Feeding Executives to the ‘Sharks’ Breeds Intrapreneurship at UL

Intrapreneurship is essential to drive innovation, but not enough organizations are establishing the right environment to encourage this type of behavior. UL (Underwriters Laboratories) is an exception through its Executive Leadership Program, which embraces TV’s Shark Tank. tie-690084_1280

In my recent interview on Brandon Hall Group’s HCMx Radio with Patrick Boyle, the SVP and Chief Learning officer for UL opens up about ELP, which embodies the structure, support and opportunities to inspire intrapreneurship.

UL is a premier global safety science company, providing a broad array of services in more than 100 countries with more than 12,000 employees. Boyle joined UL in 2006 to establish and build UL University, the internal Learning and Development Organization. In 2009, he led the transformation of internal training into a commercially viable business unit with thousands of global customers in the manufacturing, health care and public service sectors. In 2012, he moved back to the corporate role that he holds today.

Before joining UL, Boyle spent seven years with Medtronic Asia Pacific as Organization Development Manager based in Hong Kong and Director of Organization Development located in Tokyo, where he instituted systematic company-wide HR initiatives, including training and business improvement across the region. Boyle started his career as an apprentice electrician with British Railways in 1978 in Edinburgh, Scotland, and completed his apprenticeship in 1982, gaining his electrician’s license.

He held several teaching and management assignments in Egypt, UK, Japan, Australia and Hong Kong, before joining Mass Transit Railways Corporation in Hong Kong in 1993. There, he developed training and development programs in operations, engineering, and management for the Railway business, both in Hong Kong and China.  He is a very established executive with a dynamic background.

Boyle has an absolute passion that you want leading your learning organization. When someone says you don’t know what it’s like to be in his or her shoes, that is the opposite of Boyle, who has spent time in the business running a P&L and understands the demanding pressures.  He has brought this understanding to how he runs Learning at UL, with the intent to offer programs that are going to drive the necessary results to move the business forward.

UL has been around for over a century, experiencing tremendous growth through acquisitions and partnerships, developing new products, penetrating new industries and geographies. He balances a culture that is risk-adverse with the pressure to be innovative to develop new offerings and systems. Boyle had the fortitude to take the appropriate steps for innovation by creating a think tank (ELP) that has awarded millions of dollars each year for the last five-plus years to incubate new ideas.

An elite group of top executives is invited to participate in ELP, where they can further learn from experts from Yale, a partner to UL on this program.  Candidates must demonstrate certain behaviors for success and exhibit UL Core Values in their character and work ethic and develop new business ideas. The program includes a version of Shark Tank. It’s comprised of a group of senior executives, Yale business executives, and VCs, which at the end of the year selects one of the ideas and provides the executives with the financial resources and structure to launch the new business.

“We measure the success of the ELP program in seeing how our culture has changed to foster this kind of creativity and drive,” Boyle said. “We do not  view the success of the program based on if a new business becomes successful. We see the success in the culture change; having a project take off and become a great business that makes money is a bonus.”

You can download the podcast anytime at the HCMx Radio site.


               –Rachel Cooke, Chief Operating Officer, Brandon Hall Group


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Mike Cooke

Chief Executive Officer of Brandon Hall Group Mike Cooke Prior to joining Brandon Hall Group, Mike Cooke was the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of AC Growth. Mike held leadership and executive positions for the majority of his career, at which he was responsible for steering sales and marketing teams to drive results and profitability. His background includes more than 15 years of experience in sales, marketing, management, and operations in the research, consulting, software and technology industries. Mike has extensive experience in sales, marketing and management having worked for several early high-growth emerging businesses and has implemented technology systems to support various critical sales, finance, marketing and client service functions. He is especially skilled in organizing the sales and service strategy to fully support a company’s growth strategy. The concept of growth was an absolute to Mike and a motivator in starting AC Growth, in order to help organizations achieve research driven results. Most recently, Mike was the VP and General Manager of Field Operations at Bersin & Associates, a global analyst and consulting services firm focused on all areas of enterprise learning, talent management and talent acquisition. Tasked with leading the company’s global expansion, Mike led all sales operations worldwide. During Mike’s tenure, the company has grown into a multi-national firm, conducting business in over 45 countries with over 4,500 multi-national organizations. Mike started his career at MicroVideo Learning Systems in 1992, eventually holding a senior management position and leading all corporate sales before founding Dynamic Minds. Mike was CEO and Co-Founder of Dynamic Minds, a custom developer of software programs, working with clients like Goldman Sachs, Prentice Hall, McGraw Hill and Merrill Lynch. Also, Mike worked for Oddcast, a leading provider of customer experience and marketing solutions, where he held a senior management position leading the company into new markets across various industries. Mike also serves on the Advisory Board for Carbon Solutions America, an independent sustainability consulting and carbon management firm that specializes in the design and implementation of greenhouse reduction and sustainability plans as well as managing the generation of carbon and renewal energy and energy efficiency credits. Mike attended University of Phoenix, studying Business Administration and Finance. He has also completed executive training at the Chicago Graduate School of Business in Chicago, IL.