Susan Foley, Managing Partner of Corporate Entrepreneurs and alumna of Saunders College of Business, has spent the last 25 years helping organizations grow their business. Most recently, Susan published her third book, Intrapreneurs: Who, What, How and Why, explaining the characteristics of being an intrapreneur and why this identity is crucial to organizations. This topic is an integral part of the newly launched Master of Science in Technology Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship program. We chatted with Susan to learn more about her background, her new book and her Saunders experience.
Q: For someone who hasn’t ever heard of this term, what is an intrapreneur?
A: The best way to explain it is to think of an external entrepreneur or someone who starts a start-up organization. This person does the same thing, but he/she does it inside an established organization. It’s an entrepreneur who is inside an existing organization. We know a lot about external entrepreneurs, but we don’t know a lot about the internal people who act as entrepreneurs and do the same work.
Being an intrapreneur is learned with experience. It’s the type of work you choose to do within an organization. Do you like to do routine work where everything’s done correctly with the processes and procedures, or are you someone that thinks outside of the box who questions the organization for what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Some people feel as though they don’t fit in a corporate organization and it’s because they do things differently. That’s what intrapreneurs do; they think differently, make decisions differently, they act differently. They’ve had these experiences that have increased their capabilities and competencies in these particular areas.
Q: What inspired you to write this book?
A: Early in my career, I was one of those people who were stepping outside of the box and looking at things differently and picking up the challenging opportunities within organizations. I saw that other people who were doing it as well. We all felt like we didn’t fit within an organization. I wanted to understand why these people did not feel that they fit; what’s different about them, distinguishes them from a more traditional employee. That’s what started my journey of doing research. It was first to identify these people, which was difficult because they don’t think of themselves as an intrapreneur inside an organization. Then it was to find out the capabilities, characteristics, behaviors and competencies. We found out why they were different and the world needed to understand that.
It was a journey of self-exploration because I was one of these people and I didn’t understand why I didn’t fit. I also realized they were a voice that was not being heard in corporations and often either totally engaged if they were working on something exciting or were disengaged, the squeaky wheel saying “this doesn’t work for us” with the organization saying “no, get in line.” I wanted to help them understand themselves better and help corporations realize who these people are.
Q: Who should read this book?
A: Executives, they do not understand who these people are or value them in a way that allows them to be successful, that is the key. It’s an education to the executives to emphasize that these people are essential to identify, develop, and see your organization grow.
It’s also for the intrapreneur or those who aren’t sure if they’re an intrapreneur but need to understand that being different is essential. I want people to understand the dimensions of what it means to be successful. It’s also for middle managers and professors interested in understanding the research and depth of competencies and behavior required. It’s also for talent managers, how many companies do you go into where the job title is an intrapreneur? You don’t, maybe at Amazon or Google, but not at financial intuitions or Fortune 100 companies.
Q: How did your education influence your career?
A: My education was a combination of technical and business, allowing me to bridge both those worlds, so the education was terrific. I did the work-study program and took a semester off and I loved it! It got you engaged in finding out what “real world” is. I appreciated the education so much that I worked for four years and then went back to graduate school. The way it influenced me, which is actually in the book, is once I got out of graduate school, I decided I needed to figure what I learned at RIT, so I started a small business while working at HP. That helped what take I learned and put it into practice.
Q: What do you feel is the most distinctive advantage that you gained from your Saunders experience?
A: One professor said, “make sure that everything you do in life and work, you can link back to something.” It was this whole philosophy that you want to go forward and backward to trace your steps in a way that everything is linked. When things are connected, you can see things as a system and it’s easier for you to see the bigger picture. It provided me with the strategic systems view of the world because I was always seeing a disparate piece of information and saying how does that connect? How does that link in? My education gave me the strategic and tactical ability to look at the world from the systems view.
Overall, it laid the foundation for my success both inside as an employee and outside as an entrepreneur through the courses we had. I attribute a lot of my success to Saunders College.
Saunders College of Business alums are part of a dynamic network of more than 25,000, with 130,000 RIT alumni making an impact worldwide. Learn more about Saunders College alumni and hear about their experiences first-hand.