I am an entrepreneur at my core. An almost dysfunctional sense of urgency, a deeply competitive streak and a desire to create something new are all attributes that have helped me start, run, scale and sell six different rapid-growth companies over the past 25 years.
That said, having sold a company a year ago, today I sit in the C-Suite at a large international corporation. Some might see this as hanging up my entrepreneurial hat, but instead, I see it as an opportunity to inspire entrepreneurial behavior within the traditional corporate structure.
Luckily, the corporation I work for now started as a hugely disruptive company that defined an entire industry and, having achieved success and scale, is looking forward to leading the next wave in its segment.
My time in corporate America has solidified my opinion that big companies can innovate and create. To do so, however, companies that want to weather the storm of repeated industry changes and the need to re-invent should hire and empower entrepreneurs in high-level positions.
Entrepreneurial leadership is necessary to lead growth and keep organizations at the top of their fields. Here are three reasons why:
1. It’s good for culture.
Building great talent builds a great company. Entrepreneurs understand that every person matters and every hire is important to corporate culture.
Companies, whether they are in a startup phase or at a Fortune 500 level, need to hire people who are self-starters and believe in personal achievement. Getting the right people in, creating a deep sense of personal ownership and empowering individuals to make decisions are key to building a culture of innovation and achievement. While it is important to have processes for certain aspects of the business, innovation does not arise out of processes and procedures.
While most innovation comes from startups and small companies, one of the biggest disadvantages that these companies have is a lack of data and customer insight. In the early stages of building my companies, I had to work very hard to find outside opinions to gain insight into my ideas and work. I simply could not afford to make too many mistakes.
Large companies have inherent structure and scale that should give them an information and feedback advantage, but most often they don’t know how to bring this advantage to bear. With an empowered entrepreneur in a senior position, the entrepreneur is equipped to push the company to tease out anything that can be leveraged for a competitive advantage.
2. It’s good for employee retention.
A recent PWC study highlighted the likeliness for the millennial generation to switch jobs — 54% expect to have between two and five employers during their career and a quarter predict they will have six or more. This promises to be an imposing cost on companies.
According to the same study, however, the biggest factor for attracting millennials is not money or benefits, but opportunities for career progression. Entrepreneurs understand the inherent desire to learn and constantly move forward, and can build that into a company’s foundation. By creating paths for employee development within an entrepreneurial corporate culture, leaders can better retain top talent.
My first employer kept me happily engaged for over a decade by helping me to grow and letting me do so many different things that I felt I had five successful careers without ever needing to leave.
Entrepreneurial-oriented people are also more likely to see and adopt new technology and techniques that can transform businesses. Innate interest in new and better ways to do things means they tend to learn about new solutions on their own time that can be applied at work. You have employees constantly learning, questioning and wanting to change things for the better. Satisfying that innate desire helps you keep the people that you need to continue to grow your value proposition.
3. It’s good for your value proposition.
It’s clear that growing your value proposition and creating new offerings for new and existing customers increases revenue and retention. But it is the CEO’s job to create an environment where new ideas thrive.
By inspiring employees to look at their work through an entrepreneurial lens, you have a team of people evaluating your company from the bottom up. This can be destabilizing at first, as holes will likely be found. But by setting the tone that change is essential for the success of the organization, friction will be reduced.
Encouraging everyone in the organization to ask the right questions — notably, how can we do this better — can help the company in countless ways and deepens organizational pride.
All this needs to be done by example. By putting an entrepreneur in the C-Suite and empowering them to affect change, you are setting the tone for all employees, customers and competitors to see.