Executive perspectives on innovation

Tue Oct 8, 2013 7:06am EDT

(This article was produced independently of the Reuters newsroom. It was created by the public relations department of another Thomson Reuters unit, the Intellectual Property & Science division.)

The Webster Dictionary coins "innovation" as the act of introducing something new. This is precisely what all of the Thomson Reuters Top 100 Global Innovators did over the course of the last three years in order to make this list.

But innovation has an even deeper meaning to Thomson Reuters. It is the act of protecting those inventions with patents in order to gain competitive advantage. Patents give the holder exclusive rights to the technology or method or process for a period of up to 20 years (in most jurisdictions) and enable the innovator to reap commercial gains for their investment in the process.

Analysts of the Thomson Reuters Top 100 Global Innovators program set out to find what it is like to lead one of these organizations. They interviewed a number of CEOs and senior-level executives from companies on its Top 100 lists, asking them what it means to be innovative. Following are perspectives from these interviews that capture the essence of innovation.

ON INNOVATION AS A FOUNDATION OF THE BUSINESS

"In industries undergoing fundamental structural change, such as ours, innovation is an essential ingredient for success," said Ben Verwaayen, former CEO of Alcatel-Lucent. "This extends beyond the mere production of products that are different from those offered by others. Rather, achieving innovation requires that those products and services will have real impact on the market ... that they will help customers overcome the new challenges facing them in a rapidly changing environment. In Alcatel-Lucent, our devotion to being innovative is far more than a component of our strategy; it is the foundation of everything that we do."

Most of the executives interviewed agreed that innovation has been a part of their organization's culture since inception. Whether they are with a more recently established company or an organization in existence for more than a century, they say that innovation has been and is a cornerstone or pillar of their business.

Bill Coughlin, CEO of Ford Global Technologies, said that "Ford's remarkable history of innovation (dating back to the early 1900's) reads like a novel and proves that ingenuity is core to Ford's DNA."

Samuel Allen, CEO of John Deere, summed up the innovation culture at his company when he said, "Innovation is a core value and is part of our culture - it's not an initiative. Our company began 175 years ago with the innovation of a self-scouring steel plow . . . Today, we invest in processes and tools to ensure our employees can gain the deep customer understanding necessary for generating innovative ideas, and turn those ideas into products and services for our customers."

Terry Gettys, Executive Vice President of Research and Development at Michelin, said, "Innovation is a key component of our business strategy; ever since Michelin was established, the dynamics of innovation and the search for new technologies for the customer's benefit have been at the core of Michelin's strategy and success. For Michelin, there is no business strategy without innovation and no innovation without business strategy."

ON OPEN INNOVATION

Running a Top 100 Global Innovator organization in the 21st century requires adapting to a global and extremely competitive environment, the interviews revealed. Given the speed and pace of innovation, it isn't always possible to meet customer needs and stay on the cutting edge of new technologies through just internal development. Several executives mentioned this.

Marko Erman, SVP of Research and Technology at Thales, said, "Innovation is not only present internally (at Thales), but it equally takes place in partnerships. For 15 years, Thales has been committed to the path of open innovation by creating ecosystems for innovation through partnerships with different stakeholders from academia and industry."

"We are convinced that a strong link between science and industry is mandatory to bring solutions to the challenges associated with the energy transition," said Olivier Appert, CEO of IFP Energies Nouvelles. "Our economic model is definitely one of our main strengths, with its blend of fundamental research, applied research and industrial engineering. . . . None of this would be possible without our close ties with socio-economic stakeholders, and our joint quest for excellence with universities and research facilities."

Verwaayen of Alcatel-Lucent shared his philosophy on this subject: "[Open innovation] is evident in our establishing GreenTouch®, a collaboration between universities, corporations and government research institutions committed to realizing a 1000-fold reduction in the energy consumption of information and communications technologies. This culture of innovation has been the hallmark of our past, and continues to define who we are today."

Jacques Aschenbroich , CEO of Valeo, stated, "In a world that is more and more open, we promote innovation of the widest possible scope, including partnerships with public research bodies, academic organizations, customers, and suppliers."

ON PEOPLE

Several CEOs talked about people as their greatest assets.

"Our most innovative assets are our people and our long-term commitment to invest in their development. . . . The strength of our employees' competencies is the motor that drives innovation in every domain of our business," said Gettys of Michelin.

Carlo Bozotti, CEO of STMicroelectronics, said, "People are certainly our most important asset. . . . We have developed extremely efficient and robust processes for managing innovation and for extracting the value from the invention. These processes would be of no use without creative people who can conceive and implement innovative ideas and sometimes also foster economic growth by envisaging and enabling completely new markets."

Aschenbroich of Valeo said, "Our people are definitely our most valuable asset. Nearly 8,000 people currently work in our Research and Development department worldwide. And we intend to recruit 1,000 engineers every year through 2015, on all continents."

ON BEING INNOVATIVE

Several executives talked about internal initiatives they have to encourage innovation. These include everything from the hiring process, annual awards programs, special training, and designations of being an "expert" bestowed on those who innovate and deliver.

"With 20 percent of revenues spent on R&D, innovation is at the heart of Thales's strategy, not only as a driver of growth, through the openness to new ideas, but also as a condition of performance, drawing inspiration from all areas of innovation to create a competitive advantage for our clients in terms of performance, usage and cost," said Erman. "We do not announce ourselves as innovative, we are recognized as such."

(This article was produced independently of the Reuters newsroom. It was created by the public relations department of another Thomson Reuters unit, the Intellectual Property & Science division.)

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