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Corporate entrepreneurship (CE) is perceived to be a construct subjected to a considerable degree of ambiguity (Rutherford and Holt, 2004). Rutherford and Holt reviewed seminal studies and discerned that the varied conceptualizations of CE included one common element that was innovation. The seminal studies reviewed have defined CE to include the following elements or set of behaviors: innovation and venturing, and strategic renewal; proactiveness, innovation and risk taking; autonomy, innovativeness, risk taking, proactiveness and competitive aggressiveness. The definition of CE by Rutherford and Holt is as follows: CE is the process of enhancing the ability of the firm to acquire and utilize the innovative skills and abilities of the firm’s members. At the heart of the said definition is the emphasis on the ‘…organizational members’ application of those innovative abilities and skills…’ The said definition is consistent and reflects the fact that in corporations, that are a type of business vehicle, entrepreneurial activities are initiated and carried out by individuals in the organization. Thus CE is a construct that captures ES in a corporate environment; whereby an employee of the corporation, who is referred to as an intrapreneur, exercises ES. Thornberry’s definition of CE in a similar manner as an ‘.attempt to take both the mindset and skill set demonstrated by successful start-up entrepreneurs and inculcate these characteristics into the cultures and activities of a large company.’, lays credence to the viewpoint that at the heart of CE is the mind and skill of a start-up entrepreneur.
CE is perceived as a powerful antidote to awaken large, mature companies in a state of inertia from their slumber. However, it should not be assumed that all large companies are in a state of slumber or lethargy. Johnson cited a few large companies (3M, Reed.co.uk, Pfizer, Virgin, France Telecom, Siemens, Tesco, McDonald) that have absorbed innovativeness into its culture so as to enable it to continue to be nimble in changing times. Thornberry asserted that past literature enables CE to be categorized into four types: corporate venturing, intrapreneuring, organizational transformation and industry rule breaking. Corporate venturing involves the conversion of a core competency into a separate business. Intrapreneuring is an attempt to inculcate in the employees of a large organization the mindset and behavior of the start-up entrepreneur with the aim of spurring innovation and finding new market opportunities. Corporate transformation involves innovation, a new arrangement or combination of resources, and results in the creation of sustainable economic value. Industry rule breaking entails the transformation of the corporation and a significant change to the rules of industry competition that may involve a change to the business model that had been applicable thus far. It would appear that this categorization of CE does overlap with the definition of innovation as conceptualized by Johnson.
Thornberry also referred to past research in order to emphasize the commonalities that exists in the four categorizations of CE and a start-up ES: (i) the creation of a new thing (new business, new product or service, new delivery system and new value proposition to customer); (ii) new things require additional resources or change to current pattern of resource deployment; (iii) new thing triggers learning that generates new organizational competencies and capabilities; (iv) new thing creates longterm economic value and the creation of wealth for shareholders, owners and society; (v) new thing gives better financial returns, (vi) new thing is risky for organization in terms of implementation (may not work, too late to market or high production cost).
The studies referred to thus far seem to show that the process, context and individual variables have an impact upon CE. In addition the success of CE can be measured via outcomes (innovation and venture) or in terms of employees’ job satisfaction or turnover behavior. This author suggests that emphasis should be upon CE cultivation rather then importation of CE into the organization. This is because importation of CE places emphasis on human resource policies that recruit employees perceived to have the personality and ability of an entrepreneur. In the process the organization may loose the opportunity to tap into an employee (who has the personality but not the ability or vice versa) who given the opportunity and needed training would be an intrapreneur of the said organization.