Bernie Callaghan: Why we should encourage intrapreneurs

We're told that this region has to be more entrepreneurial to make its mark on the world. Enterprise is rightly rewarded, lauded and pursued

Bernie Callaghan
Bernie Callaghan

We're told that this region has to be more entrepreneurial to make its mark on the world. Enterprise is rightly rewarded, lauded and pursued. We all work together to support the entrepreneurial spirit – in schools, universities and through many regional organisations.

But what about the role of the “intrapreneur? They work within organisations using the same creativity, energy and pioneering drive that hallmark the entrepreneur. Their innovations lead to new ways of doing business. They could boost our economy every bit as much as entrepreneurs.

The North East’s largest organisations – many in the public sector – need the new ideas, risk-taking mindset and passion to succeed that intrapreneurs possess. I’m all for an Intrapreneurs Forum to sit alongside our well-established Entrepreneurs’ Forum.

The region now has a fair sprinkling of successful entrepreneurs, who all have the commitment and energy to thrive long-term. We need to support these newest companies as vigorously as possible.

The red tape that surrounds and stifles many new businesses, however, also slows down large organisations, and they too need to act responsively to the changes needed to face challenging times. This is where intrapreneurial thinking can come into its own.

People who know an organisation inside out, are passionate about its success and have the drive to go beyond the boundaries of the day job to think up commercially effective solutions can transform the fortunes of multi-faceted, bureaucratic organisations.

The public sector is said to account for around one in three jobs in the North East. The need for smart thinking employees working entrepreneurially within our public sector organisations has never been more important.

Intrapreneurs, however, present a tough challenge for senior management, having to abide by the rules and protocol of corporate culture while encouraging the more risk-friendly tendencies of changemakers. Intrapreneurs challenge organisations to examine their own effectiveness, and offer new solutions that can deviate radically from well-established models.

Universities, themselves some of the region’s largest resources, are embracing the concept of intrapreneurial thought leaders in both their teaching and their management. Many leadership development courses now include intrapreneurial behaviour and impact within their programmes.

University management is becoming more flexible in its processes and structures, open to the ideas and contributions of its innovative intrapreneurs. As a lifelong, enthusiastic intrapreneur I can happily confirm that first-hand.

:: Professor Bernie Callaghan is dean of the faculty of business and law at the University of Sunderland

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