Solving business problems through the creative power of the arts: catalyzing change at Unilever

Mary‐Ellen Boyle (Associate professor of management at Clark University. A sociologist with expertise in managing change, she studies social phenomena in which boundaries often blur, such as the arts and business connection. Her publications include The New Schoolhouse: Literacy, Managers, and Belief (Praeger 2001), and articles on organizational aesthetics and university‐community partnerships.)
Edward Ottensmeyer (Dean of the Graduate School of Management at Clark University. His earlier publications focus on strategy implementation processes and on the links between organizations and the arts. In 1995, he organized one of the first international conferences on the aesthetic elements of organizations.)

Journal of Business Strategy

ISSN: 0275-6668

Publication date: 1 October 2005



Business leaders, in increasing numbers, are looking to the creative power of the arts in their efforts to manage strategic change, to enhance innovation, or to strengthen corporate cultures. In this case study, we focus attention on what is widely regarded as one of the world's most extensive corporate arts‐based learning initiatives, the Catalyst program at Unilever.


In a wide‐ranging interview with James Hill, now a group vice‐president and Catalyst's leading executive sponsor, this paper explores the origins, operations, and outcomes of this innovative program.


Finds that Catalyst came about as a result of savvy leadership and a corporate willingness to take risks in developing an “enterprise culture;” it now flourishes in three divisions due to ownership at multiple levels of the organization as well as its ability to stimulate new product development, attract and retain creative people, and boost the company's marketing efforts; and it persists because its starting points are always actual business problems, the solutions to which improve financial performance and shareholder returns.


To management scholars, this case provides an additional data point in the ongoing study of strategy implementation and organizational change. To corporate executives seeking fresh ideas, the Unilever/Catalyst story offers a novel and intuitively appealing approach to the vexing challenges of leading strategic change, told from the perspective of an experienced executive.



Boyle, M. and Ottensmeyer, E. (2005), "Solving business problems through the creative power of the arts: catalyzing change at Unilever", Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 26 No. 5, pp. 14-21.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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