Intrapreneurs: The New Corporate Players
by Joyce Lain Kennedy


    Chicago Sun-Times

    January 26, 1986

Intrapreneur is a coined word describing a new breed in corporate America, a person who runs what amounts to a separate, trimmed-down business within a larger company.


While a corporation's main business might be the manufacture of steel, it could operate an intrapreneurial division that turns out ski boots. Its ski-boot employees are physically removed from the parent company, are paid on a higher scale and are exempt from many of the constraining company rules.


The term intrapreneur was suggested in 1979 by Gifford Pinchott III to explain that the way to combine the advantages of small firms with those of big ones is through intracorporate entrepreneurship. In an economy of change, large corporations are like muscle-bound Goliaths who can't react quickly enough to seize late-breaking opportunities. By contrast, entrepreneurs are wiry and flexible Davids whose lightning-fast capacity for movement enables them to succeed.


When the pace of change is rapid, the need for new products and services can emerge, mature and be replaced very quickly. A growing number of giant corporations, recognizing that they are too layered, too averse to risk and too set in bureaucratic ways to compete in our fast-forward economy are experimenting with intrapreneurial ventures. A few examples: Through its Unison subsidiary, Safeguard Scientific creates independent corporations, such as Novelle, a manufacturer of microcomputer networks. Pacific Telesis, created by the AT&T divestiture, publishes not only telephone directories, but hotel and buying guides as well. At Levi Strauss, the separate business Fashion Portfolio Inc. will focus on the trendy fashion industry.


Intrapreneurs are mavericks in a restrictive corporate world. They are more interested in the success of their venture than in sacrificing resources they need for the good of the corporate whole. Winning is everything and a true intrapreneur - like a true entrepreneur - will pull out all the stops to make it happen, greater corporate good or no.


How can you find a job taking risks on somebody else's payroll? More than likely, you'll have to create it yourself. Don't expect to find job openings listed for intrapreneurs. So how do you find the right company culture in which to scout up an intrapreneurial job? The basic answer is research - interview people who work for the company, perhaps using contacts from your college alumni.


Arthur Young & Co., one of the Big Eight accounting firms, with offices across the country, is active in consulting on intrapreneurial programs; the firm's field offices may know of intrapreneurial ventures that have staffing needs.


As a further check to a company's receptability to an intrapreneurial proposal, ask probing questions at your job interview. Here are several suggested by Gifford Pinchot III and Dr. Beverly A. Potter: What company resources (discretionary time, vendors, technology, funds) will be available for developing new ideas? What is rewarded at this company? What has happened when someone tried something new? How entrepreneurial is this company?


Pinchot is the author of Intrapreneuring (Harper & Row) and Potter is the author of The Way of the Ronin (Amacom).


Intrapreneuring may prove to be a popular way for the big and strong to team up with the small and smart.