‘After my graduation I started to work as a researcher at Vlerick Business School in Belgium. After a few years I decided to start a PhD trajectory.’ Annelies ended up with Bart Van Looy, who is a professor in Leuven and an affiliate professor in Twente. She also already knew Twente’s professor Petra de Weerd-Nederhof and the three of them developed the idea to start a joint promotion.
‘The group in Twente is strong in case study research, whereas the department in Leuven has a strong position in econometrics and patent data.’ The Belgian researcher describes her double position as a win-win situation for herself, but also for the universities. ‘Both universities can add another PhD graduate to their list. But more importantly, they also learn from each other. Why work on an island when there are so many possible synergies and double networks?’ Annelies hopes that she has set the tone and that others will follow her example.
Exploit the present, explore the future
In a way, Annelies, her promotors and assistant promotor Klaasjan Visscher can be considered champions. They are people who find this step important and are able to translate it into reality. Funnily enough, this is a prominent topic in her research. ‘I study effective innovation strategies in established companies. It’s a real danger that incumbent firms get blinded by satisfying their existing customers in the current markets. But innovation is essential for long-term growth and firm survival. The presence of critical roles within the firm, like entrepreneurial champions, is crucial.’
Annelies states that companies need to exploit the present and explore the future, which is far from easy. ‘The design and implementation of a sound innovation strategy encompasses multiple objectives. Management practices that are most productive for exploiting existing business are counterproductive for exploring radically new innovations.’ To combine the opposites is a brain teaser.
Ericsson and Alcatel
‘I intensively studied the innovation process of ADSL technology at Ericsson and Alcatel. Ericsson failed and Alcatel was successful.’ According to Annelies, both companies saw ADSL technology as one amongst many projects in the beginning and integrated the R&D in existing business units. But as soon as the technology appeared very promising, Alcatel decided to create an internal corporate venturing unit that exclusively focused on ADSL. Annelies continues: ´’This was only possible because Alcatel had a champion in the organization, who was convinced of the ADSL opportunities and was able to persuade decision makers of that. My findings show that effective innovation strategies comprise a configuration of critical success factors, such as organizational arrangements of a differentiated nature, roles and flexibility.’
Annelies aims to defend her dissertation in the summer of 2014. In Belgium, PhDs first have to do a pre-defence behind closed doors before they can have a public ceremony. Annelies believes that she will follow the same procedure. ‘Most likely I will have a closed defence in Leuven, and will get both my degrees in Twente.’