Normally we think of entrepreneurs as those who create start-ups and fast-growing young companies. We expect entrepreneurs to be creative, determined, and focused on reaching lofty goals. So what happens when one of the world’s largest technology companies, IBM, incorporates entrepreneurial concepts and encourages innovation and risk-taking? The result is “International Intrapreneurship”, taking entrepreneurship and applying it in a large, multinational corporation’s environment.
This week I had a chance to talk with international intrapreneur, Greg Gustafson. Greg is a Global Operations Leader in IBM’s Global Technology Services division. Here is our interview:
The International Entrepreneur (TIE): Greg, can you tell us about your role at IBM?
Greg Gustafson (GG): In my role, which is highly global, I lead and work with our teams that deliver IT projects and services worldwide. Just this morning, I was working with a team on a project, which involves the U.K., Malaysia, Philippines, Poland, the U.S. and Mexico. My focus is on service delivery, particularly on IT infrastructure projects. I help clients with their technology strategy and work to make technology globally seamless. I am a troubleshooter for clients’ IT service delivery challenges. And I help to put new standards in place for our global teams that build on best practices.
TIE: Who is your division’s target market?
GG: We provide IT technical support and services to those B2B businesses that outsource some or all of their IT infrastructure and functions to IBM. We leverage our teams in the U.S. and experts across the globe to support those functions.
TIE: How would you define “international intrapreneurship” in your context?
GG: We focus on partnering with our customers to provide the technical services they need to run their operations more effectively. That means globally integrated services. We use a matrix organizational structure that is both project and results driven. It is critical to have common goals. We break down country reporting structures to facilitate the entire operation. In this model, “wild ducks” are allowed to fly. Intrapreneurship means cutting through internal red tape to stay focused on what’s truly important for the customer.
TIE: How do you as an IBM group leader encourage innovation within your team?
GG: I believe that this concept of Intrapreneurship can happen when a penalty-free environment exists for trying new ways to meet customers’ needs and for creating new capabilities. Teams should to be able to access global expertise and resources without regard to national borders or country-based reporting structures.
TIE: What are the misconceptions about large multinational corporations in terms of entrepreneurial culture?
GG: Some believe that MNCs stifle entrepreneurial creativity. While that may be true in some MNCs, experience shows that there are plenty of creative and innovative people in larger organizations.
I think there’s also the misconception that an entrepreneur can only be happy in a startup environment. Instead, I believe that people with an entrepreneurial mindset can also take advantage of a large company’s resources to do incredible things.
TIE: Can you give advice to others in MNCs about developing a more global entrepreneurial environment?
GG: Find a need and then go create a solution. Take risks. Don’t accept the status quo. Always ask yourself: why can’t we make it easier, or better for our customer, or faster?
One of the risks of an MNC-based career can be getting insulated from the rest of your field. To break out, you can participate in trade groups, read industry articles, build your professional network, and even volunteer for your chosen causes.
For the global aspect, it’s absolutely essential to build your own cultural awareness. It is important to understand the cultural mindset and behaviors of your international counterparts. Keep in mind that concepts like leadership, entrepreneurship, time and risk taking vary greatly from one culture to another.
TIE: Thank you Greg, for sharing your insights and entrepreneurial approach within your dynamic multinational environment.
NOTE: Much of what we know today about cross-cultural management framework was originally derived decades ago from Dutch anthropologist, Dr. Geert Hofstede’s groundbreaking research studying IBM employees’ cultural traits worldwide.