Recently there’s been a fair amount of talk about “intrepreneurism,” or behaving like an entrepreneur inside an existing organization. When I first heard this concept being discussed, my ears perked up.
“Yes!” I thought to myself, “That’s exactly the way I’ve positioned my career over the last three decades — not as a pure entrepreneur, striking out on my own, but as someone who wants to innovate and effect change from within.”
Because when it comes right down to it, whether your name is on the sign outside the door or just on the door of your office, to be successful you have to be the boss — the boss of your own career. To me, that means not being afraid to put yourself out there or take charge. It means being willing to float a new idea even if not everyone gets it right away. And it means not being afraid to fail.
You may be saying that all sounds great in theory but, in reality, a job is a job and has certain parameters within which you have to work. So let me give you a couple of personal examples. When I came back to Schwab after working at another company, I recognized a need to help women manage their finances. Because the truth of the matter is that the financial world had been (and still largely is) male-centric. I was determined to change that — at least within Schwab. And looking back, I’m proud of our early efforts. Through our workshops and educational materials we touched thousands of women, and perhaps more importantly, we moved the dial within Schwab. We still have a lot of work to do, but our commitment is strong and our employees are eager for the challenge to bring more women into the industry, and ultimately to better serve women clients.
Next up was my column, Ask Carrie: The Personal Side of Money. At the time, Schwab advice was almost exclusively focused on the more technical aspects of investing and money management. Many felt that covering the basics of finance was too soft, not financially sophisticated enough. But I knew, both from working with clients and from talking with colleagues and friends, that people from all backgrounds and levels of wealth had questions about money. I wanted to write a straightforward column — free from all the typical jargon and financial mumbo jumbo — that would help give people a good grounding in money management, based on their personal circumstances. And now, 10 years later, Ask Carrie is syndicated and drawing more readers every year.
More recently, when I took over as head of Charles Schwab Foundation, the mandate was to manage the foundation’s resources. But I wanted to do more; to create a culture of philanthropy within the company and rally the troops around the importance of giving back with both time and money. From that grew Schwab Volunteer Week, as well as our latest addition, the Schwab Pro Bono Challenge, one of the most successful corporate pro bono programs outside of the legal field.
But this isn’t about me. It’s about what it takes to push new ideas and seize new opportunities. It’s about taking the risks — and the flak — that come with being truly innovative. It’s hard. It takes courage, passion and, most of all, persistence.
Of course I had the benefit of learning from the best. In my opinion, my dad is the consummate entrepreneur — tackling what seemed like an unending barrage of personal and financial challenges because he had a vision of how he wanted to change the world. He was determined. And when people thought his idea was crazy or his timing was off, he had the grit to keep going.
But before you can keep going, you have to know what you’re going for. What moves you? What makes you want to do more? And for what are you willing to risk failure to gain success? To be the boss of your career, to shape the career that will give you the greatest rewards both personally and professionally, you have to have the same vision and drive as the person behind the latest start-up. That’s the kind of person I want on my team. It’s that entrepreneurial (or intrepreneurial) spirit that will ultimately contribute not only to the success of the individual within a company, but to the success of the company as a whole.
Carrie Schwab Pomerantz is president of Charles Schwab Foundation and senior vice president at Charles Schwab & Co., Inc., Member SIPC. Charles Schwab Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, private foundation that is not part of Schwab or its parent company, The Charles Schwab Corporation.
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