A conversation with Dag Piper:  "We are nurturing the environment for future growth"

Image of Fabienne Hübener
Fabienne Hübener

Eight months ago, isi brought Dag Piper into the team to turbocharge growth. Dag Piper, an experienced manager and strategist who previously worked at L'Oréal, Symrise, Mars and Kraft Heinz, is known for setting and achieving ambitious goals. His methods: creating space for forward-looking ideas, building new structures and harnessing the power of a team to achieve goals quickly. In this interview, he explains why he switched from corporate groups with over 100,000 employees to a company with just around 100 employees.

Looking to the future. Dag Piper, here with his GET team.

You've held management positions at L'Oréal, Symrise, Mars and Kraft Heinz. Now the change to an agency. What is your reasoning for this?

I like to design, to make companies grow. isi is on the verge of becoming a larger, international and extraordinary company. I didn't want to miss the chance to be part of it.

isi and its Managing Directors Robert and Achim are no strangers to you. You worked at isi for three years, 28 years ago. Does that close the loop for you?

Yes, isi was my springboard; I worked there as a student. It was there that I discovered my passion for sensory research and my passion for attaining management goals. It was and is a company that gives its employees a lot of creative freedom. Now I hope to give something back to isi out of the experience I acquired in the corporate world. 

You've been with isi for eight months. What has happened so far and what are your plans?

In brief: First of all, creating structures that enable growth. My official title at isi is: 'Head of Growth and Change Design'. No company grows on its own. You need people in the company who think about the goals and who implement the new tasks. Above all, you need the courage to leave well-trodden paths. In realignments, it is important that everyone is heard and gets on board. That's why one of my first activities was to call each and every member of the isi team and talk to them. What is your role at isi? Are you satisfied? What could be done better? What gets you out of bed in the morning? In this way, I was able to find out where isi stands and what the employees' wishes and expectations are.

Now you've set up a team of four people to take care of innovation, trends, PR and internationalization. How do you all go about things?

We call ourselves the GET team, for Growth Enablement Team, and we provide the underpinnings for future growth. We are the power in the e-car, so to speak. isi is known for offering excellent methods for sensory consumer research. Customers appreciate and expect that. But we don't just offer methods, we offer solutions to problems. For example, in the development of new product ideas. An example from this morning: A manufacturer called, he wanted to launch an insect snack on the market and explains: "You have the right insights, you know about current trends and innovations, you have the contacts to the Protein Valley in Wageningen. Can you help us make the snack a success?" That's exactly the kind of external request we are trying to initiate. Until now, the variety of methods have not been well known. Great tools being somewhat underutilized in the toolbox because of a lack of awareness that we offer these methods.  The GET team is making sure that our expertise in the area of insights and consulting is even better known and is taking care of expanding the structures for this at isi.


The GET team at work

What does this mean concretely?

Account management is being reorganized. Communication will become more international and strategic. In GET team workshops, we are bringing in external expertise and working out how to proceed. We are training our employees in storytelling so that customers can more easily understand what we have to offer and how they can benefit from us. That requires a lot of creativity. Then we are becoming even more active in international markets, including non-European markets, currently South America, for example, and are also becoming increasingly present in the non-food sector. Another focus for us is start-ups. We have cost-effective, fast and agile tools to enable young companies to enhance the launch of their products on the market.

How are you currently getting the new contacts?

We are pursuing a hybrid communications strategy. That means we are becoming more visible, both online and offline. Our contributions can be found on social media, at conferences and in magazines. But of course, I also bring in new contacts from my large and international network. This often starts with a phone call and a question: "Hey Dag, I need your help. Do you have time?"

And: Do you have time?

Yes. That's the good thing: While I had to go from one appointment to the next in a large corporation, at isi I have the freedom to get new ideas off the ground without jumping over hurdles. For example, we are currently supporting a start-up, Sugar Daddies, which is launching innovative confectionery products such as cookie dough for snacking and mochi ice cream. Our idea is to continue supporting the start-ups even after they have grown up.

For its growth plans, isi needs new employees. What can they expect at isi?

isi has actually hired many new employees recently. Some work remotely in Holland or Colombia, for example. It's also important to us that employees can grow with the company and have the chance to move up to management level. We give young talents the chance to grow personally and work out a concrete development plan with them. Some large corporations only bring in managers from the outside and thus convey to employees that there is no opportunity for them to advance. We tell everyone who works at isi: Show us your talents, and we'll show you how to grow.

One last question: what do you do when you're not working on marketing, innovation and consumer research?

I deal with these topics in my free time as well. I track down new trends and discuss and communicate about them, for example in the podcast So geht Zukunft [How Future Works] or in the trade magazine Planung und Analyse [Planning and Analysis]. But I'm a family man and I prefer to spend my time with my family. Since my move to isi, they now have more time with me. I hope they like it as much as I do (laughs). I can really relax when we set off together in the VW camper and explore new places.

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