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CDX Innovation

Masters of Corporate Innovation: W.L. Gore and thyssenkrupp Elevator

Our CDX Digital Roundtable series recently welcomed leading innovation experts from W.L. Gore and thyssenkrupp Elevator. Each of these industrial innovation powerhouses is leveraging external innovation to drive digital business transformation.

Mastering External Innovation

Linda Elkins, CTO and head of W.L.Gore’s Silicon Valley Innovation Center, and Alison Powers, head of research & innovation at thyssenkrupp Elevator, based in Atlanta, oversee their companies’ external (open) innovation efforts. They talked about how the two businesses think about and practice innovation . The COVID crisis, they said, has accelerated and significantly altered both their short-term innovation efforts as well as the strategy for longer-term digital business transformation.

Open Innovation at Gore

Founded in 1958 by Bill and Vieve Gore in their basement, W.L. Gore long ago emerged as a global material sciences pioneer. Today its 10,000 employees work in manufacturing facilities and offices on three continents. The company is known for its renowned high-performance consumer fabric, Gore-Tex. But Gore’s engineers have gone way beyond that celebrated beginning, and been awarded over 5,500 material and product patents. The firm remains private and is a managerial pioneer in that that all employees have long also part-owners of the company through a sophisticated and ground-breaking employee stock ownership plan.

Elkins  talked about the firm’s innovation history and said “we’re known as being a very innovative company internally.” But she added:  “One way to reinvigorate external innovation was to create our innovation center.” Elkins describes the 11,000-square-foot innovation center as a “growth engine,” and “a corporate innovation function that works with startups and other partners to accelerate their technology with our expertise, materials and distribution.”

thyssenkrupp Elevator: Innovating the Customer Experience

thyssenkrupp is a $40B German-based multi-national conglomerate with roots tracing back as far as 1811, when Friedrich Carl Krupp built his first steel factory in Essen, Germany. The company’s products range from machines and industrial services to high-speed trains, elevators, and shipbuilding. In May 2019, the company announced the spin-off and IPO of its elevator division – now called thyssenkrupp Elevator.

Powers talked about the company’s new innovation priorities, saying, “It’s a living, breathing innovation right now as we reprioritize and think about when people return to work in a post COVID-19 space…People will return to work and won’t want to touch anything, including elevator buttons. So I’ve been on a special assignment to figure out the customer demands.” Powers added that the Innovation Center is going to be brought back into the core business. But she said that one of the key factors that  ultimately drives corporate is that its external innovation partners simultaneously have “close connections to internal experts.” .

David Kirkpatrick, Techonomy’s Editor-in-Chief, wrapped up the session by observing, “these are two impressive, resourceful organizations,” saying he was impressed “with the seriousness with which both companies are innovating internally and thinking hard about what makes innovation work.”

Join us for another CDX Digital Discussion on Wednesday, May 20, at 2pm ET. We shift our focus to financial services innovation and welcome innovation leaders from Citi and Truist – the new regional powerhouse formed by the merger of SunTrust Bank and BB&T. Register HERE.

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