The Ingredients of a Successful Intrapreneur
Have you heard of intrapreneurship? It’s the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working inside an organization. An intrapreneur focuses on innovation and creativity, and transforms an idea into a profitable venture. Being an intrapreneur is a very exciting and fulfilling way to manage your career but it takes a special mindset and the ability to identify a company that’s the right fit. Not every company or culture allows its employees to operate this way.
Julia Guth is the Executive Director and Publisher for The Oxford Club. She started with the company over 20 years ago as the Membership Director and the first employee. Today she has grown the Oxford Club to over sixty employees (this does not include the employees at other divisions she has spun off). The Oxford Club, under the umbrella of its parent company Agora, is regularly named on The Baltimore Sun Top Workplace list. Julia shared with me how she has operated as an intraprenuer to build a very successful company and culture.
BG: You were hired at the Oxford Club after receiving your MBA at Thunderbird. What did you see in the company that got you excited and interested in the position?
JG: When you are young, you follow your passion. My passion was international business and travel. It was what I had studied at Thunderbird where I had received an international management degree. I wanted to see how the world worked globally and I was looking for a company that would allow me to do that. I knew I needed to put myself in the path of a job or an internship that would connect me with my passion. I started as an editorial assistant working with the Maryland Office of International Trade promoting export markets for local companies. One of the main writers I worked with was Elizabeth Bonner. Elizabeth’s husband, Bill, had started a small international publishing company. When he needed to hire someone for the membership director position, Elizabeth recommended me. I went to speak to Bill who explained the content would be written for people who wanted to invest, live or travel abroad. He went on to share I’d be traveling to Switzerland, South Africa and China that first year. While the salary was quite a bit lower than I was looking for, I saw that this startup fit the profile of the kind of company I wanted to work for. That the culture and the benefits made up for the lower salary. I could see there was going to be autonomy, and that was also a big benefit.
BG: What are some entrepreneurial things you did to grow The Oxford Club?
JG: My overall approach to the business is entrepreneurial. The Oxford Club has about 14 mini businesses and each is monitored with its own profit and loss statement so that we can see how they are performing. When we start a new franchise (this for example would be a new newsletter), I invite the editor who will be creating and writing that product to speak with me. I explain that they’re going to help me develop the product and then that editor gets a profit share. This way they look at each franchise as their own business.
I even manage our non-profit that’s based in Nicaragua in this manner. In 2004 we founded the Roberto Clemente Health Clinic (named for the baseball player who died in an aviation accident while on route to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua). Every project there is also treated like a mini business, whether it is the healthy eating garden, water treatment system or the pharmacy. Each has its own donations and fees, so breaking them out allows us to monitor each one. I started the clinic from scratch but now I have an executive director. Whether it’s a for-profit or nonprofit venture it’s key to find a champion, a thought leader.
BG: How have you fostered a culture of entrepreneurship inside a company?
JG: You can’t have everyone individually being entrepreneurial. What I do is I look for employees with different talents. I look for the best people, and I look for other leaders to work with me. I’m not afraid of someone else being smarter than me. I look for people who are driven. I believe getting caught up in ego stuff can be detrimental in a business. It’s crazy to think you can do it all yourself. The right kind of ego understands that surrounding yourself with smart people makes your life is easier. You need people with good social intelligence who are both self motivated and disciplined. I want to work with people who get excited about seeing the bottom line grow and being a part of that. It’s important for leaders to realize they can’t do it all. It’s vital to let go and trust in people, that’s the only way a company will grow.
Reading articles and speaking to others you see the consistent message about startups: it’s all about the management team. The number one reason a company will be successful is the management team. As the leader you want to gather a smart team of people who work well together. Then from there you share your ideals for what you’re trying to achieve and your vision.
BG: What advice would you have for someone who wants to behave like an intrapreneur at their company?
JG: I think the hard part is how you find that company. How you find that opportunity that will let you perform as an intrapreneur.
One approach is for the candidate to ask a direct question on the job interview: Is this a company where I can be an intraprenuer? They can explain that’s what they are and what they bring to the company. They can further explain that they want to directly participate in bringing revenue to the company. No one has ever asked me that in an interview. But if they did, I’d be excited to answer that question. I can’t imagine anyone at a company of any size thinking that was a negative.
Do you have an aspiring girlpreneur in your life? Whether she grows up to be an entrepreneur or an intrapreneur, we’re here to develop the skills she needs. Get our book today!