The launch of Cintrifuse’s Innovation Ops Series kicks off on March 22  — Building Proof of Concepts. 

Executive in Residence Roundtable | EY, Kroger, P&G talk innovation at Cintrifuse

Earlier this week we introduced you to some of our new (and some of the old) Executives in Residence at Cintrifuse. It’s a deeply experienced team that represents three important members of the “supporter” family at Cintrifuse — EY, The Kroger Company and Procter & Gamble

As one would expect, their roles are unique and their bodies of work are multi-threaded, so it’s a complex structure to follow. However, we sat with the full team to not only understand their goals at Cintrifuse, but also learn a little bit more about their nearly 100 years of combined experience they bring to Cintrifuse.

Read more: Kroger, P&G each add members to Cintrifuse’s collection of Executives in Residence

Participating in the session: Our four EIRs

Maurice Coffey — Had been with Procter and Gamble since 1996. His wide-range of experience was a “very broad collection of assignments,” he said. However, innovation has been a single tie-in for him with different adjacencies across the business. Much like the other EIRs, Cintrifuse was the “natural” evolution of his time at his home company.

Jo Haight —  Jo jumped aboard at Cintrifuse with 17 years of experience at P&G in purchasing, buying materials and packaging them. Other work included advertising and branded entertainment, research, PR and digital. In her career she had lots of exposure with startups… more so that someone in purchasing might normally have, she said. “It just made sense for me to be here,” Jo said.

Sam Korach — Before landing at Cintrifuse, Sam was a strategy consultant with EY in Chicago focusing primarily on the healthcare sector. As he says, it worked perfectly for him to join right around the time that Spry Labs was opening up as a venture lab at Cintrifuse.

Kevin Willey — Kevin is the newest EIR addition at Cintrifuse. He came to Kroger first as a lead architect on digital space (ClickList, etc) and spent five years in the role. The past fours years he has been the Director of Enterprise Architecture — focusing on digital innovation for technology. Kevin says that Kroger is “a 130-year-old company that finds itself engaging more and more and more with VCs and entrepreneurs” which led up to his position at Cintrifuse.

The Roundtable

We’ll start off with a mission at the core of our strategy… but as it relates to your parent company. What is the relationship like between your employer and “innovation?”

Maurice (P&G) — The environment is rapidly changing. Our secret sauce is scale. We’ve scaled everything. Traditionally, we were a brand that meant something. The brand had equity and had meaning. How easily you can create a brand changes the game. Now the question today is; “what blog page can you be a part of?” Huge companies can’t change as quickly. Now we ask; “how do you get a company to adapt?”

Jo (P&G) — Everyone at P&G incorporates some level of innovation into their body of work, but it’s different for each role….. Is it disruptive? Is it transformational? Is it sustainable? I think almost everyone knows what to do at Procter. I think, as we evolve, we’ve seen our partners are great at being transformative… but sometimes we need new partners. Sometimes they’re big, sometime they’re not. This is where we’ve changed a lot over the past five years. This is where there are a lot of parts that benefit startups. Cintrifuse plays an interesting part in all of this in bringing this all together. Bringing BigCos and VCs and startups all together? Cintrifuse does all of that. We tap into that to try to identify that create opportunities.

Sam (EY) — Now at EY, you find innovation as a part of everyone’s rocks or priorities. We look at innovation all over the business, everywhere. And at EY, our greatest asset is our people. So, we are focused on hiring people with the right mindset when it comes to innovation.  We are hiring people to take jobs that don’t exist yet, that use technologies that doesn’t exist yet, to solve problems that don’t exist yet.  Our focus is getting people exposed to the best opportunities and finding new ways of supporting our clients.

Kevin (Kroger) — Kroger has always been really good at listening to the customer and responding very quickly what they ask for. What’s happening now, today? This is the Steve Jobs effect. No one knew they wanted an iPod, but he told them they did. Amazon has become very proactive like this. So, now, you take that and you learn about people and put it in front of them instead of just listening and providing.

Our work at Kroger with Cintrifuse was an avenue of getting into this new way of innovation and learning. Cintrifuse is local. We’re midwestern. This is why we’re committed to local. We’re committed to learning. We’re open to the technologies they bring. Being down at Cintrifuse really allows us to see inside of all aspects in this ecosystem. There’s the fund. There’s the startups. There’s the investments. It’s a place to engage and start to generate new things for our customers.

Now we turn the lens to you, specifically. What is your employer’s strategy behind your placement at Cintrifuse.

Maurice (P&G) — From a broad perspective, we had the thought that the best and brightest were always attracted to the best companies… but that’s no longer the case. Now, how do you get the best and brightest minds into the region in Cincinnati? This includes recruiting partnerships and more. And from a more specific perspective, how do you start to think about bringing those minds into the company. How do we get those people into P&G still?

Kevin (Kroger) — The strategy for us was really… mine. I ended up selling with my management team. It’s a part of the fundamental changing we’re undergoing. This isn’t something that is just going to happen organically.

With Kroger, we feed the human spirit. But people see us selling groceries. That doesn’t excite Wall Street. They’re out there trying to find the next cool thing to do. There’s a lot of cool things happening in our space. We need to get more people excited. That’s a part of what is happening with this. It’s getting people excited about the capabilities we have.

How do we excite people? Not just bringing things back to Kroger, but in Cincinnati. Making this a hub. There is a whole different vibe to Cincinnati. How do we make it even better that serves us all better? Make it a destination for technology companies…. Even if that does sound a little idealistic [laughs].

Jo (P&G) — Two years ago purchasing made a recognition. We could benefit from a Sourcing Professional in Residence in Cintrifuse. When this started, we thought about, “how we could build this in?” And we needed a high return on this idea. This is how Cintrifuse became a natural fit for selection.

One, it’s local. Second, we want to be considered an innovation champion for startups. That may not have been the case before. We have the tendency to make things more difficult. I was set in to help to fix these problems. Changing the front end of our company to startups. Startups do sh*t right. We tend to take a bit longer. I am here to ask the question, “how do we get people in the company start to thinking differently?”

Sam (EY) — For us, it is a natural fit.  Between Cintrifuse’s role in the ecosystem and our purpose, it just works. When we think about building a better working world, we can’t be single threaded —  we can’t be focused solely on large enterprise — we have to be supportive of the next generation of small businesses and of entrepreneurs. When you look at things like our Entrepreneur of the Year program, it’s all about supporting the entrepreneurs.  But it’s also building a better ecosystem.

Kevin (Kroger) — I know for me, I should also add —  no revenue expectations were set for me. What about you all?

All — [Collecting of head shaking and “no’s.]

Maurice (P&G) —  I just wrote this down… “How do you bring diversity of thought and approach back into your home company?” So we think about this: “how do we get people to go out and learn those better ways to think and to work and bring it back?” Are you doing it at a high enough level? Are you doing it where you can affect change in your company? If a junior did this, they may get declined or smacked around. We’re here to build an effect at the highest level.

Kevin (Kroger) — There’s this phrase that gets floated around where people say, “Kroger needs to act more like a startup.” No. We need to learn, but there’s a role for everything. We need to adopt some of the startup mentality.

Maurice (P&G) — There’s a balance. I agree.

Jo (P&G) — There’s a different level of risk tolerance that you’re able to take when you’ve got $0 in the bank and when you’ve got tens of billions.

Maurice (P&G) — Frustrations I’ve seen in the past are like this — I look at some of the innovation challenges I saw in hair care. We went through the whole Eric Reiss way of thinking of things and it’s this. It’s junior folks complaining about senior leadership saying “why aren’t we acting like startup entrepreneurs” and them not understanding that’s OK. It’s okay because they’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars they have to return in ROI. There are ways of thinking though that can help you be a better and faster organization.

Jo (P&G) — The role of the intrapreneur is another thing to consider… Entrepreneurs are willing to put a six-figure salary on the shelf and passionately pursue something. If you are willing to walk away, you’re an entrepreneur. If not, and you’re just going to test, you’re an intrapreneur. There are skill sets, mindsets and  toolsets that entrepreneurs in Cincinnati can teach you. How do you take those things back and inspire the intrapreneur?

Sam (EY) — I’ll never influence the way (right now) our CEO thinks about about startups. But when I look across our firm and see these programs, like the ones we have with Cintrifuse, we’re investing talent into these programs that is young talent. We know that the median age of our company is 28 or 29.  So, we have the generational piece built into the bulk of our workforce. This way of thinking and investing in young talent is coming.

Jo (P&G) —  A while back, I had an interviewee ask me if I’d rather work for someone in corporate or in a startup and I flipped the question. They told me i’d piuck a startup because they’re agile, they’ll do things different. I tell them I’m going to pick a founder of a startup though. I think of a median age of the mid thirties or early forties. They all worked in corporations. They have experience and they know what risk aversion is and they went and actually have a balance. They know when they can go fast or put process in place.

We see the benefit to the home company? But what about Cintrifuse now? Can you add on to more about how your body of work is beneficial to ours?

Jo (P&G) — For me, personally, only about 20 percent of my work is really reporting to Wendy. Eighty is back to P&G. What I’ve been able to do, though, is make this processes for startups at P&G less “hellish” and I’ve been able to take enough data to help people understand at P&G that startups can’t live in a world with 75 terms for Net75. So I’ve gone through to change the policy for P&G and it has a direct impact on the startups here in Cincinnati.

And in other ways… I want to help people navigate big companies. So I have been able to share knowledge about preparing people for meetings or dissecting what BigCos are actually telling you (the startup) or preparing for negotiations with customer. How do You navigate those types of relationships.

Kevin (Kroger) — There needs to be a balance with everything. There’s a supply and a demand system that needs to be built. I think about what I can do through being here is working to balance and helping big companies towards change. But if we focus too much on making it too easy for startups, we may have the self-fulfilling prophecy that has us playing a game where startups just try to say the “magic word” and get in the door. What it’s really about is creating a system that truly delivers value. How do we take our systems and learn how to manage risk in new ways? I really want to work with my peers in the community.

Maurice (P&G) — Interesting. I think my ratio was set as the opposite of Jo’s. I’m more the 80-20. Along the way I need to figure out the value of bringing things back to Procter. When I think of what I could be as a subject matter expert —  that’s great, but I want to roll up my sleeves and learn. People have come in the past to be a strategist. My first 90 days is telling me what to do. I’ve been able to also look around and say “I can help this, I can help that.” For me, I feel great about P&G putting me here, but I have to find a way to bring value back home. It’s coming. And I’m ready to learn.

Sam (EY) — I’m 80-20, so very similar to Maurice.  At EY, we try to focus our work at Cintrifuse on both sides of the supply and demand economy.  My role focuses specifically on stirring up the demand side of the economy, through work with Cintrifuse’s BigCo partners like the ones in this room and through working with Spry Labs.  We also have a pool of professional service hours that’s dedicated to Cintrifuse members to help with everything from financial projections to valuation and the list goes on. So, we try to stay multifaceted in that way.  

You’re in a unique place. Not many experience a position like yours. What do you hope to achieve personally?

Jo (P&G) — I’m here closing out on month 11 of 12. I talk internally about after 17 years at a BigCo, it’s easy to get complacent. After being here for about two weeks I recognized how complacent I had got. Being here put me on a totally new ‘S curve’ for development. I am excited to go back to the mothership at the end of this all now. I am excited to try to insert some of the things I’ve learned about innovation and being social. About getting out of the office or just getting to be uncomfortable. It’s time to inject some of this back into the office. For me — the best thing that’s happened to me at P&G was to come here. But it may not be for everyone. You never know.

Sam (EY) — I’m extremely grateful for the time here.  I won’t lie, I was a bit nervous leaving Chicago for this role, but it’s been great. The exposure I’ve gotten to new technologies, new ways of working, new resources definitely exceeded my expectations. And the relationships have been the cherry on top. It’s now my job to take that exposure back and deliver it to our teams at EY.

Kevin (Kroger) — Not sure I can add much more to that… But I want —  I need — that type of experience. The world changes. It feels like a very different future is ahead of us. It’s important to understand it and to achieve it. It’s about leaving behind a better world. It’s about making something that’s better and different for future people to do.

Maurice (P&G) — For me it’s another chapter in the book. One of the things that’s been consistent: I want to make the places I go better after getting there.

Kevin (Kroger) — Look, the number of people doing what we’re doing in the country is probably measured in the dozens. It’s not like there’s a career field out there of people like us. It’s a really cool thing to try to do. We’re lucky to do it.

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