The Job Coaches: Insightful companies need intrapreneurs

Dorothy Perrin MooreToday’s most successful careers are molded and developed by people who have a

personal vision of how all the parts might fit together and develop a path. They may become an entrepreneur by establishing a new firm. They may remain inside an organization and by creating something new become an intrapreneur.

Jennet Robinson Alterman, executive director of the Center for Women, is an example of a public sector, nonprofit intrapreneur who shepherded a service concept for women, inspired and developed the projects and initiatives, sponsored creative ideas and reached out to a current membership of more than 1,000 women in the tri-county area and across the state. Someone similar in a different kind of organization would be a “social entrepreneur.”

Insightful companies evolve from entrepreneurial ideas, and after a while policies and procedures may become restrictive. At this point, they need intrapreneurs on board to cultivate and develop new concepts. This requires firms to provide intrapreneurs with the trust and freedom they need to reinvent, transform, and push them up to new heights. These paths also challenge the status quo and seldom fit neatly into the embedded organizational culture. It is easy for a company to continue to follow the once-innovative business models conceived by their entrepreneurs, but which are now outdated.

The paradox in the business model: Firms need intrapreneurs. But creative implementers, the mavericks with intrapreneurial streaks, exhibit traits that may not be compatible with the status quo and viewed as creating turbulence. In static firms, would-be intrapreneurs end up not asking for permission to implement their initiatives because experience has taught them that any creative ideas will be zapped before they can get off the drawing board.

One intrapreneur/entrepreneur who transitioned many times is Marjorie Alfus. In “Careerpreneurs, Lessons From Leading Women Entrepreneurs,” I noted that she not only solves complicated problems in a creative way but also breaks out of career walls, a person who “knows an opportunity when they see it, one who is not bound by tradition, procedures or job descriptions,” someone who “works when and where there’s a need, rather than according to schedules and deadlines,” one who “cares less about why things happen but is interested in making things happen,” one who is “easily bored and infinitely curious, marches to the tune of a different drummer, thrives on chaos, and at times creates a little discord here and there to keep entertained.”

A few tidbits from her voluminous Maverick approach: Determined to have both a family and a career, she earned a Master of Science degree in biochemistry at 18, completed a stint as a fellow in pediatrics at NYU’s Bellevue Hospital. Then she wrote popular science shows for television, hosted and produced women’s daytime fashion and beauty shows for television, and joined her husband in running his leather sportswear design and manufacturing business in Italy.

She next created a high-fashion knitwear operation in the mountains north of Venice. This first of her many Italian factories consisted of two machines in a loft. There she learned three important rules of business: “How to drink Grappa and speak Italian; How to stay warm (it’s always colder when you are struggling); and the knit business, the hard way.”

In Marjorie’s own words, “I am sure I ran into roadblocks along the way but I kicked them down.” When I met her, she had just created “Golfers Gizmo” on the Internet and through the Marjorie Alfus/Committee of 200 Fund at Harvard Business School, had been instrumental in creating the first business cases featuring women. Most recently, at age 82, she developed and launched a nine-month online certification program in patient advocacy at the University of Miami.

Is there a strategy to identify intrapreneurial or entrepreneurial moments in your career?

Are you an intrapreneur? In your organization, do you create and initiate something new that adds value or capacity?

Are you a corporate climber? Are you most comfortable when people follow the manual, the SOPs? Do you feel you are on a fast-career track when you follow all the organizational prescribed guidelines and please your boss? Are you particularly skilled at “managing up?”

Are you entrepreneurial intentionally? Do you have an idea, product or service and have always wanted to own a business?

Are you a latent entrepreneur? Have you been seriously thinking, planning and mapping out a business ownership strategy?

Have you been working toward entrepreneurship all along? Are you self-reliant, independent, motivated, innovative — driven to accomplish goals, but delayed by life or economic circumstances?

Are you a Copreneur? Do you and your spouse operate a business together with equal ownership and opportunities?

A family firm owner? Will you inherit or take over a business, develop new concepts and ideas, advance strategies created by your family with new innovative initiatives and technology?

Dorothy Perrin Moore, Ph.D., is professor emerita of business and entrepreneurship at The Citadel.

The Job Coaches are experienced volunteers from the Center for Women’s Job Counseling Program. Ask them a question by calling 843-763-7333 or e-mailing info@c4women.org. If you would like further assistance, make an appointment; a donation of $20 is requested for appointments.

First appeared in the Moxie section of The Post and Courier Friday, April 23, 2010.

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