May 19, 2020

Four great innovators and what we can learn from them

business innovation
The Body Shop
Paul Sloane
5 min
Four great innovators and what we can learn from them

Business innovation is about finding new ways to meet customer needs. A great way to do this is by copying some of the ideas and approaches of great innovators. Here are some examples.


Anita Roddick opened the first Body Shop store in Brighton in 1976 to provide an income for herself and her two daughters. The Body Shop was remarkably different from conventional cosmetic stores. It offered quality skin care products in plain refillable containers and sample sizes with no advertising or hype. Roddick created a range of products based on natural ingredients at a time when people were increasingly anxious over the use of chemicals. She appealed to her customers' concern for the environment. She offered discounted refills to customers who brought back their empty containers. This fresh approach proved a storming success. 

Lesson - do the opposite. Swim against the tide. Anita Roddick deliberately did the reverse of what the industry leaders and experts did. She saw that cosmetic stores were stuffy places that sold toiletries, perfumes and medicinal creams in expensive packaging and pretty bottles. She did the opposite by packaging the goods in Body Shop stores in cheap, plastic bottles with plain labels. The store gave refills. It saved cost and it made a statement that the contents of the packages were what mattered.

Jeff Bezos developed a keen interest in computers as a boy. He graduated from Princeton in 1986 with a degree in computer science and electrical engineering. He then worked for an investment firm in New York before quitting his well-paid position in 1994 to start Amazon, just as internet commerce was beginning to take off.  He started the company in his garage where he wrote the software systems for online commerce.  He opened his virtual bookstore in 1995. The success of the company was spectacular. Within two months of opening sales were running at $20,000 a week and they continued to escalate. In 2016 his personal wealth was estimated to be some $60 billion making him one of the five richest people in America.

Lesson - disrupt your own business before someone else does. Offering second hand books at low margin threatened Amazon’s higher value new book sales but this did not bother Bezos. He wanted to own that segment of the market too and to prevent a competitor from seizing it.

Anticipate customer needs. Amazon was selling conventional books but Bezos could see that some people would want to read electronic books on computers. He stole a march on competitors by developing Amazon’s proprietary e-book reader, the Kindle. It was attractively priced and scooped the market.  For a book seller to build a consumer electronics product device was a risky venture but it paid off.

In 1912 a young American scientist, Clarence Birdseye departed on a fur-trading expedition to Labrador in Canada. While he was there he noticed that the local Eskimos kept their fish fresh in winter by freezing it in the ice.  He was intrigued to find that the fish retained its flavour and did not deteriorate. He wondered whether the same process could be applied to other foodstuffs and developed on a commercial scale.

Birdseye returned to the USA and worked on this idea. He developed a ‘Quick Freeze Machine’ which copied the method used by the Eskimos. The machine worked for a range of foods including fruit and vegetables. He created the frozen food industry.

Lesson - look outside for ideas. Solve your problem by adapting a concept that works somewhere else. Birdseye would not have produced his innovation if he has stayed in New York.  He saw an idea in a completely different environment, a snowy wilderness, and adapted it for widespread use in an urban environment. He knew that people in cities needed supplies of healthy fresh food.

Travis Kalanick was born in Los Angeles in 1976. He enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles, to study computer engineering but in 1998, he and some colleagues dropped out of UCLA to found a start-up which subsequently filed for bankruptcy.

In 2009, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp founded Uber, a mobile application that connects passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire and ridesharing services. The company started as a two-car operation in San Fancisico and then rocketed upwards. By 2016 it had over 1 million drivers, was delivering over 3 million rides a day in 66 countries, and was valued at $62 billion. It is claimed to be the fastest-growing start up in business history. So big was the impact that Uber became a verb meaning to disrupt and entire industry model. 

Lesson - innovate with other people’s resources; especially if they are under-utilised resources. Uber does not own any cars. It is fundamentally an app which links people who want rides with people who are prepared to provide them. How can you harness the ‘gig economy’ to help other people provide a service which customers will value?

Find something broken and fix it. Kalanick had the idea for Uber when he was in Paris in 2009 and could not get a taxi. Most people would just complain or take the bus but Kalanick thought there must be a better way. He thought ‘Why not harness the capacity of all the drivers in Paris who would be happy to give me a ride for a fee.’ Wherever there is a constraint on a supply there is an opportunity for an innovator to find a new way to meet the demand.

Based on Think Like an Innovator – 76 inspiring lessons from the world’s greatest thinkers and innovators, by Paul Sloane. 


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Jun 13, 2021

Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl

Kate Birch
5 min
Former CMO for IBM Americas Maria Bartolome Winans was recently named CMO for Kyndryl. Maria talks about her new role and her leadership style

Former Chief Marketing Officer for IBM Americas, and an IBM veteran of more than 25 years, Maria Bartolome Winans was recently named CMO for Kyndryl.

Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.

With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.

You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?

I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.

We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.

What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?

I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.

The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.

I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.

What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?

When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.

What does success look like to you?

I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.

What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?

I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.

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