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Sideways 6 - Examples of Intrapreneurship

14 inspiring examples of intrapreneurship and employee ideas in action

True stories which prove that great things happen when companies empower their employees to share ideas and bring them to life.

 

Nobody knows your business better than your employees. Any employee could be holding onto a crown jewel of an idea which, if voiced, has the potential to make a huge, positive impact.

Did you know?

Companies who listen to employees are 21% more profitable than the competition. (Source: Gallup)

At Sideways 6, we know that the benefits of listening to employees are twofold: better companies, happier employees. We've collated these stories as proof of just that!


Sideways 6 - Examples of Intrapreneurship - Swan Matches

1. Swan Vesta – The matchbox millionaire

Ideas can come from anywhere, and some of the best ones are the simplest.

Take this story from enduring brand, Swan. In the early 1900s, a factory worker at Swan Vesta, the match company, went to senior management and told them he had an idea that could save the business millions of pounds in production costs.

He was ignored, with management unbelieving that a lowly factory worker could have ideas of such value. After months of pushing and persuasion, however, the worker managed to get just a few minutes in front of the board, a skeptical audience ready to laugh at his 'million dollar' idea.

The idea? To put the sandpaper strike on only one side of the matchbox rather than both. Revolutionary. 

As any Swan matchbox will now prove, the idea worked, and the business saved millions. Like we said, sometimes the best ideas are strikingly simple!


Sideways 6 - Examples of Intrapreneurship - Cheetos Flamin Hot (1)

2. Frito-Lay – Flamin' Hot! 

Flamin' Hot Cheetos are a favourite snack for people across the globe, but the idea for them came from an unlikely source...

In the mid-1980's, Frito-Lay was going through a difficult time, so CEO Roger Enrico announced a new initiative for all 300,000 employees to "act like an owner".

Richard Montañez had dropped out of school in 4th grade after struggling with his English. At the time of Enrico’s announcement, Montañez was a company janitor earning $4/hour (the most he had ever earnt!) but he didn’t believe there was such a thing as ‘just a janitor’.

 

If you're afraid of looking foolish, you're never going to achieve anything great.

-----  Richard Montañez  -----

Montañez saw Enrico’s announcement as an opportunity… So, he called up the CEO's office and the CEO, impressed by his initiative, agreed to a meeting.

Richard was picking up snacks at his local store when he noticed that there was no product catering to Latinos, so he managed to grab some Cheetos (before they had been dusted in the cheese flavouring), took them home, and covered them in a home-made spice mix.

Richard put the Cheetos with his mix in 100 different baggies, iron sealing each one before hand-drawing a logo onto each individual baggie. He packed them up and brought them with him to his meeting with the Frito-Lay board.

At the board meeting, Enrico and the executives were impressed by Richard’s idea. The CEO said to Richard “Put your mop down, you’re coming with us…”.

Montañez's story has become famous, and is set to be made into a film called 'Flamin' Hot', directed by Eva Longoria! Check out the news report below:

 

Flamin' Hot Cheetos is now one of Frito-Lay's most successful launches ever, and Montañez became a VP of MultiCultural Sales and Community Promotions at PepsiCo, amassing a personal fortune of over $20M!

If you want to hear the story in full, check out our episode of 'The Ideas show', where we tell Richard's story from selling Burritos to his classmates in the third grade, to presenting in front of some of the most highly esteemed executives in the US:

 

Sideways 6 - Examples of Intrapreneurship - McDonalds Happy Meal

3. McDonald's – The happiest meal

Name a more iconic meal in a box than the Happy Meal. We'll wait...

Did you know, however, that this icon actually started as a simple gimmick? In 1977, the St Louis regional manager, Dick Brams, wanted to trial a new meal that was just for kids. He pitched his box-based idea to management, and they  were lovin' it!

 

Two years later, McDonald's rolled out its first Happy Meal. It was circus-themed and very similar to the one we see today.

In the time you've been reading this story, approximately 2,937 have been sold. 3 million Happy Meals are sold every day.

One enduring myth about Happy Meals is that they are just for kids. We can assure you, that's definitely not the case...


 Sideways 6 - Examples of Intrapreneurship - Amazon Prime (1)

4. Amazon – Optimum Prime

What better place to head next than with the highest grossing employee idea of all time?

Part of Amazon's core identity - 'Prime' - is actually the product of intrapreneurship within the ranks of Amazon's employees.

Amazon had an offer of ‘Super-Saver Shipping’ for customers, but this just wasn’t having the desired effect and Amazon saw themselves falling behind their internet rivals eBay.

A team of Amazon employees, led by former Amazon VP Greg Greeley, formulated the 'Prime' idea, believing that customers would pay more to be part of an ‘exclusive’ membership that gave them two-day delivery.

Here's what Greg had to say on The Ideas Show Podcast about Amazon's passionate culture for listening to and generating new ideas from their employees:

 

Independently, employees across the business were expressing the intrapreneurial spirit that Bezos and Amazon encouraged, with an Amazon engineer Charlie Ward submitting his idea to offer exclusive shipping as part of an annual membership, to the Amazon digital employee suggestion box.

Back then, 2-day shipping was seen as something of an 'indulgence', and Bezos seized upon the initiative. Bezos invited a load of Amazon employees to his Seattle boathouse wherein they announced Prime, and work to launch began.

Prime now generates over $19 billion per year on subscriptions alone and 1 in 3 Americans has a Prime membership. Not bad for a simple idea!

Podcast | The Amazon Prime Story

Want to hear more about the incredible story of Amazon Prime? Listen to our special episode of 'The Ideas Show' podcast now online and on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Spotify


Sideways 6 intrapreneurship examples - Southwest Airlines

5. Southwest Airlines – Mile high humor

If you've heard one flight safety announcement, you've heard them all. That is, unless you fly Southwest Airlines.

Tired of passengers ignoring her all-too-familiar safety announcement monologue, flight attendant Martha 'Marty' Cobbs decided to ad-lib a few lines of her own.

 

Put the oxygen mask on yourself first, and then place it on your child. If you're traveling with more than one child, start with the one with the greatest earning potential.

-----  Marty Cobbs  -----

The cabin started taking notice and, as Mary continued, was soon in hysterics.

'In the event you haven't been in an automobile since 1960, our flight attendants will now show you how to fasten a seatbelt.'

Marty rapidly achieved YouTube fame with passengers sharing recordings of her announcements. It wasn't long before management noticed, too, and they loved it so much they encouraged staff to embrace the same humor across their fleet.

 

Our attendants are encouraged to make safety briefings engaging through the use of humor, song, or other individual twists.

-----  Elise May, Southwest Airlines  -----

It's estimated that Southwest Airlines' safety announcements are worth $140m a year in increased customer loyalty. That's no joke.


Sideways 6 - Examples of Intrapreneurship - Starbucks

6. Starbucks – A tall order

Sometimes, an idea becomes so embedded in our culture, we simply take it for granted.

Founded in Seattle back in 1971, Starbucks went on a mission to become its customers' 'third place' to go – a relaxing and comfortable environment in between work and home. This mission was founded on selling not just coffee, but a unique customer experience.

In 2011, when one smart barista decided to add to that experience by writing the names of customers on cups, it quickly got back to head office.

Months later, this 'first-name basis' approach became standard at every single Starbucks store. The company even produced a televised ad to promote its new personal approach.

 

From now on we won't refer to you as a tall latte or a mocha, but as your folks intended – by your name. It's only a little thing. We're Starbucks. Nice to meet you.

-----  Starbucks  -----

Today, this 'little thing' happens four billion times a year at almost 30,000 locations worldwide. Not a bad way to perk up the daily grind!


 


Sideways 6 - Examples of Intrapreneurship - Sony Playstation

7. Sony – Persistence plays

The Sony PlayStation has become a global phenomenon, but it was a project facing much resistance at first.

In the late 1980s, Sony junior staff member Ken Kutaragi, a self-proclaimed 'tinkerer', created a chip to make his daughter's Nintendo more powerful and provide a better gaming experience.

He went to his bosses with the idea of creating a new console for Sony, but he hit a wall. Sony just didn't 'do gaming', and many believed the industry was just a fad.

Refusing to give up, Kutaragi reached Sony's CEO, Norio Ohga. Increasingly aware of the value of the gaming industry, Ohga kicked off a joint venture with Nintendo. Licensing disagreements meant that the partnership eventually faded, but Sony continued to develop their own console – the PlayStation.

 

I wanted to prove that even regular company employees could build something big.

-----  Ken Kutaragi  -----

The PlayStation launched in 1994 and has sold over half a billion units since. Kutaragi went on to become Chairman and CEO at Sony, and no one at Sony questions the credibility of the gaming industry anymore.


Sideways 6 - Examples of Intrapreneurship - 3M Post-It Note

8. 3M – Made to stick

Next up, the simple and effective Post-it Note – a key part of any office worker's arsenal.

Despite what popular culture will have you believe, this invention was not the crowning glory of Romy and Michelle, but was a legendary example of employee ideas.

3M scientist Spencer Silver's invention – a sticky, but not solid, adhesive – went without use for years until Art Fry, a fellow 3M employee, needed a bookmark that would stick without damaging the pages.

Partnering with Silver, they began developing the product, realizing their potential to hold messages and communicate around the office. Fry supplied the entire company with the new notes, and they were universally loved!

 

I thought, what we have here isn't just a bookmark. It's a whole new way to communicate.

-----  Art Fry  -----

Post-it Notes now generate some $1bn annually. That's what we call sticky business!


Sideways 6 - Examples of Intrapreneurship - Amazon

9. Amazon – One convenient click

The only company on the list twice... It's testament to the culture of idea sharing that Amazon encourages!

If you're one of the more than 250 million people that visits Amazon's website every day, then you'll have noticed the enticing 'buy with 1-click' button.

Amazon programmer Peri Hartman wanted to find a way to 'make the ordering system completely frictionless', and so he built the software to enable 1-click purchases. It worked, and was patented by Amazon in 1997.

 

When we write the history of e-commerce, the 1-Click patent allowed Amazon to create a very strong position in the market.

-----  R Polk Wagner  -----

Not only did this innovation provide Amazon with a huge competitor advantage, it also provided a new revenue stream as it licensed the technology to other companies (including Apple!). 

How many times have you impulsively bought a new album on iTunes or a new book for your Kindle without even a second thought? Instant purchase drives orders. 

By the time the patent expired in 2017, Amazon's turnover was $177bn. Not a bad head start...


Sideways 6 - Examples of Intrapreneurship - Ford

 

10. Ford – On-the-go H2O

Since releasing its breakthrough Model T way back in 1908, Ford motor company has come a long way.

While much of its initial success was in thanks to pioneering mass production techniques, it's banking much of its future on scaling innovation. And, importantly, it's looking to employees for these ideas.

Ford employees share over 3,500 innovations every year, the majority of which aren't from the R&D department. One such idea came from Doug Martin, whose inspiration came as he noticed a few drops of condensation dripping from his car.

Doug began working on a prototype that turned condensation from the car's air conditioning into drinkable water.

Incredibly, Martin found a single vehicle can produce more than 64 ounces of water an hour – that's about four bottle's worth. The water is filtered and channeled to a tap which sits by the gearbox.

 

We believe in driving innovation from all parts of our business.

-----  Raj Nair, CTO at Ford Motors  -----

Ford believes the innovation has the potential to help water scarcity in developing nations and encourage consumers to buy less plastic bottles. Water wonderful idea!


Sideways 6 - Examples of Intrapreneurship - iPhone Unlock (1)

11. Apple - Swipe to Unlock

Many of you won’t remember a time when simply looking at your phone wasn’t enough to unlock it, however, long ago, unlocking your phone was a long(er) process! ​

 ​

That was until Freddy Anzures, an Apple employee working on the development of the first ever iPhone, needed to go to the bathroom during a flight. ​

 

Freddy and his colleague, Imran Chaudhri, had been working on solving the issue of accidental phone calls aka, ‘The Butt Dial’ (we’ve all been there!).

 ​

When locking the bathroom door of the airplane toilet, Freddy had a sudden ‘Eureka’ moment. He was struck by how easy it was to lock and unlock the door, you simply had to swipe, nothing else. 

 

Teaming up with a group of engineers at Apple, Freddy's idea led to one of the key features of the revolutionary iPhone.

 

 

Freddy used an old recording of his high school combination lock as the universal sound of unlocking the iPhone.

 ​

Sometimes, all it takes is an idea to 'unlock' a whole world of potential. 

 


Sideways 6 - Examples of Intrapreneurship - LEGOLAND (1)

12. LEGO - Right on Queue

We’ve all experienced the frustration when waiting in long queues. Some of us have even experienced the trauma of waiting with tired, hungry, impatient children…

This was an issue at LEGOLAND, with parents and children having to wait in line for a long time before they could go on a ride, resulting in some major temper tantrums.

One frontline LEGOLAND employee felt sympathy for these parents and decided to do something about it.

Putting forward his idea to place tables with LEGO pieces in the centre of these lines, this employee managed to make life easier for both parents and LEGOLAND employees alike.

Children could play safely whilst their parents could wait in line and enjoy some peace whilst their children were distracted.

Examples of Intrapreneurship - Legoland Queues Play Feature

This idea completely changed the customer experience at LEGOLAND, and it all came from a frontline employee who had been living with this problem every day.

The leadership team had never even considered this as they’d never been there to witness the problem.

Well, it looks like LEGO are building the blocks of a better future, one idea at a time.


Sideways 6 - Examples of Intrapreneurship - Vueling (1)

13. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines - Flying High 

Southwest Airlines legend, Herb Kelleher, set the standard in the airline industry for driving progress through employee ideas, with the notable Southwest idea to reduce turnaround times for flights. That was until 2012, when Dutch Airline KLM had been thinking about how they could reduce turnaround times for their aircraft.

After lots of internal pushback due to lack of financial resources, the problem landed on Simone Van Neerven's desk; Simone said, “Let’s do this!” and formed a team to deal with the issue.

Simone’s team worked daily on the company’s smallest fleet, working around the processes attempting to figure out ways to reduce the turnaround times. The Team ensured that each person involved in this process was represented, from cleaner, to purser, to pilot, to baggage handler, everyone was involved (except management that is!)

 

We were able to reduce the turnaround time of the Embraer 190, resulting in millions of cost reductions.

-----  Simone Van Neerven  -----

During a week-long cooker-pressure session, the team came together and, after some intensive work, developed 14 different action plans that could be implemented within 3-6 months. The team was able to reduce turnaround times from 50 – 35 minutes, without a single penny of investment!

KLM COO at the time, Pieter Elbers (now CEO), was so impressed by the results of the pressure-cooker, that he acted as an internal ambassador for the project, and ensured it was implemented by dealing with any ‘blockers’ that the project encountered.

The success of this idea instigated a financial transformation of KLM’s Europe Network which had been, up until this point, operating with losses, and before long, KLM was ‘flying high’ once again.

 


 

Sideways 6 - Examples of Intrapreneurship - Xerox (1)

14. Xerox - Going Green 

In 2010, Xerox had been looking at how they could become a greener company, so they decided to turn to their employees for solutions.

The printing suppliers wanted to encourage a company-wide focus on becoming more sustainable, so they announced the 'Earth Awards' program, challenging employees to think up innovative solutions towards saving company resources whilst benefitting the environment.

Xerox employees collaborated and innovated around new ideas, helping their company to save $10.2 million as well as eliminating 2.6 million pounds of waste. ​

Some of the standout ideas include packaging for coloured ink created from 100% post-consumer recycled material and altering the rate at which ink was printed onto paper. ​

 

XEROX-Showroom-Event_Xerox-Innovation-Centre-Logo-600x400

 Xerox continue to encourage their employees to ‘think green’ and share any ideas they have that can help Xerox continue to work towards becoming a more sustainable business!

 


Have we missed your favorite employee idea? Drop us a line at hello@sideways6.com and we'd be delighted to add it to the list. 


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