Let’s start with a definition: an intrapreneur is a social innovator within a company. But stories always convey more than definitions. The story of Gib Bulloch, a world-renowned and award-winning innovator, talks about his fifteen-year effort to create and scale up Accenture Development Partnerships – Accenture’s global consulting business that has earned the company several international awards for corporate social responsibility and for which Gib has received the title of the UK’s Management Consultant. You can listen to this inspirational story from Gib himself if you come to the Old Market Hall on 12 November.
Is there anything like a typical intrapreneur?
No. I believe that intrapreneurship comes in a wide variety of different personas and is relevant to all levels, genders and roles within an organisation. There are many inspiring examples of intrapreneurship that I can think of – all are very different types of individual. M-PESA, the concept that sparked a mobile money revolution, was the bright idea of a middle manager in Vodafone called Nick Hughes. Nick’s brainwave came about after seeing how Kenyans were sharing airtime minutes as an alternative currency in transactions in local markets. Unilever’s Myriam Sidibe dreamt up the title of Social Mission Director of Lifebuoy soap and is on a mission to touch one billion lives through hand washing and behaviour change around hygiene.
What these individuals have in common is a stubborn determination and passion to pursue their innovative idea and will stop at nothing until it happens.
What was your personal journey as an intrapreneur?
I hadn’t set out to have a career of purpose or to “do good” in my career. I wanted a life in the fast lane, drive a fast car and to make lots of money.
After many years working in the corporate world in London, my career ‘epiphany’ came from a year’s sabbatical as a business volunteer with the charity Voluntary Service Overseas in the Balkans in 2000. On my return in 2001, I founded what I’d now describe as a corporate social enterprise, Accenture Development Partnerships. It has an unusual “not-for-loss” business model which allowed Accenture to offer its business and technology expertise to organisations in parts of the world with greatest need and least access to such skills. ADP attracted significant media attention and we won Accenture international awards for Corporate Social Responsibility. But success came at a price when I found myself in hospital in late 2014 suffering from a burnout – the victim of what I term the corporate immune system.
I’m now more focussed on supporting the movement and coaching individual intrapreneurs to help them navigate the challenges of the system.
What intrapreneurship brings to company?
I strongly believe that the biggest challenges we face in the world – how we feed and nourish the next billion on the planet, provide them with access to education, healthcare, clean energy and so on, are actually business opportunities in disguise. In the past, these were probably seen as the domain of the Corporate Social Responsibility department or for corporate philanthropy. Certainly nothing to do with the main ‘core’ business – the day job if you like. Intrapreneurs hold the key to tapping into these new opportunities through their creativity, innovation and determination.
How to start? How to identify active people within the company and give them opportunity to come up with ideas?
This is my favourite topic of the moment. I think this will require a fundamental rethink of corporate incentive mechanisms and performance management processes. Corporates should incentivise behaviours, new mindsets, a willingness to fail and be vulnerable as opposed to just managing by rigid annual objectives.
I’m in the process of creating a business decelerator in Scotland that will hopefully awaken a whole new generation of corporate changemaker to the power of intrapreneurship. The curriculum will tap into the creative power of art, music, improv comedy and nature to get employees to re-imagine the corporate sector. After all, if you want to think out of the box, then it might mean living out of the box for a while. I believe that most companies will have many Elon Musk type individuals in their midst, just waiting to be empowered. That’s the focus of the business decelerator which we’ll pilot in November this year.
Most corporations fail to achieve innovations that have both business and societal payoffs. What could help them?
I don’t see purpose and profit as mutually exclusive from one another. That’s a false dichotomy. New technologies are fundamentally redefining where business can play a role and where we can make money while at the same time benefiting society. Corporations need to redefine their core metrics of success and the announcement by the US Business Roundtable that they’re going to move apart from their long-term singular focus on shareholder value is a step in the right direction.
A robust business case might not just be about what the headline profit is. Long-term value creation matters just as much as short-term profit maximisation. I believe the younger generation of business professionals have the opportunity to reimagine business as it could and should be – quite different from how it is today.