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Who Wants to Be a Wellness Intrapreneur? Part III: Entrepreneur (Owner) vs. Intrapreneur (Custodian)

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 & tradition without sacrificing his/her “Beginner’s Mind”
  • bowing out before getting thrown out



 Entrepreneur (Owner) vs. Intrapreneur (Custodian)


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

en-tre-pre-neur (En¹tre-pre-nur) n. A person who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation

While there is only a four-word difference in the two definitions, those four words change everything. Having been both a successful entrepreneur and a successful intrapreneur, I can tell you, first hand, that the challenges, joys, barriers, fears, frustrations and hair-pulling (or hair loss) are equal but separate.

Life as a Wellness Entrepreneur 

Yes!  I am my own boss. Nobody can overrule me, intimidate me, tell me what time to get up, what car to drive, whether to shave or not, or how to dress.  Yes, I am free!  If I want my logo to be a lion in the meadow, or a soaring hawk, or a flowering peach tree, it’s mine! Hot damn!

  • “I’m sorry, what?  The bank called and they want to discuss my request for an increase on my line of credit?  Sure, okay.” 
  • “They want what?  More collateral and someone to co-sign on the current loan?   They said something about this being a good time to refinance the house?  Well, okay, I get it, they’ve got skin in the game, they are at risk too, so we can talk.” 
  • “What’s that?  The advisory board wants to discuss my revenue projections for Q3, they think they’re a bit ambitious?  What time?  Their office, this Thursday at 3:00?  Yes, I guess that works.”
  • “Health insurance for the family just shot up to 13K a year? Swell.”
  • “Looks like we will be a little short this month so I shouldn’t count on a paycheck, just yet, maybe next quarter?” 
  • “My biggest angel investor has a nephew who just graduated from Michigan State and he thinks he would be great as my sales guy?  Well, of course I’ll consider it.”
  • “What’s that you say?  Remember this is Michigan.  And it might be smart to drive the Chrysler to the meeting with the UAW and leave the BMW parked in the garage?  Sure, I get it.”
  • “Ajax just called and we got the deal?  Looks like there will be a payday after all!  Hot damn!”
  • “I’m sorry?  You think it would be a good idea if I shaved off the beard, got a haircut and wore a suit for the meeting?
  • “My logo of the soaring hawk landing on a lion in a peach tree orchard is going to cost me WHAT to register?”
  • “WTF…?”

Life as a Wellness Intrapreneur

Yea! No more sweating to make ends meet, no more borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.  No more scraping and bowing down to irritating and irritated investors who could care less about my art and are just interested in making money off my efforts!  No more wolves in bankers’ clothing beating down my door!  Finally, a steady salary with benefits including matching contributions to my 401k and … drum roll, please … HEALTH INSURANCE, including vision and dental!  Yea, I’m free!  Security at last!  Hot damn!

  • “Suit and tie except for Casual Fridays and designated ‘Jeans Day?’  No problem.  What’s that?  Sometimes when the Red Sox or Patriots win we can also wear our jeans?  Well, how about that, sports fans?”
  • “Finance just rejected my PO request for Sally’s new graphics software?  Huh?  I thought I had complete control over my budget?”
  • “What do you mean I have to go through HR if I want Fred to interview for the job?  I’ve known Fred and his work for years, he’s perfect for this position!  At least three candidates plus an internal posting?  What does that even mean?”
  • “A bonus check! That’s great!”
  • “What did he say?”  He said, ‘You act like you own the company.  You don’t own the company, you’re the custodian.’  Yep, that’s what he said.”
  • “What’s that? The parent CFO wants to discuss my revenue projections for Q3, she thinks they’re too low and my expenses are too high?    What time?  Her office, this Thursday at 3:00?    Yes, I guess that works.”
  • “Yes, I had lunch with Sarah Williams? Yes, I did know that she’s a member of the state legislature but, no, I didn’t know that having lunch with her could jeopardize a deal that another division is trying to close.”
  • “I can wear running shoes on ‘Jeans Day’ but I can’t wear sandals?  Is that right? Policy? Huh.”
  • “Looks like a raise is coming up!  And a cost of living adjustment, too?  Wow!”
  • “Okay, let me get this right.  Because he is a client, I can’t accept an offer to play golf with Sam at his club unless I pay full green fees and pay for my own food and drink?  Might look bad?  By the way, what’s an annual COI statement?”
  • “What do you mean I can’t sell my products to Gleason Company unless and until they make Blue Cross their primary vendor for employee health insurance?  How am I supposed to make my target numbers if I can’t sell my wellness products?”
  • “One of the board members has a nephew who just graduated from the University of Vermont and he’s interested in a career in health promotion?  Well, of course, I’ll consider him.”
  • “Rumor?  What rumor?  The rumor that we will be gone by the end of the year if we don’t meet our numbers? The rumor that the new CFO isn’t keen on wellness and we will be part of budget cuts?  The rumor that our division will be folded back into medical services?  The rumor that, due to our success, Stan from corporate sales has a growing interest in health and wellness and is looking to move me out and take over?  Those rumors?  Oh, sure, I hear those rumors all the time!”
  • “WTF?”

The above is based on actual experience with very few adjustments.  Both depictions capture some of the challenges and opportunities in being an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur (I’ve been both).  There are many more of each, of course, but you get the idea.

Which life did I prefer?  Both.  When I was scraping for nickels trying to build a company, I had some of the greatest times of my professional life.  Each day, it seems, was equal parts fear and joy. Very little middle ground.  However, in the end, the sum game for me as an entrepreneur was very positive.  I wouldn’t go back and change anything … well, maybe a few things.

As for the corporate life at Blue Cross as an intrapreneur?  I had some of the greatest times of my professional life.  It was great, trying, invigorating, baffling, educational, enlightening, financially rewarding and very stressful—mostly eustress but plenty of distress, as well.  In the end, the sum game for me as an intrapreneur was very positive.  I wouldn’t go back and change anything … well, maybe a few things.

“During his tenure at the Health & Wellness Institute Michael led a dynamic organization that successfully created awareness and advocacy for health & wellness.  Since its founding in 2007, HWI has been profitable every year.  Our thanks go to Michael for directing us all toward a future of better health.  On a personal note, I’d like to thank Michael for his steady support, energy, enthusiasm, and expertise.  Michael, you’ve made Blue Cross a better place.”

—Jim Purcell, Former President and CEO, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island

Coming Up …

PART IV:                  When the Boon is Rejected

PART V:                   Time’s Up:  Knowing When to Turn Your Own Page

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