This semester, the Purposeful Work Initiative and the Entrepreneurship Project Steering Committee have sponsored an entrepreneurship speaker series entitled Purposeful Work: Voices in Entrepreneurship. Thus far, Bruce Stangle ’70 and Daniel Vannoni ’05 have spoken about their experiences; the first founded the largest private economic consultancy in the world and the second works as a tech-centric serial entrepreneur, despite little technical experience.
On Wednesday, March 19th, Joshua Macht ’91 delivered the third presentation, entitled Old Company, New Tricks: Big Businesses Need Entrepreneurs Too. Macht has worked as a journalist, publisher and entrepreneur inside some big traditional media companies, from Time Magazine to his current employer, the Harvard Business Review. Macht spoke to members of the Bates community about the need for innovation even within large established companies and shared experiences to support this idea.
From the start of Macht’s talk, he worked to keep his audience engaged in the material he presented. He began by asking attendees what their majors were and if any dream of starting their own businesses or becoming writers. He used this opening to segue into his own time at Bates. “Wanting to be a writer drove me,” Macht told his audience, describing how he and some classmates started A Journal of Undergraduate Work as a platform for publishing scholarly pieces produced by students. Macht and his partners imagined the journal might expand to include a host of other schools, but the project only endured for three or four years. For Macht, he thought that although they had failed, they had tried. This theme of innovating even with the threat of failure ran constant throughout Macht’s talk.
Although Macht grew up in a print world, once he graduated he found himself surrounded by new emerging technology, including the Internet, which he admits stole his heart immediately. He projected images of the first webpages, pointing to this visual representation of brand new ideas as the “core of this whole idea of innovation.” Macht broke the concept of innovation down into two categories. First, sustaining innovation, the kind that big companies employ to improve upon and perfect products that elite customers are willing to pay for. Second is the kind of innovation that entrepreneurs employ to find pockets of underserved customers and come up with a product to suit their needs – known as disruptive innovation.
Kodak served as Macht’s example of sustaining innovation. The company excelled at making great film and cameras that produced high quality photos. When the digital age came around, Kodak invested billions of dollars and countless hours into developing a great digital camera that would take equally high quality photos. By the time they rolled out their new product, they had missed the point. Kodak had misjudged the competition. People weren’t searching for the perfect digital pictures; they were searching for inexpensive access to photography and ways to share that photography with other people. Kodak has since gone out of business.
Entrepreneurs don’t work at the painstaking pace of Kodak. As Macht put it, “entrepreneurs move quickly…they adapt.” For instance, Herb Keller founded Southwest Airlines in the 1970s, striving to compete with busses instead of the established airlines. He provided an inexpensive service with few frills, targeting a lower-income group than traditional airlines, and found success.
Macht continued to encourage audience participation as he turned the discussion to Apple. He asked students to articulate why people like Apple products so much and eventually articulated that, “people don’t like their phones, they love their phones.” Macht stressed how Apple has successfully emphasized the emotional appeal of their products.
After delivering this mini lesson in business practices, Macht returned to his own experiences in the workplace. When he began working for Harvard Business Review eight years ago, the magazine had barely changed since its first issue. He suggested they turn a new page, embracing failure and producing lots of blogs and online posts. Although his ideas were at first laughed at by some, Macht and his team has succeeded in making the magazine more accessible, resulting in 40,000 copies being bought on newsstands today, 23,000 more than previously. Additionally, Harvard Business Review’s website now hosts more than four million viewers annually.
Students asked how Macht suggested such change could be implemented at established companies. How does one politely bring up the idea of innovation? Macht answered that humility is important. The most important thing to keep in mind when suggesting change is, in Macht’s words, “showing reverence for what’s gone before you.” At the core of any push for innovation must lie respect for the tradition of a company and a belief in what that institution does.
Macht’s talk provided a great overview of how entrepreneurship works for those unfamiliar with the idea as well as detailing his personal relationship with innovation within big companies. Interested students will soon be able to view Macht’s presentation in its entirety on the BCDC webpage. Additionally, Batesies should keep their eyes out for emails detailing upcoming Purposeful Work: Voices in Entrepreneurship speakers Jennifer Porter ’88, and David Shaw P’00 and Ben Shaw ’00.