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We all know about the famous entrepreneurs of business, like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, etc.
But, with the rise of a new culture of employee-led innovation in companies, we are witnessing a breakthrough of a new persona worth celebrating. These are the employees who innovate within and alongside the structure of a larger organization to bring big ideas to life, the ‘unsung heroes' of innovation. These are Intrapreneurs.
In this article, we shift the spotlight to celebrate 5 examples of successful intrapreneurs, telling their stories and shedding light on these pioneers driving innovation as the business world enters the age of intrapreneurship.
An intrapreneur is an employee who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a new product or service. An intrapreneur brings entrepreneurial thinking and skills to build within the structure of an existing organization.
from The Cambridge Dictionary
Perhaps one of the most iconic intrapreneurs of all time, Richard’s story defies belief.
Having grown up in a labor camp, sharing a one-bedroom apartment with 10 of his family members, Richard dropped out of school at a young age after struggling with his English.
After a string of part-time jobs like washing cars and gardening, Montañez landed himself his first 'real' job as a janitor at the local Frito-Lay Factory at the age of 18.
Richard had never been one to merely blend into the background and this attitude served him well during his time at Frito-Lay.
Montañez brought his fullest self into work every day, making it his personal goal to ensure that every time he entered a room to clean it, he wouldn't leave until it looked immaculate.
Outside of his core duties, Richard spent time learning the ins and outs of the factory, noting down the specific details of the whole process and operation.
Hoping to expand his experience, Richard eventually asked the sales team if he could follow them around and learn their sales process...
Through curiosity and hard work, Richard had unknowingly developed himself into an intrapreneur; with determination and a capacity to think outside the box, he was primed to realize the potential of his intrapreneurial spirit.
So, when Frito-Lay CEO Roger Enrico declared to his 300,000 employees that he wanted them to ‘act like an owner’, Montañez didn’t need telling twice.
Having noticed that Frito-Lay currently had no products on offer that catered to the traditional tastes of the Latino community, Richard had an idea.
At the factory, he decided to ‘act like an owner’ and he called up the CEO on the factory phone to pitch his idea . Enrico, impressed by the janitor’s initiative, agreed to a meeting.
A few months later, Richard’s idea was brought to life as ‘Flamin’ Hot Cheetos’, a multi-billion dollar product that is now America’s favorite snack and Frito-Lay’s most successful ever product.
Richard Montañez went on to become VP of Cultural Sales at Frito-Lay holding company PepsiCo, amassing himself a personal fortune of over 2 million dollars.
If you’d like to hear the full story of Richard Montañez, check out our podcast episode – Ideas that changed the world | Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
You don't need more tools.
You need your tools to do more.
----- Chris Sheen, CMO at Sideways 6 -----
Here's a perfect example of how intrapreneurship can lead to huge benefits on both an individual and company-wide level.
Ken Kutaragi began his career at Sony as an electrical engineer in the sound department at the age of 25.
With the money he'd earned from his new role, Ken bought his daughter a Nintendo games console, but as he watched her play, he was disappointed by the sound quality.
As Sony was not at that time involved in the gaming industry, Ken began working on a side project in which he was a consultant for Nintendo, developing a new chip to improve the sound for Nintendo’s next generation of games consoles.
Did you know?
Ken Kutaragi once tried to settle a debate over the PlayStation's design by arm-wrestling a co-worker.
When Sony senior executives discovered Ken’s project, they threatened to fire him from his position.
Luckily, Sony’s Chief Executive Norio Oghar recognized Ken’s creativity and intrapreneurial mindset, so he supported Ken and encouraged him to pursue his efforts.
Ken worked alongside Nintendo, developing a new CD-ROM-based system for Nintendo.
However, In a strange twist, Nintendo decided against using Ken’s CD-ROM and chose to move forward in a new direction.
Whilst Kutaragi was disappointed, his spirit wasn’t dampened as he turned his focus towards Sony, recognizing the business opportunity that lay before the company to break out into the gaming industry.
Innovation is the unrelenting drive to break the status quo and develop anew where
few have dared to go.
----- Steve Jeffes, Marketing & Business Expert -----
With true intrapreneurial spirit and determination, Ken pushed internally for Sony to develop a new games console.
He faced major pushback from Sony’s senior management, with most of them believing that Sony just “didn’t do gaming”.
Once again, Norio Ogha took a huge gamble and decided to back Kutaragi. Ken was elected to lead Sony’s gaming system project which eventually released the iconic PlayStation in 1995.
Upon its release, the PlayStation took a clear market share of the gaming industry and, by the late 1990s, one in four US households owned a Sony PlayStation product.
By 1998, the Sony PlayStation was providing 40% of Sony Corporation’s profit.
Ken Kutaragi displayed the core principles of intrapreneurship by using his creative thinking to innovate outside the box, to take a chance despite all the ‘Nay-sayers’ who tried to push him back.
Kutaragi’s intrapreneurial spirit propelled him through the ranks of Sony, where he eventually became the Chairman and CEO.
Great things in business are never done by one person. They're done by a
team of people.
----- Steve Jobs -----
A more recent example of a successful intrapreneur comes in the shape of Davide Costello, who was able to unleash his creative potential thanks to Nestlé’s ‘InGenius Intrapreneurs’ program.
InGenius empowers and encourages employees at all levels of the business to contribute their innovative ideas to help improve the business.
Davide was aware that a lot of the time, customers were running out of their Nespresso pods before they had been able to restock, leaving them without any coffee at home.
Davide wanted to come up with a solution that would enable customers to receive pods directly to their doors within two hours of ordering.
It was also important for Davide to take environmental impact into account; he wanted to ensure that whilst delivery would be fast, it would also be green. So, he decided that deliveries should happen via bicycle.
In just eight weeks, Davide’s idea was brought to life, with Nestlé’s Fast & Green service now offering customers a greener way to get their deliveries within two hours of ordering.
When given the structure and means to submit and develop his idea, Davide’s intrapreneurialism flourished, and Nestlé, in turn, benefitted from his innovative thinking.
In 1968, 3M scientist Spencer Silver invented what he hoped would be a super-strong adhesive. Instead, he created a reusable sticky, but not solid, adhesive.
For years, Silver tried to push his invention but faced the issue of having a “solution without a problem”, so his invention went without use.
That was until one of Spencer’s colleagues, Art Fry, was attending a sermon at his Church. Art was frustrated that the piece of paper he used to mark his place in his hymn book would always slip out.
He then had the idea that Silver's resuable adhesive would provide the perfect solution of the temporary placehold he required.
Did you know?
3M produces over 50 billion Post-It Notes each year.
3M at that time had a “permitted bootlegging” policy that enabled employees to dedicate a certain portion of time to develop creative ideas. This sort of policy allows intrapreneurs such as Art Fry to flourish by providing them with time and space to innovate and create.
Art Fry used this policy to develop his idea, which was eventually put into production by 3M.
Today, the Post-It Note is a desk essential for any office (or home desk!), and Art Fry is celebrated for his intrapreneurial spirit in bringing this idea to life.
Another success story from Nestlé’s InGenius Intrapreneurs program comes in the form of Stéphanie Daru and her Soothe ‘N’ Chew product.
Stephanie and her husband, Mathieu Arnaut, had been working together in product development at Nestlé, so had experience in the sort of problems solved by various products.
Stéphanie and Mathieu noticed that their seven-month-old daughter, who had been having pain whilst teething, had been biting her bed frame and other things around the house.
They were conscious of the danger of giving their baby any plastic or non-edible items to chew on. Luckily, they found a solution...
It struck Stéphanie that it would be a great idea to create an all-natural, edible treat for teething babies to chew on to help deal with the pain during the teething process.
Stephanie submitted her idea and before long, it was put into production, launched as ‘Soothe’N’Chew’.
The soft treat is designed as a completely natural product with banana flavoring that soothes babies' gums and helps satisfy the desire to chew without any danger or pain.
Due to the pandemic, Stéphanie was unable to go to the shop to purchase the product herself, but after a few months, some of her colleagues sent her over a box of Soothe’N’Chew which she was then able to use with her new, teething baby - Thomas!
Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.
----- Andrew Carnegie -----
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