Roland Berger CEO Charles-Edouard Bouée
To be entrepreneurial takes an evolutionary ethos

Think:Act magazine "Breaking the rules"
To be entrepreneurial takes an evolutionary ethos

Portrait of Think:Act Magazine
Think:Act Magazine
Central Europe
19 mars 2019

Roland Berger's Charles-Edouard Bouée on agility and cultivating continual productivity improvement

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by Charles-Edouard Bouée

Read more about the topic "Breaking the rules"

Most organizations believe that the time for being entrepreneurial is only during the startup phase. They are woefully wrong.

Great power brings great responsibility. If you are the CEO of a big company, you often wonder if you should choose between the opportunities that present themselves but carry inherent risks with the possibility of a potential reward, or if you should take comfort in the known and continue to preserve the organization's business as usual? A lot of CEOs, whether they admit it or not, end up taking comfort in the familiar, reasoning to themselves: "My role is to preserve the organization's advantages, not to take on new risks that might jeopardize the company." History is rife with examples of organizations that took this defensive approach, only to be outwitted by smarter rivals.

Then on the other extreme are the startups. Entrepreneurs are admired because of the very qualities many executives abandon as they climb to the top: agility, boldness and the spunk to rely on their gut feeling while taking tough decisions. It's a fallacy to think that the time for entrepreneurial thinking is only when a company is starting up, or to believe that entrepreneurial thinking cannot coexist with the dominant mindset of an established organization. That's the wrong approach. To understand why, let's take a look at the incredible story of the Dutch Kidney Foundation (DKF).

The Dutch Kidney Foundation is a health charity whose key mandate was to collect funds, educate patients, lobby the government and raise awareness among scientists and other players about kidney disease. For nearly 30 years, DKF tried to improve the lives of patients suffering from this disease. But complex treatment protocols and debilitating side effects continued to keep patients in a state of misery. Patients were slowly losing hope and the possibility of recovering any sense of normalcy in their daily life was becoming a distant dream.

As a non-profit, DKF's role was to raise funds and create awareness, and not to address the problem of medical innovation. But that's exactly what it did. It took upon itself the onus to solve an unsolvable problem by completely reimagining its role and reframing the problem. For Tom Oostrom, the managing director of DKF, the puzzle to be pieced together was as follows: His one clearly defined target was to liberate kidney patients from clinic-based dialysis and provide them with a portable dialysis device that would give them more freedom. And he knew that the technology existed to make a dialysis machine in the size of a shoe box, which could dramatically improve the patients' quality of life through wearable dialysis machines. But he could not get it financed, as existing manufacturers of dialysis machines had little incentive to innovate. If successful, this innovation would disrupt their current business and choke existing revenue streams. Major medical breakthroughs would imply that health insurance companies would bear the risks of costly medical research.

The team took a step back and pondered over what their original founding mission had been: to improve the lives of kidney patients. And to achieve it, they had to make this portable dialysis device a reality. Once they identified the end point as the wearable artificial kidney, they worked backwards from there, unbundled the "kidney" into its component parts and then figured out who could help them find these components and integrate them into the prototype. The foundation gathered key players of these fields and pooled their collective knowledge to crack this problem. But to overcome this huge market failure that prevented them from delivering a wearable dialysis device, the DKF also had to change its whole organization and operating model. It started the Neokidney Foundation, and that group formed a company, Neokidney, which is for-profit, with the clear goal of developing the portable device patients were missing. To cut a long story short, the DKF managed to find a solution to a problem that was in deadlock for 70 years, by going back to its original mission, reimagining its role and framing the problem it was tackling differently – in a very entrepreneurial way.

About the author
Portrait of Charles-Edouard Bouée
Charles-Edouard Bouée
Charles-Edouard Bouée is the global CEO of Roland Berger. He has written a number of groundbreaking books on modern management and China – where he lived for over a decade. His books include "Light Footprint Management", "China's Management Revolution" and "La chute de l'Empire humain". He is the editor (with Roland Berger Deputy CEO Stefan Schaible) of "Re-entrepreneuring: How Organizations Can Reignite Their Entrepreneurial Spirit" (Bloomsbury, 2018).

This is what we call "re-entrepreneuring." The idea, as we see it, takes inspiration from the French phrase "reculer pour mieux sauter": stepping back to go forward more strongly. In re-entrepreneuring, the "re" part stands for the company's long-term history and the assets it consolidated over time (know-how, experience, skills, brand, etc.). The "entrepreneuring" part is the spark that has the power to reignite what lies dormant in the "re" and unleash new energy in the company and take it to a new phase in its evolution. As they grow bigger, a lot of organizations relegate their entrepreneurial energy to history. That's a mistake.

Re-entrepreneuring is not a matter of thinking "outside the box" – it's about thinking with the box, applying the company's existing assets and qualities to a new purpose. It's about using the box itself as a stepping stone that will carry the company across a difficult time to a better time. By seeing the world through fresh eyes and giving employees the freedom to reimagine their business, a company can open itself up to exciting possibilities. And once they do that, they will realize that obsolescence is not something thrust upon them by fate. It's a choice. And they can very well choose to avoid it.

Further reading
Our Think:Act magazine
Think:Act magazine "Breaking the rules"
Think:Act Magazine

Breaking the rules

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Is breaking the rules a crucial skill? We examine how the people who have made their own rules also significantly shaped the world of business.

Published March 2019. Available in
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Portrait of Think:Act Magazine
Think:Act Magazine
Central Europe
Portrait of Charles-Edouard Bouée
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