Executive innovation

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Arbogast, Gordon W.
Jadav, Arpita

Arbogast, G. W., Jadav, A. (2022). Executive innovation. Proceedings of the 2022 IEMS Conference, 28, 61-72.


One recent quote for the role of CEOs and other C-Suite executives on the innovation of a firm is: "Innovation executives are not expected to be the innovators, but the great ones can facilitate ideation processes effectively to generate great ideas" (Soloman, 2005). This paper explores the role of CEO/Top Executive participation in innovation in modern business. At the turn of the 20th century, there were many great inventors who also became successful businessmen. They founded and played key management roles in firms that created the backbone in the infrastructure and business growth of the country. Thomas Edison (GE), Alexander Graham Bell (AT&T) and the Wright Brothers (Aircraft) are just a few that come to mind. However, as the 20th century wore on, America's big business organizations became more bureaucratic with CEOs and executives leaving entrepreneurship and innovation primarily to their R&D divisions (e.g., Bell Labs and RCA Labs) and to outside organizations that could be acquired if necessary. However, recent trends indicate that this may be changing. This paper looks at today's state of innovation and examines the current role of innovation as it pertains to CEO and Top Executives. This subject of CEO/Executive innovation is approached with a view of: (1) examining if the spirit of innovation is alive at the CEO level; and (2) if it is, determining if today's CEOs/Executives are contributing to innovation in U.S. major firms. A literature review addresses some of the authors and academicians who have contributed current major ideas concerning innovation. Joel Barker is a futurist who has spent his career focusing on paradigm shifts and innovation. A famous MIT professor, Clayton Christensen, was another who developed and documented key ideas in innovation that are now mainstream e.g., the theory of disruptive innovation. Lastly, most graduate books on Business Strategy address innovation in a separate chapter and describe the latest ways that a firm can embrace innovation to be successful. Much insight into this topic was gained by examining a recent Forbes list of Executive Innovators (Forbes 2019). At the top of the Forbes list are found some common names of U.S. CEOs and Executives. Quite a few have recently displayed a healthy penchant toward reaping the benefits of innovation. Included in the list were: Sundar Pichai at Alphabet (Google); Jeff Bezos at Amazon; and Elon Musk at Tesla. Three major recent CEOs who epitomized the best in the successful harnessing of innovation over the past 30 years are also discussed in some detail: Steve Jobs (computers and other related fields), Edward Whitacre (Telecommunications) and E. Hunter Harrison (Railroads). While examining these leading CEO/Executives, deregulation in the United States economy was identified to be a potential important construct that may well have influenced positively the changing role of modern CEOs and top Executives in innovation. It is concluded that all innovation does not necessarily have to be driven by intrapreneurs within a firm or acquired from outside a firm. In fact, CEOs are more active today in driving innovation than at any time since the earliest 20th century. It appears that innovation at the CEO/Executive level has been revived and is far from being defunct!! Future CEO and Top Executive position hires should be examined with innovation in mind. At a minimum criterion for selecting a new CEO or Top Executive needs to include how well they have delivered innovation in their past executive assignments, as well as what ideas they have for generating innovation in their new job. Recommendations are also made as how to further research this topic to provide definitive factors that are driving innovation at the CEO and Executive levels today. Such research on innovation should not be limited to just technological innovations, but needs to be expanded to include innovations in such functional areas of business as marketing, operations, procurement, R&D etc. Lastly, future research could also be undertaken in innovation using techniques such as data analytics. A data-centric technique could be employed which would focus on using machine learning algorithms to identify themes that are driving the recent upsurge in CEO and Executive innovation.

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Published in SOAR: Shocker Open Access Repository by Wichita State University Libraries Technical Services, November 2022. 2022 IEMS Officers: Gamal Weheba (Conference Chair); Hesham Mahgoub (Program Chair); Dalia Mahgoub (Technical Director); Ed Sawan (Publications Editor)