Cultivating an intrapreneurial mindset in the corporate space 

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Ask anyone and they’ll tell you what South Africa needs more of right now is entrepreneurs: hardworking dreamers who bring their dreams to life. With the current unemployment crisis, an entrepreneurial mindset is to be encouraged. For South Africa’s economy to return to a sustainable growth path, a growing number of entrepreneurs need to be groomed and funded and barriers must be torn down. Their success will see job creation and a revitalised economy. 

Our Insurance Young Gun (IYG) this month is Magcino Gule, Old Mutual Insure’s senior manager for Travel Insurance, an upwardly mobile insurance professional who is passionate about entrepreneurship’s little-known cousin intrapreneurship. Intrapreneurship takes those entrepreneur’s best traits and deploys them in a traditional corporate environment. The objective is to endow the organisation with the benefits of agile and innovative thinking associated with entrepreneurs.  

1. Magcino, is there a place for intrapreneurs in the insurance industry?

I believe there is. One of my favourite management books is How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg. What truly inspires me are the lessons and insight into how some of Google’s most successful products ‒ such as Gmail and Google Maps ‒ were invented and created by the intrapreneurs within Google. This didn’t just happen. Google had a deliberate staff policy that 20% of employees’ time (one day a week) had to be dedicated to a Google-related passion project. That’s not to say Google’s success hasn’t been through strategic acquisitions and partnerships but I believe it fostered the curiosity, experimentation, collaboration and high performance that delivered some ground-breaking organic growth. There’s such a powerful lesson for the insurance industry in this. The industry needs a new wave of nimble competitors, more sophisticated ways of doing business and customers will ultimately benefit when they have more choice. So, it is encouraging that millions are being invested by large industry players in insurtech and start-ups. But, I also think corporates should give their employees skin in the game; the industry has plenty of talent, expertise and passionate professionals who ‒ with the right incentives, support and freedom of time away from the business ‒ can unlock the potential in their corporate environments.

2. Legacy insurers that have decades-old (some centuries-old) embedded protocols and culture may be a little reticent to change their ways. How brave do they have to be to develop an intrapreneurial shift in their cultures

I think many leaders in the industry recognise the extent of disruptive internal and external changes that have happened and still need to happen within corporates to remain significant in the market. It takes bold, dynamic leadership to reset a company’s risk appetite and consistently invest in people interventions that incentivise intrapreneurship, when it may yield the returns only in the medium to long term. It brings phenomenal growth opportunities for young talent to step up their contributions and learn how to constructively influence organisational culture.

3. What is your intrapreneurial story?

Interestingly, I don’t have a traditional insurance background. I studied politics, philosophy and economics at university and started my career in management consulting for an international firm. When I left there in 2015, I knew I wanted to one day lead a business in the insurance sector because I had worked on several digital-focused projects in financial services. I wanted an opportunity to manage that change in a large and complex organisation. I led various projects after joining Old Mutual Insure and when I moved into the Corporate and Niche business unit, the strategic focus was to diversify into new specialist lines of business. Travel insurance was one of those new business lines and it went live in 2017 as a digital proof of concept. I’m incredibly proud to say I was responsible for the delivery of that initiative in 90 days and that it was the first of its kind in Old Mutual. I was promoted to run the business and I have built a passionate team. In a short space of time, we’ve launched offerings to the corporate market, expanded our brand presence and the travel insurance business has grown exponentially. 

4. What should managers be doing to encourage this trend?

It’s important to start by identifying individuals in your team who have the drive and energy to make an impact in the company and understand what motivates them. Creating an environment where you encourage your team to share their ideas on how they would tackle some of the strategic challenges the company or industry is facing fosters creative problem-solving. I’ve seen corporates approach this in different ways; for example, through hackathons or innovation competitions. Managers and corporates can support and participate in initiatives like the Insurance Apprentice and Insurance Young Guns’ Shark Tank where young, dynamic professionals in the industry meet to co-create new ideas and businesses. These are concepts easily and frequently replicated. There are a number of start-up hubs and open workspaces where entrepreneurs meet and network outside of typical corporate environments to which managers can expose their teams. A simple example here is to host a brainstorming workshop or team meeting at a WeWork space instead of the office that might produce a different result. 

5. Failure is a natural part of entrepreneurship. How should organisations handle this among their intrapreneurs?  

While working in a traditional corporate is arguably a more secure environment than entrepreneurship, there is still an amount of risk which organisations and an intrapreneur take in pursuing a start-up venture. With big risks comes discomfort but also growth. In my experience, failure and mistakes are certainly inevitable in intrapreneurship and when it happens after you’ve given your best to make something a success, it can be especially hard to graciously acknowledge. Some of the best advice I’ve received has been to have a coach and, fortunately, I found one who had been in my intrapreneur shoes. Many prominent start-up entrepreneurs and effective business leaders have a coach. In fact, one of the books on my reading list is Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle’s Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell. Through my access to professional coaching as well as support from various leaders in the organisation, I’ve had the opportunity to gain perspective on how to turn failure around, remain tenacious, keep others motivated to stay the course with me and remain focused on our long-term plans.        

6. What advice do you have for senior management eager to explore this culture shift in their companies?

Intrapreneurship allows for invaluable on-the-job learning and experience of both the technical and business side of insurance but it’s important to complement that experience with access to training and support resources within and outside the company. The culture change component should not be underestimated. This is where leadership support in sponsoring resources and time for intrapreneurs to develop and scale their businesses is critical for success.         

7. What advice do you have for intrapreneur-minded IYG’ers when they take the concept to their management teams?

The idea of starting a new business line might be quite unusual or risky for some management teams. It’s often helpful to prepare a high-level case or reason for why you believe there’s a market for your idea; back it up with research and data to support why your idea makes sense to pre-empt some of the pros, cons and resources you’ll need to develop the idea into a minimum viable product which you can test with customers. Lastly, being an intrapreneur under 35 in an industry that holds such high regard for experience and long-standing relationships can be challenging to navigate but it can also be quite liberating when you have the curiosity to learn, and the grit and hunger to create new, exciting customer solutions for an iconic brand. 

 

 

 

 

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