Entrepreneurship is not just for startups – large companies are doing it too

By: Mark Backhouse, Head of Product Education
Pernod Ricard South Africa


Conversation around entrepreneurship in South Africa tends to focus on helping small business operators to flourish and it is not usually associated with the corporate experience. However a growing trend of ‘intrapreneurship’ is being evidenced in large companies.  Those adopting a spirit of entrepreneurship internally are charting the way to improved employee experience, efficiency and innovation.

One such organisation is Pernod Ricard, the global spirits company behind premium and prestige brands such as Chivas Regal, Jameson, Absolut and Beefeater. The company’s decentralised business model means all employees can be entrepreneurs and take full advantage of the opportunities their markets have to offer.

Employees are prized for their initiative, independence and creativity.  Risk-taking is rewarded and the company acknowledges that mistakes can be made, viewing them as part of upholding a spirit of entrepreneurialism.

There is no place better to see this working than in the Pernod Ricard Brand Ambassador Programme, a graduate programme giving top talent a true taste of running their own businesses within the frameworks of a leading global company.

Brand ambassadors are salaried employees for a two-year tenure and, as the front to some of the world’s most authentic premium and prestige brands, travel both locally and internationally gaining exposure to a range of field and office based activities, supported by intensive training and close mentoring relationships.

In nearly twenty five years of working with brand ambassadors, we have fine-tuned 7 key components for building successful teams of entrepreneurs:

Recruit ‘self-starters’ who are a good cultural fit for the organisation

Entrepreneurs think and act like owners. Our recruitment process involves targeting bright, ambitious individuals across a range of different disciplines.   We look for young people with warm, confident and effervescent personalities in keeping with Pernod Ricard’s culture of conviviality who want to take initiative and control their own employee experience.

Create ownership of the business

A culture of personal accountability, where employees possess the freedom to make appropriate decisions and the courage to take ownership, is the single most powerful, most desired, and least understood characteristic of a successful work environment.  Every new brand ambassador on our programme has to write his or her own business plan, setting objectives, devising strategy and putting in place the mechanics of delivering the plan to budget.   This drives ownership of what they have to do right from the start.

Embed measurability in routines

Successful entrepreneurs have a finger on the pulse of all areas of performance in their businesses.  Our brand ambassadors provide daily feedback about activity in the trade, and write detailed monthly reports covering every aspect of the business we are in – from knowing trends and monitoring competitor activity to being disciplined on what stock levels are, tracking sales, expenses and social media commentary.

Empower with training

Most entrepreneurs learn by trial and error and are not given the advantages of training.  At Pernod Ricard however, new appointees on our programme undergo extensive induction and comprehensive local training, familiarising them with the local market, positioning the brands, exploring how to manage a social media presence and honing presentation skills. They then receive international training in countries such as Ireland, Scotland, France and Sweden – visiting the distillery operations of Pernod Ricard’s range of premium brands.   Young ambassadors are immersed in the making of the spirits as well as provenance and heritage of brand stories – in the truly authentic environments of each brand.

Foster an environment which encourages entrepreneurial thinking

One of the primary tasks of the business leader is to manage culture and to foster a positive environment in which entrepreneurial thinking is encouraged.  This means providing ongoing and close mentoring to build confidence and encourage creativity and risk taking, and thereby innovation.  Brand ambassadors are encouraged to be masters of their own universe,  being entirely accountable for their own businesses and KPI’s, but there is a sense of family to fall back on when mistakes are made.

Promote cohesion that embraces a winning culture

There is more to an environment of corporate entrepreneurship than simply inciting inspiration. It also relies heavily on a system of continuous analysis and feedback, as individuals and as a team.  As vested business owners, the brand ambassadors have a winning mindset and are empowered to identify weak links that compromise the performance of the group as a whole.

Recognise and reward

Recognition and reward are an essential form of positive feedback for entrepreneurial behaviour in organisations.  It can be as simple as congratulating a brand ambassador on a job well done or securing an opportunity to advance their career, or showcasing their successes across the broader business – amplifying ‘facetime’ with key decision makers.

Pernod Ricard’s brand ambassadors have jobs that many would envy, representing premium brands and living a lifestyle that reflects these brands. But beneath the glamour they are learning the challenging realities of brand marketing and honing their skills to become Pernod Ricard’s next generation of career success stories. Past brand ambassadors at Pernod Ricard have moved into all areas of the business from marketing and trade marketing to human resources to public affairs.  The programme has proved itself as spring-board to positions around the world.

And they’ve all learned to become business owners and continue to reflect the spirit of entrepreneurship in their onward career progression.

All articles written by this CONTRIBUTOR are solely their opinion and do not represent the views of After12 Magazine. Should you have any queries or concerns, please don't hesitate to email them to info@after12mag.co.za

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