of Worldconnectors, and board member of Global Compact Netherlands.
Richard took the time to call me from his electric car between meetings. Purchased in 2012, he was one of the first to drive an electric car in the Netherlands – a detail illustrating Richard’s passion for innovation and sustainability.
How Richard Kooloos came to THNK
A few months ago, Richard began exploring education programs to extend his personal growth, “I basically grew up with the idea that the best MBAs in Europe are at INSEAD and IMD and so I started there.” But when he had the opportunity to attend a session at INSEAD on sustainability, he was struck by “how conservative and how not at the pulse of where things are” the institute was. He asked himself, “What can I learn there and is it really going to be that much more than adding the name [of the school] that looks great on your CV? How are you going to grow there?”
Enter THNK. Richard began exploring the Creative Leadership Program and tells me “I was positively surprised that THNK is so much more focused on the skills you need to be successful today. In programs like IMD and INSEAD, in my opinion, you’re learning the skills to be successful yesterday, for organisations which are organised in traditional ways”. Drawn to an entrepreneurial environment, Richard was pleased to discover a program that also includes personal leadership growth and has sustainability embedded in its curriculum. “For me it’s about innovation, it’s about personal growth leadership, all with the sustainability mindset. That perfectly fits what I was looking for.”
The Endeavor Richard will tackle during the THNK Amsterdam Creative Leadership Program
Richard’s project sounds simple: how to get 3.5 million homeowners to start working on the energy efficiency of their house. But a project of this magnitude is anything but easy. “A lot of people have been looking at this for a long time but still nothing much is happening. There have been many efforts, but it’s by far not enough to reach the goal that we’ve set ourselves, or to reach the contribution towards the COP 21 goals.”
As with any strong Endeavor, Richard believes firmly in its importance and knows that he is positioned to make a difference. “The reason I’m looking at this is because it has impact. We’re talking about three and a half million people, about 20% of carbon emissions in the Netherlands, so it’s actually material. It’s also very closely linked to my work because [ABN AMRO] provides the mortgages for 1.1 million of the 3.5 million home-owners in the Netherlands, so I have a vehicle for having an impact.”
Much of why Richard chose to join THNK is to learn the skills he’ll need to tackle this complex project. “My gut feeling is that here you need something more outside the box. […] My whole work is about changing people’s behaviour, changing structures, but always with the requirement that it has to be implemented in a couple of months from now. For me, this is like reaching beyond that border, beyond that horizon. I have never been asked to do those things or have the experience of doing those things. That’s why I feel I need skills from THNK to do that.”
The Big Picture
When asked what he dreams of creating, Richard doesn’t hesitate. “The big picture question is to set an example that a universal bank with a proper balance sheet can be a sustainable organization; that sustainable banking is not the prerogative of niche players. To prove that it is possible.”
In a big organization like ABN AMRO, aligning everyone towards a new agenda for a sustainable future isn’t easy, but Richard injects positivity to keep himself and his team motivated. “The department I’m heading up has a document that describes who we are, and we’re called ‘Tenacious Optimists’. We are people who never let go. It’s our obligation to stay optimistic.”
Richard believes that a large organization providing an example of sustainable banking has the power to make a big impact on a global scale. “At the end of the day, we all say ‘Money makes the world go ‘round’. If you change the way Finance thinks about where to put their money, you change the economy and you therefore change the planet.”
Richard is one of the many inspiring leaders participating in the upcoming Creative Leadership Program starting at THNK Amsterdam in March 2017. To find out more about the Creative Leadership Program, or if you are interested in joining Richard as a Class 11 participant and learning to reach beyond the horizon, then please download the program brochure or apply here.