Acquisitions are out: How companies like GE and General Mills partner with startups to avoid self destruction

Source | LinkedIn : By Jim Stengel

Most established enterprises haven’t invented anything truly dynamic in decades. Procter & Gamble, the perennial most admired company (and my alma mater), has produced no transformational new brands since Swiffer and Febreze back in the early 2000s, although they have strengthened core brands with initiatives like Tide PODS, Gillette Fusion, and Pampers Swaddlers.

As in many mature companies, P&G’s people are more preoccupied with their career progression as P&G’s top-line growth has slowed. Promotions are few and far between. Leaders are drawn to the safe, the sure, the proven, the known. Blow themselves up? Many are afraid the tiniest failed experiment could stall their career. At the same time, they know deep in their bones that something has to give.

Among established enterprise companies, there is something akin to entrepreneurial envy. They covet the speed, scrappiness, vision, flexibility, and—let’s face it—“cool” factor of the best startups, the ultimate magnet for new talent. They realize they need to somehow capture it, reclaim a long-lost knack, without giving up everything that’s core to their business. In other words, imagine if Procter & Gamble had an amazing water-free technology to get clothes clean: how would they commercialize it without sacrificing Tide, Downy, or Bounce? The hope is that by bottling some form of entrepreneurship, a mature company can rejuvenate itself.

The classic way to seize the startup spirit is to acquire it, but a lot of executives at established companies I’ve talked to are now treating acquisitions more as a last resort. The bolt-on acquisition is very old-school. When it comes to dealing with startups, the new paradigm is partnerships.

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