Stories of courage, collaboration and change with Gib Bulloch

1. Describe yourself in 10 words or less.

Passionate, stubborn, silly, creative, generous, happy, extroverted, control freak

2. Tell us about your experience being an intrapreneur? (What did you do and why?)

I had a mid career epiphany while volunteering with VSO in the Balkans. I returned to my job with fire in my belly and a desire to go beyond traditional CSR and corporate volunteering and create a different kind of business. The problem I was trying to solve was how to provide high-quality business and technology consulting expertise to organisations in developing countries with the greatest need, but with the least access.  Most consultancies would offer ad-hoc pro-bono consulting, but this tended to be mostly in the developed countries in which they operated and wouldn’t always be their highest quality people  (You get what you pay for!). Also, pro-bono would never be a scalable or sustainable solution.

So, I led a team that created Accenture Development Partnerships (ADP) – a blueprint for a new business model that changed how we think about the role of business in development and in society. ADP is a self-sustaining ‘corporate social enterprise’ that operates on a not-for-loss basis within Accenture. Accenture provides its people and business expertise to international development sector clients free of profit and overhead, employees take a voluntary pay cut, and clients pay fees at a fraction of normal market rates.

3. What challenges did you come up against and how did you overcome them?

Too many to list fully here, but I’ll share two of the most significant ones that might be relevant to other aspiring intrapreneurs. 

– Changing Paradigms in our Clients

The reactions of this new breed of non-profit client were mixed. Looking back, I was naïve. I thought that if we could offer Accenture’s expertise at a fraction of market rates then the queues would be out the door.  Not the case! Latent inertia and mutual distrust between the sectors emerged. The stereotypical and deeply entrenched view was that large businesses donate money to charities; that charities don’t give money to corporates. Moreover, it’s very difficult to persuade someone to pay for something they’ve been used to getting for free. I’d often reframe the discussion from payment at a discount to co-investment. Accenture is investing, our employees are investing and we expect you to invest too.

– A Split Reaction from Leadership

The reactions of leadership were as mixed. I hold the view that senior executives tend to split into three even bodies of opinion on most topics: one-third will be positive, one-third neutral and one-third negative. Accenture was no different. 

Many wholeheartedly embraced the idea and really got it. They wanted to support teams in their spare time and talked effusively about the uplift in skills and engagement they’d seen in past participants. Another third were more neutral, often passively positive “it seems like a good idea, of course, we should do it” – unless of course, that meant releasing one of their top performers on a non-profit project for six months, that was different. And the last third were more hostile. But there’s nothing quite like peer to peer influence as a tool to win over the hard liners.

Another third were more neutral, often passively positive “it seems like a good idea, of course, we should do it”, (unless of course, that meant releasing one of their top performers on a non-profit project for six months, that was different).

And the last third were more hostile. But there’s nothing quite like peer to peer influence as a tool to win over the hard liners.

4. Where does your fire come from?

I’m a great believer in the power of business to change the world.  But I also believe in the power of the individual to change the world of business.  Ultimately the fire comes from knowing the potential impact of driving small change inside large organisations, and the latent power we can all yield on some of the biggest challenges facing the planet.

5. Why is intrapreneurship important?

I see limited potential for change to come top down from incumbents who have risen to the top within the current system  Why change it if, after all, it worked well for you?  That’s where I think that intrapreneurs have a role to drive change bottom up and inside out there organizations.  They’re the people who not only are better informed about the imperative of sustainability, but they also have the most to gain and least to lose from changing the way things currently work.

Of course, intrapreneurship is not confined to big business – they exist inside many large institutions such as governments and NGOs.  The successful intrapreneurs of the future will have to be comfortable working across all sectors, to drive systems solutions to solve the big intractable problems of tomorrow.

6. What advice do you have for others on the same path?

Follow that inner voice and just do it.  Take the leap of faith.  Cross the threshold.  No, it won’t be easy and it may be a lonely and difficult journey.  But I’m convinced that when you go ‘all in’ and are truly committed to your idea, then you’ll discover that you get the help you need from the places you least expect it.  In the end, you’ll discover that you chose the right path and that the journey has been worthwhile and rewarding.

To hear more from Gib on intrapreneurship, check out his TEDx Talk: Be the change you want to see in your company.

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