How we delivered on 15 by 20

ROS and ROI progress (graphic)

Since 2017, we’ve been keeping a laser-sharp focus on our Winning together: 15 by 20 ambition and the promises we made during what can only be described as turbulent times for the company. We had bold aspirations and few people believed it was possible to achieve them.

Before looking at how the milestone was achieved, it’s worth reflecting on where Winning together: 15 by 20 came from. Prior to 2015, AkzoNobel was at the bottom of the pack when benchmarking profitability versus peers. And while we managed to make our way up into the middle, some players were still ahead of us by a significant distance. Our 15 by 20 financial ambition was all about closing that gap.

Creating two focused companies was clearly the most logical step. We therefore separated our Specialty Chemicals business within 12 months, as planned, and returned €6.5 billion proceeds to shareholders before the end of 2019, as promised. Which saw us become a truly focused paints and coatings company.

We took a conscious decision to scale down revenue growth aspirations and focus solely on . This would improve the quality of the business – shedding some structurally unprofitable volumes – while recognizing the relatively slow growth rate in end markets.

Our single-minded focus on profitability created a clear and simple message for the whole organization, which meant decisions became much simpler to make – do whatever action results in the largest increase in ROS, while respecting our core values of safety, integrity and sustainability. It became a mantra. Winning together: 15 by 20 relied on a significant amount of self-help, improving systems and processes to create a stronger foundation for the future, with no support from end markets.

So we were well prepared for the final phase of the 15 by 20 journey, when COVID-19 forced us to pause key parts of our transformation and suspend our 2020 financial ambition. We focused on taking care of our employees while protecting our business, minimizing all discretionary costs and carefully managing cash and working capital. The significant market disruption meant we occasionally had challenges in keeping up with rapid changes in demand. We took all reasonable steps to maintain business operations and continue serving customers. The actions taken, together with our strong balance sheet, provided a solid platform for us to resume key parts of the transformation during the second half of 2020.

Our strict focus has paid off, delivering a step-change in performance in just a few short years. ROS (excluding unallocated cost) increased from 10.6% in 2017 to 15.0% in 2020. At the same time, we continued to advance in other areas, such as our industry-leading Paint the Future innovation ecosystem and our People. Planet. Paint. approach to sustainable business.

By the end of 2020, we’d reached a significant milestone. We’ve reignited our passion for paint, caught up with the leading paints and coatings players and are well on our way to becoming the frontrunner in the industry – and we’re just half-way through our transformation.

Beyond 2020, our focus will now shift to growth and profitability improvement, guided by our Grow & Deliver strategy. Ultimately, our goal is to be an industry leader in both size and performance.

Return on sales (ROS)1 in %

Return on sales (ROS) (bar chart)

1 Excluding unallocated corporate center cost; assumes no significant market disruption.

Return on investment (ROI)2 in %

Return on investment (ROI) (bar chart)

2 Excluding unallocated corporate center cost and ; assumes no significant market disruption.

3 Our original 25% ambition was adjusted to 20% in 2020 as a result of lower growth assumptions and the implementation of IFRS 16 on leases.

ROS (return on sales)

ROS is adjusted operating income as a percentage of revenue. ROS excluding unallocated cost is adjusted operating income as a percentage of revenue for Decorative Paints and Performance Coatings. It excludes unallocated corporate center cost.

ROS (return on sales)

January 2020 - December 2020


in €millions



Total revenue



Less: revenue unallocated



Revenue excluding unallocated revenue






Adjusted operating income excluding unallocated cost






ROS% excluding unallocated cost



Invested capital

Total assets (excluding cash and cash equivalents, short-term investments, investments in associates, the receivable from pension funds in an asset position, assets held for sale) less current income tax payable, deferred tax liabilities and trade and other payables.