Confessions of a corporate insurgent

Today, over half of the largest economies in the world are global businesses – controlled by the few, and impacting the many. Business clearly has the power to change the world – but what if we, as individuals, had the power to change the world of business?

Gib Bulloch spent the much of his 20-year career at Accenture, founding and scaling Accenture Development Partnerships, a corporate social enterprise hosted within the firm. Anna Lindberg caught up with him in advance of a visit to Australia to talk about his new book, The Intrapreneur: Confessions of a corporate insurgent.

Anna Lindberg: You talk of the power of individuals to change the direction of businesses, what’s the most inspiring example you can think of?

Gib Bulloch: There are many, many inspiring examples of intrapreneurship that I can think of. M-PESA, the concept that sparked a mobile money revolution, was not dreamt up in the boardroom but 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. The rest, as they say, is history – and today more than 70% of the GDP of Kenya goes through this platform. That’s pretty inspiring. Unilever’s Myriam Sidibe dreamt-up the title of ‘Social Mission Director of Lifebuoy soap’, and is now on a mission to touch one billion lives through hand washing and hygiene behaviour change. Would Nike have created the N7 range of training shoes if Sam McCracken, a Native American Indian, hadn’t been driven by a deep desire to benefit his community through business?

That said, I strongly believe that the most inspiring examples may in fact be the ones we’ve never heard of, or the ones that are still the kernel of an idea inside an intrapreneur’s head. Perhaps someone at Deloitte Australia?

AL: What’s the one lesson you wish you’d learned earlier?

GB: My team and I learned many important lessons along the way. Indeed, I believe we can draw the greatest learning opportunities from our mistakes. It wasn’t until I left Accenture that I discovered that the real impact of our work may not have been the traditional metrics I’d been chasing – the number of projects, the number of participants, the financials and so on – but instead the profound change made to the mindset of an entire generation of Accenture employees. The lesson – challenge traditional notions of success, which in turn will focus effort towards what’s really important.

AL: How can we make purpose as an important a driver as profit?

GB: I don’t see purpose and profit as mutually exclusive from one another. That’s a false dichotomy. 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 ‘core’ of the business – the day job if you like. New technologies are fundamentally redefining where business can play a role and where we can make money, while at the same time benefiting society.

AL: What are the best examples of purpose leading profit, at the scale of large corporates?

GB: Corporations such as Patagonia and Unilever, with their Sustainable Living Plan, are well-known examples. I also think the French company Danone is one to watch as it’s trying to register its entire business as a B-Corporation. Impressive stuff. But I’ll be the first to admit that, as yet, there are not enough good examples.

AL: What are your top 3 messages for the ‘average’ employee in a corporate environment?

GB: Firstly, finding meaning is just as important as money. Working for an organisation or in a role that allows you to do something you truly believe in is far more rewarding than just a fatter pay cheque.

Secondly, if you have an idea that you’re passionate about but you’re concerned – that others may not understand, or that it might affect your career – my advice is to cross the threshold of fear. Take the plunge and you may find doors open that you thought would remain closed.

Lastly, surround yourself with good people – people who complement your skills and who are perhaps different in their approach to business. Intrapreneurship is definitely a team sport, and diversity is a critical success factor.

AL: What can/should each of us do to make a tangible difference?

GB: We can all challenge the traditional narratives and our belief systems when it comes to success in business. These beliefs are programmed into us through business education such as the MBA or even in TV shows such as Dragon’s Den or the Apprentice. 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 in organisations like Deloitte have the opportunity to reimagine business as it could and should be – quite different from how it is today.

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