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Who Wants to Be a Wellness Intrapreneur? Part I: “What the Hell are You Doing Here?”

in-tra-pre-neur (In¹tre-pre-nur) n. A person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation [intra(corporate) + (ENTRE)PRENEUR.] -inftrapre-nouri-al adj. -intra-pre-neuri-al-ism n. -in’trapre-neuri-al-ly adv.


Position Statement

To survive and thrive, an intrapreneur must learn the fine art of …

  • adapting without assimilating
  • maintaining a cutting edge without getting cut
  • irritating and innovating without alienating key influentials and check signers
  • thinking like a CFO without losing the dreams and passion of a visionary
  • nurturing passion, dedication and caring without attaching
  • respecting history and tradition without sacrificing your “Beginner’s Mind”
  • bowing out before getting thrown out


 Introduction:  “What the Hell Are You Doing Here?” (aka, So What?)

“What the hell are you doing here?” asks the CFO. Softly queried but the message and the concern are clear. To this career health insurance executive—and one of my new colleagues at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island—I appear to be a threat, an enigma, an implication, an imposition, an indictment, a head scratch.

“I’m sorry. What?” I ask with an equal amount of puzzlement.

“Why are you here?” he responds as he lifts an eyebrow, shuffles a stack of spreadsheets, gulps coffee and gives me a nervous and distracted flicker of a smile. At least I remember it as a smile; perhaps it was a sneer. Yep, now that I think about it, a sneer. Definitely, without question, it was a sneer and maybe even a subtle snarl thrown in as well.

So began my new adventure as head of health and wellness services for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island and the soon-to-be founding President and CEO of their health promotion/disease prevention subsidiary.

Wait! What happened to the courting: the tour of Providence, the “Good Old Boy” chat with the CEO, the dinner on the water at Newport, the fruit basket, the potted plant for my corporate apartment, the lawn concert at Johnson and Wales, the smiles, press release, firm handshakes, encouragement from the VP of HR, the promise of a glorious future improving the health of Rhode Island, the nation … the world?  Clearly, this guy with the green eyeshades and whirling calculator didn’t get the memo. Nor—as I was soon to discover—did some of the other senior-level executives occupying the 3rd floor of 444 Westminster Avenue.

Within minutes of leaving the CFO’s office, I met the EVP who, while shaking my hand and graciously smiling, said, “I hear you are a big shot, but you haven’t shown me anything, yet.” Sigh …

Did I mention this was my first day on the job?  June 17th, 2003.

Okay, those two were the exception—kind of. For the record, let me just say that, among the executive staff, they were the most honest and candid when it came to expressing behind-the-scenes doubt and concern. They and those like them, assuming they come from a place of integrity, are extremely valuable. You don’t have to love them or even like them, but you need to encourage and embrace them! They force you to focus on “So What?” The two most important words in wellness, health promotion, business and, oh, let’s face it, life.

The “So What?” folks may not make the best dinner companions, but they are critical to an intrapreneur’s and entrepreneur’s success.  They strip away the gauze, the frills, the pretty package and the BS.  They are the disciples of Bill Clinton who once said, “You can charm me for ten minutes, but after that you better show me something.”

Other less-forthcoming executives harbored skepticism and confusion, maybe even resentment, fear, envy and distrust, but they muffled and buffered their concerns with New England Courtesy (not to be confused with Southern Hospitality),  oblique-speak,  a healthy veneer of apathy, reserved judgment and—given that the health and wellness initiative was the brainstorm of the CEO—an even healthier respect for office politics. There were also those who warmly welcomed me with open arms and, while not quite sure what I was up to, liked the idea of health promotion, appreciated the sales value of market differentiation and recognized the competitive need for product expansion and diversification.

This mix of …

Challenging Opponents – “Hell, No!”

Quiet Doubters – “I Don’t Think So”

Apathetic Bystanders – “I Don’t Really Care”

Quiet Supporters – “Wellness is a Nice Idea”

Strong Champions – “Hell, Yes!”

… continued throughout my seven and a half years in Rhode Island.

With varying degrees of challenge (dependent upon the synergy of core product and offshoot and/or parent company and subsidiary), the intrapreneur is charged with stewarding an idea from concept through development and on into a life of profit.  How you interact (bobs and weaves) with the C-Suite band of brothers and sisters listed above tells the story of success or failure.

In the next section, let’s look at the realities of traveling the treacherous, exciting, wonderful, horrific, destructive, empowering, debilitating and life-affirming road from “Hell, No!” to “Hell, Yes!” and see if it’s the path for you.

Coming Up …
  • PART II :                  Challenges & Opportunities:  The Intrapreneur “Right Stuff”
  • PART III:                 Entrepreneur (Owner) vs. Intrapreneur (Custodian)
  • PART IV:                 When the Boon is Rejected
  • PART V:                   Time’s Up:  Knowing When to Turn Your Own Page
2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dan McDonough #

    Can’t wait for part II. So far it all sounds familiar. Remember Machiavelli’s teaching, “It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than the creation of a new system. For the initiator has the emnity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new ones.”

    November 2, 2011
    • Dan, as one of the early pioneers of the wellness industry, you certainly understand the peaks and valleys, challenges and triumphs, bruises and glories of pushing passion pass the stubborn gates of conformity. I and many others are indebted to you for your contributions to the health promotion industry.

      November 3, 2011

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