Business Case Studies, Executive Interviews, Robert A Burgelman on Corporate Entrepreneurship

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Executive Interviews: Interview with Robert A Burgelman on Corporate Entrepreneurship
April 2007 - By Dr. Nagendra V Chowdary

Robert A Burgelman
Edmund W Littlefield Professor of Management
Director of the Stanford Executive Program of the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

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  • What are the different forms (schools) of corporate entrepreneurship? What is the appropriateness of each of those forms?
    There are many (probably hundreds) of articles on corporate entrepreneurship. The major and fundamental difference with my work on corporate Interview 4 entrepreneurship is that I have tried to link the corporate entrepreneurship phenomenon to evolutionary organization theory and to the theory of complex adaptive systems. Taking this seriously means that corporate entrepreneurship is a natural force in organizations (it cannot be fully suppressed), but one that is stochastic in

        nature; i.e., it cannot be "planned."This is extremely difficult for managers to come to grips with.
  • From your research, can you give us some of the finest examples of corporate entrepreneurship initiatives (successes as well as failures)?
    I prefer not to make lists of so-called "excellent"or "great"companies. The record of such lists is awful. Just take a look at what happened to most of the 11 so-called "good-to-great"companies since 2000!

  • What are the enabling factors for a successful corporate entrepreneurship initiative? What are the reasons for some of the corporate entrepreneurship initiatives to fail? Do you see any specific pattern in the successes and the failures?
    Treat it with respect for what it is: an inherently stochastic process; and consider it an integral part of strategic management so that you don't fall prey to the typical cycle of "now we do it; now we don't." Think of how to create collaborative (rather than zero sum) games between the corporate entrepreneurs and the rest of the company with which they are very likely to share interdependencies. This has implications for organization design and leadership skill development, especially at the senior management level. I have discussed this at length, for instance, in Burgelman, "Designs for Corporate Entrepreneurship in Established Firms, and in Strategy is Destiny: How Strategy-Making Shapes a Company's Future, 2002.

  • How to identify the ventures that would have the maximum strategic impact on the organization? Is there any criterion to weed out less potential ones, surpassing any possible idiosyncrasies?
    I have identified "strategic importance" and "operational relatedness" as two important dimensions for assessing a new venture initiative and for choosing the appropriate organization design. If you form a corporate "New Venture Division" (NVD), think of it as a transit station, not a destination. In other words, the moment a venture enters the NVD, it should begin to think about how and when it is going to leave the NVD.

  • Is corporate entrepreneurship an offshoot of innovation?
    They are intrinsically related, though not the same thing.

  • What were the roots of corporate entrepreneurship? In the life cycle of a company, when should corporate entrepreneurship be given a serious thought? Or is it that, it rather should be an ongoing practice? When should a company be really serious about corporate entrepreneurship? Are there any best practices that companies can (should) adopt while embarking upon a corporate entrepreneurship initiative?
    As pointed out earlier, corporate entrepreneurship should be an integral and continuous part of strategic management. Think of the balancing between induced and autonomous strategy processes in terms of a linear combination of the two processes: the weights of each process can vary over time, but the weight on the autonomous process should never become zero.

  • What happens to corporate entrepreneurship potential in familyowned/ run businesses?
    I don't know because I haven't studied that. But the same fundamental processes should be in play there as well. Emotional factors, however, probably play a bigger role there.

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