Friday, October 08, 1999

Symposium focuses on innovation

Goal: Entrepreneurial spirit

Enquirer contributor

        COVINGTON — Strategies for infusing an entrepreneurial spirit into the heart of corporate culture was the focus of a symposium Thursday at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center.

        “Harnessing the Power of Innovative Thinking” attracted a mix of more than 50 business professionals and academics.

        Hugh O'Neill, management professor at the University of North Carolina, opened the symposium by assuring attendees that corporate entrepreneurship is not an oxymoron.

        “The dilemma is understanding that corporations, especially successful corporations, want to maintain routines that have worked in the past,” he said. “The entrepreneur wants to create new routines. The issue is one of trying to maintain the right balance.”

        Two techniques organizations can use to keep that balance are rotating people through various roles in the company and creating a special department for entrepreneurs, Mr. O'Neill said.

        The symposium ended with advice from Richard T. Farmer, chairman of Mason-based Cintas Corp., the nation's largest uniform provider. He outlined four characteristics needed to sustain an entrepre neurial culture within a corporation:

        • Set BHAGs: “Big, hairy audacious goals. A company needs to have a dream they can strive for. BHAGs require high expectations and high standards of performance,” he said. Asked about Cintas' BHAGs, Mr. Farmer said his company has nearly achieved its original goals and is exploring new BHAGs. One under consideration is “to provide a service to every business in North America.”

        • Avoid multilayered organizational structures. Entrepreneurial businesses must have a flat organization that exposes poor performance and encourages decision-making and control at the lowest possible level.

        • Policies and procedures, while necessary, should foster innovation and allow employees to take initiative. Mr. Farmer pointed out that Cintas constantly evaluates, revises and discards existing and proposed policies.

        • Challenge employees to identify and solve problems. Cintas terms this “Positive Discontent with the Status Quo.”

        “We are never satisfied with any element of our business,” Mr. Farmer said. “But we ask employees to express discontent positively and to discuss a problem only with someone who can fix it.”

        Ten speakers explored various aspects of corporate venturing. Topics included “Getting your idea funded within the corporation,” “Setting up a new venture group within the company” and “Intrapreneuring.”

        The symposium was sponsored by Miami University, Xavier University, University of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky University.

        “This is the first time the four universities of the Greater Cincinnati area have collaborated on an initiative in this manner,” said Jennifer Bailey of Miami's Richard T. Farmer School of Business. “I can't overstate the value of that collaboration.”

        Ms. Bailey said the partners hope to convene a symposium annually to examine corporate entrepreneurship from different perspectives. She said a transcript of the proceedings will be published.

        “We're hoping to make this the preeminent national forum on corporate entrepreneurship,” said Michael Morris, who heads Miami University's Page Center for Entrepreneurship.


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