Are you an Intrapreneur? : Take our four-point test

 Originally appeared at 

By Jerry Davis and Christopher J. White 

How is an intrapreneur different from an entrepreneur?  In a corporate setting, the ‘ventures’ they lead are not always products or services, but could be other kinds of initiatives that advance organizational objectives while having social or environmental benefits. These come in many shapes or sizes. Intrapreneurs have a wider field of vision than most people when it comes to opportunities for social or environmental impact.  We have found it useful to think of this in terms of four Ps: Products, Practices, People, and Public.

Products (and Services).  Intrapreneurs see opportunities where others do not. For example, while often viewed as slow, burdened by mountains of regulation, regional utility companies such as Pacific Gas and Electricity and DTE Energy offer interesting opportunities for intrapreneurs.

Here is one example. Every winter, thousands of Americans die from exposure to cold weather. This is not just among the homeless population either. Without money to pay for gas and electricity to heat their buildings, many poor and elderly people do not make it through the winter. In utility companies, efforts are being made to address this. Creative payment plans allow customers to pre-pay for their winter energy, the same way some of us do for our cell phone plans. This reduces the risk of power being shut off at the time when they most need it.

Practices.  Intrapreneurs know that small things can make a big difference when done at scale. For example, if you work for a company with tens of thousands of employees, just think how much expense and environmental damage you would prevent by switching from bottled water to tap water – even after making the investment to buy everyone a canteen. Such seemingly small changes are not as attention grabbing as a new product or service. Nor are they always easy – some people are surprisingly attached to bottled water! But millions of dollars and much landfill can be saved with a quiet reset of default settings such as whether bottled water is readily available.

People.  Intrapreneurs know that treating people well can be a competitive advantage too. Cascade Engineering is not your typical Midwest manufacturing firm. “When I started the company nearly 40 years ago, there was a real deep desire to demonstrate something about how a company could be successful and be good with and for people at the same time,” says Founder and CEO Fred Keller. Since then, Cascade has walked the talk, and Keller’s desire to make a difference has permeated the company. As such, it is only natural that the company’s Emerging Leaders Program has begun as a grassroots effort to develop the next generation of Kellers. Mercedes Barrigan, a junior member of the marketing team, has set her goals on helping this Grand Rapids, MI, based company to attract and retain top talent that is steeped in the Cascade values and leadership ethics.

Public. Intrapreneurs think of all those affected by decisions. Sometimes, decisions must be made regarding limited resources. Manufacturing facilities in India offer such a situation. Water is needed to make most of our products; water is also needed to sustain human life. When water is scarce, how, when and by whom do decisions get made in an ethical manner that considers the interests of all stakeholders?

Dave Berdish of Ford Motor Company is no stranger to this kind of decision. Having played a lead role in the development of a Code of Human Rights at Ford, Dave continues to work with leaders inside and outside the company to create solutions that respect the communities in which Ford operates. Creating and implementing policies such as these change the decision-making framework of the company – the rules of the game – and can have a lasting positive impact.

By looking for social innovations in these four areas, intrapreneurs are able to identify more opportunities for impact. This allows them to narrow in on the best ideas, and choose to move on those that are most likely to succeed at that particular moment. They are able to attach their efforts to outcomes that are aligned with mainstream business objectives, thereby increasing their likelihood of success.

Given this wider definition of intrapreneurial initiative: are you an intrapreneur?

Jerry Davis is the Wilbur K. Pierpont Collegiate Professor of Management at the Ross School of Business and Professor of Sociology, The University of Michigan.

Christopher J. White leads the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship at The University of Michigan. 


Embracing a Positive Business Model is Good for More Than Just Your Community

Originally at


The idea that business leaders can make a positive difference in the world isn’t unique or new. So why are we talking about it? Because the young people we’re teaching care deeply–and they might just pull it off.

The entry of millennials into the workforce is often cited as the main reason for the well-documented increase in interest about business strategies that make a positive difference in the world.

Of course, people have always wanted meaning in their work and in their lives. But the difference now is that our future leaders are refusing to settle for anything less than doing well and doing good.


Countless studies prove the positive effect of having a sense of meaningful contribution to others in our lives, and it’s no different for work.

When we feel that our day-to-day work is aligned with our values, our strengths, and our passions, we perform better: We are happier and more engaged in the workplace. We form deeper, more significant relationships with those around us. And when we have purpose, we live longer, healthier lives.


Prominent figures such as John Mackey of Whole Foods Market, Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank, Arianna Huffington of Huffington Post, and Bill Gates of Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have all publicly declared their own commitments to positive business in various forms.

Recently, Sir Richard Branson announced his convening of The B Team–the latest group of business leaders to join together around the belief that businesses can and should be solving major world problems.

Many smaller companies, perhaps less under the microscope of short-term investor expectations, have been leaders in creating positive businesses for a long time.

Cascade Engineering, for example, pioneered a program that helps welfare recipients return to the workforce in a sustainable way. Retention of program participants is now well over 90%, which means the program saves money for the state and for the company.

The Welfare to Career Program’s success did not come overnight, of course. It took years of trial and error to find a formula that worked. It is small wonder then that Cascade CEO Fred Keller has been known to describe the discipline needed for success in developing positive business strategies as “Beyond Lazy Thinking.”

Keller acknowledges that his management logic in building his 1,200-person company has been to first figure out how to do good and only then consider how to make money from it. The Welfare to Career Program is now being replicated across more than 15 other companies.

Similarly, larger companies like Whole Foods Market are making bold, mission-based decisions. The success of Whole Foods Market’s innovative Detroit store has exceeded all expectations in the volume and diversity of customers it attracts and the jobs it continues to create–all while the market increases access to healthy foodoptions to the local community.

Although not universally popular–few bold initiatives ever are–many local nonprofit activists in the Motor City point to the inclusive manner of the organic supermarket’s entry into the city as a best practice for corporate-community collaboration.

Just like Cascade’s Welfare to Career Program, the success of Whole Foods’ entry into Detroit was not an immediate success. The company actually hired a small team of people to live in the area for the year leading up to the store’s opening. This team regularly held town hall meetings to listen to the needs and concerns of the community.

This groundwork was more than worth it. The Detroit store has been so successful that the company has now launched Whole Cities Foundation, which is aimed at opening more stores in locations with limited access to healthy food at price points the customers can afford.

As leaders and educators of the next generation of business executives, it’s up to us to rethink all of the functions of business in the purview of positive business practices. Are you ready?

Chris White is managing director of the Center for Positive Organizations and Adjunct Faculty at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan


The Opportunity of Management

Originally at

Managers sit at a juncture at which there lies great opportunity for positive contribution in the world. Our managers make a disproportionate difference in our happiness, engagement, and performance at work. As we look back on our careers so far, almost all of us can point to a teacher, mentor, or manager whose skillful commitment to our success made a profoundly positive impact in our lives. Conversely, we can also almost all highlight an experience with a team or a manager that depleted us to almost critical levels.

A few years ago, my friend Michael was a star student in the MBA program here at the Ross School of Business. With a winning personality, an engineering degree, work experience at one of the top internet companies, and now an advanced degree from a prestigious business school, Michael had the pick of employers to choose from upon graduation. He decided to join a prominent West Coast tech company, and was seemingly destined for great things.

Less than a year later, Michael was asking himself – and me – the question of how long he could tough it out before leaving. He was already out in the community, networking and exploring options. The company hadn’t exactly changed from the one he fell in love with in the selection process. But his manager was an archetypal bad boss – controlling, micro-managing, power-hungry, fostering toxic behaviors and distrust among team members.

The saying is true: people join companies and leave managers. Many of us have discovered this to be true at some point in our own careers. Michael saw out the time needed to retain his full signing bonus, and is now very happily working for an up-and-coming startup. I was sad that Michael’s stint there hadn’t worked out, but relieved my friend was heading to greener pastures. I was sad for the company and the manager for missing out on such great talent, especially having done the hard work of attracting him to join them in the first place.

Every year, Gallup rolls out its State of the Global Workforce report. The findings are always fascinating, and understandably slow-changing. Consistently more than 70% of the global workforce, by Gallup’s reckoning, are either disengaged or actively disengaged. This equates to more than $400 billion lost from the US economy on an annual basis. To give some idea of the scale we are talking about, that’s the equivalent of the profits of the ten most profitable companies in the world disappearing from our global balance sheet.

But it is not all doom and gloom. At the Ross School of Business, our mission is to develop leaders who make a positive difference in the world. We define “positive” in this context as creating economic value, building great workplaces, and being good neighbors. While the three are completely interrelated, the work of the Center for Positive Organizations at Ross emphasizes the catalytic importance of architecting places where people can bring their best selves to work. We look primarily at the organizational architecture: how structures, systems, strategies, processes, practices, and culture can all be re-imagined to help people thrive. Financial success and impact on our communities are two other sides of this virtuous triangle of Positive Business.

We are passionate about the role of educators in making a difference, and we view developing skilled, energizing, and compassionate managers as a leverage point for change. Classes taught by our core faculty attracted more than 1500 students. We do not want any of our students to be on the receiving end of what Michael experienced. Furthermore, we are challenging them to be the change we want to see in the world; to be the managers who allow millions of Michaels to thrive, not to trample them down.

Thankfully, we know we are not alone. There are over 200 self-identifying members of the Center for Positive Organizations’ Community of Scholars, drawing from many other top business schools around the US and around the world. These are researchers and professors who are aspiring to the same goal – to help leaders build organizations that bring out the best in people. Collectively, we educate tens of thousands of business students each year. We are grateful that initiatives such as Great Work Cultures is helping to build a big tent for this movement. Together, we can truly build a new world of work.

Chris White is managing director of the Center for Positive Organizations and Adjunct Faculty at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.