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[Review] Corporate Entrepreneurship


How do companies like 3M, Apple, Google, Xerox, Siemens and Grameen Bank continually generate game changing products and services? What can large organizations do to retain talent while building innovative cultures?

The answer? “Corporate Entrepreneurship: How to Create a Thriving Entrepreneurial Spirit Throughout Your Company“, which is also the title of a book by Thunderbird School of Global Management’s Robert D Hisrich and Claudine Kearney.  Subtitled How to Create a Thriving Entrepreneurial Spirit Throughout Your Company, the rather academically written volume is divided into three parts: Managing, Organizing, and Operationalizing Corporate Entrepreneurship.

In the first part, the book goes rather heavily into the theoretical basis of corporate entrepreneurship.  One is taught about the differences and similarities between private, corporate and social entrepreneurship, behavioral dimensions (innovation, risk taking, and corporate flexibility is key), the entrepreneurial process itself, and how opportunities could be identified, evaluated and selected. A nifty formula is also proposed, ie:

L = I + O + C2 (where L is the Level of Corporate Entrepreneurship, I is Innovation, O is Ownership, and the two Cs for Creativity and Change)

The next part covers organizational aspects of such an endeavor and includes culture, structures, and management control. One is taught about core ideologies (mission, vision, core values), compensation and benefits, recruitment, training, decision making, teamwork and other related management areas.

A useful chapter on Internal Politics rounds off this part, with strategies and tactics aimed at getting corporate entrepreneurs to gain more traction internally while navigating political minefields.  Some of these lessons include:

– Gaining senior management support;
– Educating everybody about the benefits of the new venture by ensuring that research has been carried out and accurate information provided;
– Communicating with all those affected by the venture;
– Enlisting participation from individuals who are innovative and creative;
– Creating opportunities for people to demonstrate their kills and competence;
– Building support networks inside and outside the organization (the all important allies, who should preferably be heavy weights).

Perhaps the most useful portion of the 300 odd page “academic textbook” – it kind of reads that way, honestly – is the final part which tackles the nuts and bolts of corporate entrepreneurship. Here, we’re taught the importance of a business plan, the selection and incentivization of corporate entrepreneurs and their team mates, how such ventures can be funded, as well as guidelines on implementing such a program on an enduring basis.

Adopting a descriptive writing style, Hisrich and Kearney’s book is useful as a first point of reference for newbie corporate entrepreneurs or organizations wanting to leapfrog into new product, system, or organizational ventures. Unlike many of today’s business books, there isn’t any heavy preaching going on here.

Think of it as a corporate buffet line where one needs to exercise judgement and wisdom in picking and choosing the right course of action amongst a multitude of options.

While many of the lessons on business and organizational strategy isn’t new to anybody with an MBA, I found the case studies in each chapter particularly enlightening. For example, do you know that American Greetings Corporation, the largest publicly traded greeting card company in the world, actually started Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears as a result of corporate venturing? Or that Apple adopts a business plan approach in launching new ventures where a laid back and horizontal culture (yes, its not just Steve’s way all the time) helps to spur new innovations?

Overall, “Corporate Entrepreneurship” provides a useful basic text for companies wanting to venture outside their traditional boundaries for the next killer idea. By covering a wide range of topics in breadth rather than depth, it is clear that this serves more as a primer – a corporate checklist if you may – for organizations wanting to increase their innovation quotient while leveraging the potential of their brightest and best in new ventures.