Does Entrepreneurship Within a Corporation Really Exist?

Does Entrepreneurship Within a Corporation Really Exist?

Not too long ago, a business professor friend invited me to address a luncheon of university students enrolled in his class on entrepreneurship. I was honored to have been asked, but not sure I was the right person for the task.

“Your students would be better served by a high-tech entrepreneur half my age,” I told him.

“They’ve already heard from entrepreneurs,” he said. “I want you for balance. My class needs a perspective on entrepreneurship within the corporation — if that really exists.

I went in assuming his students believed corporate management and entrepreneurship were principles of contradiction — the only contrarians would be members of the flat earth society. I figured it might be best to tackle the assumption head on by addressing the culture of corporate giants, particularly the “old economy” companies responsible for creating the preconception.

At one time it looked like “clout” and “scale” would prevail as the most powerful forces in business. Corporate giants dominated markets and gobbled up competitors; along the way they failed to cope with rapid change. Their competitive edge eroded because the people at the top, who considered themselves the corporate brain, failed to adapt or innovate. The brain viewed the masses below it as the muscle. The muscle never got to see the big picture. Bureaucracy and stagnation set in. The brain “cut the fat” to shore up profits. But strategic health continued its free-fall.

Eventually, the giants embarked on reinventing themselves by simplifying decision-making and acting with haste. Innovation and entrepreneurship made a comeback, albeit in measured bites. In the meantime, perennial innovators the likes of Apple, FedEx and Amazon extended their leadership over old-guard competitors. Large or small, we have bureaucratic companies, entrepreneurial ones and plenty in between. Innovators drive the marketplace, followers are the passengers and those who refuse to abolish redundancy are roadkill.

My friend’s students saw themselves as entrepreneurial thinkers, yet at graduation, most of them will begin their careers in a corporation. I told them not to worry; corporate life isn’t a death sentence.

“Your job,” I said, “is to choose an organization with a buoyant culture and a leadership team that’s not afraid of change. The change-makers are small- to medium-size enterprises that either lead niche categories or are hell-bent on knocking the big guy from the top rung of a mass market. In those companies you’ll find entrepreneurial thinking.”

When it comes to job hunting, several avenues are open to grads with an entrepreneurial drive. To assist in the selection process, I suggest seven basic search guidelines:

  1. Search for small players or divisions of large players in industries you like.
  2. Lean towards industries on strong growth curves.
  3. Check out the target company’s mission/vision statement. Does it inspire? If it doesn’t, move on.
  4. Research the reputation and the modus operandi of the CEO.
  5. Beware the entrepreneur. Several, such as Trump, still operate by the brain and muscle ethic.
  6. Explore corporations that value diversity.
  7. Don’t resist starting in the sales department. No one is closer to the customer than the front-line sales representative.
John Bell
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John Bell is the author of Do Less Better. The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World. A retired consumer packaged goods CEO and global strategy consultant to so ... Click for full bio

Most Read IRIS Articles of the Week: May 22-26

Most Read IRIS Articles of the Week: May 22-26

Here’s a look at the Top 11 Most Viewed Articles of the Week on IRIS.xyz, May 22-26, 2017 


Click the headline to read the full article.  Enjoy!


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I know Gen Y are stereotyped as being transient, digital natives who are impossible to capture, but that is just the world we live in today. Technology has caused a proliferation of advancements and the financial services industry is (or should be) feeling the pressure ... — Missy Pohlig

2. Factor in a Smarter Approach to ETFs


Combining an alternatively-weighted index with a multi-factor stock screening process can diversify uncompensated risk, potentially leading to less volatility in down markets and an overall smoother experience for investors. But what are factors and why should they be a major consideration for every ETF investor? — J.P. Morgan Asset Management

3.  Don't MAKE the List ... DO the List


There is something gratifying about jotting down all the things you need to do. It quenches one’s thirst for being organized and for wanting some control over one’s life generally complicated by too many things to do with insufficient time and financial resources to do them. — Roy Osing

4. Smart Financial Advice for Those New College Graduates


College graduation is a time of celebration and pride. It’s also a time of significant financial transitions—for new graduates as well as their parents. As an advisor, this is a great opportunity to connect with your NextGen clients to help them make smart decisions that position them for greater financial success throughout their working lives and even into retirement. — Laura McCarron

5. Advisors: Why You Need to Show off Your Bench


Let your prospects see what working with you will be like, including exactly who will be holding their hand along the way. — Paul Kingsman

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7. 2 Things to Take Your Business From Startup Into A Great Business


Want to know how to grow your business fast? Discover here two things that you need to smash in order for you to take your business from startup to a great business. — Stewart Bell​​​​​​​

8. The #1 Marketing Asset Every Financial Advisor Should Hold in the Portfolio


Unlike many other industries, most people in finance confront the reality on a daily basis that a market downturn they have no control over could cast them out onto the street. — Sara Grillo

9. The Gutless Generation: How Risk Aversion Is Inhibiting Millennial Success


One year after I risked everything to launch my own venture, I penned a short article chronicling my journey up to that point. One commenter responded with near-vitriol, wondering how I could be so misguided as to influence – encourage, even – others of my generation to take on extensive levels of risk in order to successfully launch a new business. — Brian Hart

10. Are Your Marketing Priorities Out of Whack?


People are automating hellos and introductions instead of taking 3 seconds to personally do it. Folks are requiring followbacks if they give you one. Everyone believes that ads are the answer. And business owners think they know what’s best for their social channels. — Ahna Hendrix​​​​​​​

11. 10 Steps to Successful Strategic Alliances


Business growth doesn’t come from wishful thinking. As you know, it takes a lot of hard work. The growth of your business is not an option – it is a necessity. Coordinating the right mix of strategies to gain market share and improve client acquisition rates is essential to advance your firm in today’s economy. — Michelle Mosher

Douglas Heikkinen
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IRIS Co-Founder and Producer of Perspective—a personal look at the industry, and notables who share what they’ve learned, regretted, won, lost and what continues ... Click for full bio