The EFMD business magazine

The EFMD business magazine

From invention to innovation: Atomic intrapreneuship at Rosatom

Once a mere buzzword, innovation has quickly become an integral part of business success. In the high-tech world, the race for innovation has stumped many senior executives. Despite substantial investments in R&D, established companies are challenged to develop innovative products and services able to generate new value and revitalise their business. 


“Technological supremacy is the only thing that works in the nuclear industry: if you do not have any innovative potential, you immediately lose whatever leadership you might have. That is why it is very important for the State Corporation (Rosatom) to have highly-skilled professional innovators” Sergei Kirilenko, CEO of Rosatom

The barriers to innovate are even higher when it comes to state-owned companies. Generally, these organisations as regarded as less efficient with weaker leadership and less creativity when compared to private firms.

Rosatom, the Russian State Nuclear Energy Corporation, set out to debunk such conventional wisdom. In 2011, this colossal organisation with 262,000 employees and a strategic role in Russia’s economy was about to undertake a radical transformation.

Established in 1942, Rosatom has been a historic centre of Russian research and innovation. Consisting of more than 360 business units, including 29 research institutes and science centres, it has been a hub for the country’s best scientists and engineers. Rosatom is today a key global player in nuclear technology, offering the entire spectrum of services from excavation and enrichment of uranium to nuclear waste management. Rosatom’s technology is applied globally as the firm boasts overseas projects in 40 countries with a project portfolio value exceeding $100 billion for the next 10 years.

Rosatom’s planned-economy origin meant a painful transition after the collapse of the Soviet system and it entered the 21st century witha structure of great complexity. The legacy of the Soviet system had left a profound research competence within the corporation. However, with its traditional focus on large-scale projects such as closed fuel cycle nuclear reactors, Rosatom was lacking the leadership and structure to capitalise on its inventions via smaller-scale, high market potential projects. Such marketdriven projects would became paramount for survival in a global agile environment where nuclear know-how is scarce and sought after.

To seize new opportunities in the nuclear technology market two challenges were identified: First was the development of the people – the leadership team had to transform mindsets. Brilliant scientists and engineers also needed to become entrepreneurs and managers. Second was the establishment of a system that would support bottom-up innovation.

To create the leaders that would drive innovation and the structure that would support them at Rosatom, the Department for Innovation Management (DIM) was established. The main goal of DIM was to enable innovation across the multiple divisions and levels of the organisation, connecting researchers and executives to effectively implement high-potential innovative projects. In order to realise this goal DIM invited SKOLKOVO School of Management to become a long-term collaborative partner for the initiative.

The co-operation between DIM and SKOLKOVO started in 2012 and resulted in the successful implementation of the integrative programme “Management of Technological Innovations”,which ran in three cohorts of approximately 50 participants from 2013 to 2015. The long-term orientation of the programme allowed for its continuous improvement and a customised engagement adjusted to the strategic focus of the corporation at specific points in time.

The SKOLKOVO approach

The SKOLKOVO approach to learning is based on four pillars:

Focus on real challenges: The cornerstone of the SKOLKOVO ‘Learning through Development’ method is teamwork targeting real company projects.

Stimulating learning environment: An important part of the content development was to balance the domestic context with best global practices. The academic expertise of world-class faculty was effectively combined with international study visits. During the three-year programme participants visited 12 companies in five countries in Asia and Europe.

Start-up accelerator infrastructure: Each group was supported by professional moderators from SKOLKOVO as well as by the team of senior curators from Rosatom. The curators’ goals were to accelerate project implementation inside the organisation in order to overcome the administrative and communication barriers associated with inertia.

Competence development: The learning process was organised around three main sets of competencies, which were conceptualised in terms of three roles: (i) the executive (the organisation processes), (ii) the entrepreneur (the opportunity identification) and (iii) the engineer (the technical challenge). Most importantly, each team included representatives of all three roles and team members were encouraged to contribute to teamwork based on their assigned role.

Results: Investing in innovation plus executive education

For three years, the partnership between Rosatom and SKOLKOVO served as an engine driving the implementation of the corporation’s innovation strategy. The results of the programme are outlined next:

Rosatom engineers and scientists became change agents

The programme has enabled the creation of a pool of skilled leaders that today drive innovation at Rosatom. The team-based approach overcame the shortcomings of traditional leadership programmes focusing on individual development.

Creating internal structure to support innovation

To build a system facilitating innovation at multiple levels throughout the organisation several initiatives were undertaken, including: the establishment of a corporate database of intellectual capital; the launch of the Rosatom innovation hub driven by alumni of the programme; the development of a co-operation platform with research centres and universities.

Project realisation

The relationship between Rosatom’s DIM and SKOLKOVO brought more than just learning; it had an impact on the bottom line: a total of 23 project proposals were initiated during the programme. Three projects have now been completed, two projects are at the investment stage, while others are at prototype testing and pre-study stages.

In summary, the programme has shown that the challenge of successful innovation is possible at large organisations with old and powerful cultures. It is a matter of combining the development of leaders with the building of internal processes that facilitate innovation and intrapreneurship.

The Rosatom-SKOLKOVO partnership presents a benchmark for how traditional state-owned corporations can re-energise and transform their internal capabilities into innovation and revenues.

“We needed a generation of skilled engineers that would be able to successfully commercialise their innovations on the market. This, was what we have directed our focus on in creation of the programme”. Natalia Ilyina Deputy Chief Innovation Officer, Rosatom

Yuliya Ponomareva, PhD, Research Associate, SKOLKOVO – LinkedIn
Tomas Casas, PhD, Visiting Professor of Economics and Asian Business and Management, SKOLKOVO
Ivan Smagin, Research Fellow, SKOLKOVO – LinkedIn 
Naya Kasimova, Executive Education Programme Manager, SKOLKOVO – LinkedIn
Nikolay Verhovsky, Head of Project Work for Corporate Programmes, SKOLKOVO – LinkedIn

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See more articles from Vol.10 Issue 03 – ’16: EiP 2016.

[starbox id=”Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation,Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO”]

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