Enter the corporate entrepreneur: Britain’s best hope for real recovery

CO-FOUNDER, MARKET GRAVITY

THE UK’s recovery from the deepest recession in eighty years is dependent on sustained private sector growth. Corporate earnings may be recovering, but too much is due to cost cutting, not real growth, and this trend is not sustainable.

Recent analysis from Market Gravity illustrates that while 75 per cent of FTSE 100 companies posted double-digit profit rises last quarter compared to a year ago, only 35 per cent of these firms grew revenues by more than 10 per cent during the same period. British executives are relying on efficiency measures to prop up poor sales; this will not translate into future shareholder returns.

Enter the corporate entrepreneur. I am not talking about obnoxious contestants from The Apprentice or the millionaire tycoons on Dragons’ Den. Corporate entrepreneurs can be found in the corridors and meeting rooms of all of our largest companies. They are the unsung heroes of British business and they are building the foundations of our recovery.

There are five major benefits that corporate entrepreneurs bring. First, they speed up the core business, delivering results faster and with greater customer focus. Second, they help to create the future business, finding effective ways to enter new markets without exposing the company to excessive risk. Third, they inspire talent and change cultures, drawing in exceptional people with similar mindsets. Fourth, they have an unrelenting focus on customers, are intuitive about what matters and often act as the customer champion. Finally, they take full accountability for delivering results, acutely aware of the commercial dynamics of their business.

As a co-founder of business growth consultancy Market Gravity, I have worked with dozens of corporate entrepreneurs in companies such as Lloyds Banking Group, npower, Barclays, Centrica and RBS and I believe passionately in the positive role that they play.

For example, Andy Hulme is exploiting consumers’ lack of confidence in major lenders by launching mortgages at Tesco Bank. If his team can satisfy the FSA’s tougher line on authorisations, they will start lending in the first half of 2011. By designing products that are “simple, transparent and reward customer loyalty”, Hulme and team aim to challenge the big four and become a full service retail bank.

Our experience has now inspired us to join forces with author Polly Courtney, to write Defying Gravity, a business novel that charts the journey of a new venture inside a FTSE 100 company and celebrates the role of the corporate entrepreneur.

Coming out of recession, it is vital that our largest companies apply an innovative and entrepreneurial approach. There are thousands of aspiring business-builders in UK corporations, but all-too-often large companies make it difficult for them to fulfil their potential.

These people have the determination and talent to overcome internal barriers and unlock the inherent strengths of a big business. Organisations need to create the environment for them to excel. This often means separating new ventures from the core business to give them the freedom to grow. It is incredibly difficult to build a new business in an adjacent market if your focus is on hitting this month’s sales targets.

Defying Gravity is fictional but is also punctuated with real-life insights and advice. We’ve tried to make it both entertaining and brutally honest. We wanted to illustrate the human side of business and inspire others to take on ambitious new challenges. The trials of our hero will be familiar to anyone who has battled to deliver a new project in a big company.

In our story, lead character Tony Sharp is tasked with turning round a struggling business unit in a major telecoms company. Six weeks into the job, his division is under threat, his staff won’t take responsibility and his attempts to improve efficiency have had little effect. He soon realises that a more radical approach is required… But can he convince those around him to take the risk?

Back in the real world, the bigger question is whether the thousands of managers in companies across the UK can do the same. I believe that in the face of global competition, they have no choice.

The UK’s recovery is dependent on the success of corporate entrepreneurs. No longer can large companies rely on cut-backs to prop up their profits; they must seek new revenue streams to remain competitive and secure their future.

Defying Gravity launches tomorrow, published by Troubador, £8.99.

CHECKLIST: ARE YOU A CORPORATE ENTREPRENEUR?
See if you have the right traits to be an effective Corporate Entrepreneur
● It’s more important to lead my own project than receive a job promotion

● I find ways to get around internal barriers rather than working within the rules

● I’m happier when mapping out the direction than I am when getting into the detail

● I’m more interested in leaving a legacy than in climbing the corporate ladder

● I persuade others to help me work on problems rather than going it alone

● I get impatient when things don’t happen fast enough rather than remaining calm and collected

The more boxes you ticked, the more likely it is that you are a true corporate entrepreneur.

BUSINESS HEROES | REAL-LIFE CORPORATE ENTREPRENEURS
● RACHEL SHERIDAN
Sheridan established new ways of working at game-changing fashion retailer Cocosa, a Bauer Media brand.

Mantra: “Think like a competitor”
Sheridan advises: “Once you’ve dealt with the internal politics and got the board onside, think like a start-up because that’s who you’re going to be competing with.”

● LEE CLARKE
Clarke oversaw the creation of npower hometeam, the energy company’s new home service business.

He is now General Manager of Forewind, a joint venture that is building the world’s largest off-shore wind farm in the North Sea, with the potential to generate 10 per cent of the UK’s energy.

● VEERA JOHNSON
Johnson led a self-selecting group of hard working risk-takers to build ProcServ, a spin-off from PA Consulting.

Mantra: “No rules, no rank, no status”
When something needs to be done, the whole team just get stuck in together to solve the problem.