Title: Chief innovation officer
Company: Chubb Group of Insurance Cos, unit of Chubb Corp
Size: $22.84bn market capitalisation; 10,200 employees
SOCIAL INNOVATION: An internal network for generating new business ideas
Jon Bidwell has cut a deeply social path toward steady corporate innovation and business growth.
When Mr Bidwell, a Chicago native who grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, took a position as an underwriting trainee at specialty insurer Chubb Group of Insurance Cos, a unit of Chubb Corp, he had no plans to become a company leader. He simply saw the job as a convenient way to make a living after college while training to win a spot on the US National Rowing Team, he says.
But his rowing dreams came to an end in 1991 after he failed to win doubles trials, and he then trained his sights on his career at Chubb. Now age 51, Mr Bidwell has spent 30 years with the New York-based company and has been its chief innovation officer since 2008.
Six years ago, the economic downturn was weighing on Chubb and companies everywhere. “The downside [of lean periods] is you can often slow down new innovations or new products in the pipeline,” he says. To avoid that, Mr Bidwell was asked to ensure a sustained focus on innovation.
To allow colleagues to generate and share more ideas—and, ultimately, turn the best ones into growth businesses—he and his team created a digital space that connected staff across the company’s global offices. The team put in place a knowledge-management system that enabled quick, engaging communication to spur and evaluate new ideas and to improve employee dialogue. The resulting companywide digital platform offered connectivity, searchability and a replacement for e-mail and instant messaging.
“We were really doing social business, but didn’t know it then,” Mr Bidwell says.
Chubb’s accompanying “innovation events” have involved as many as 10,000 employees, independent agents and brokers—a geographically disbursed group with a wide range of skill sets and perspectives. (Chubb has offices in 26 countries.) Dubbed “Motive + Drive + Deliver”, these events will increasingly include large commercial customers, he says.
Not only has the initiative helped drive process improvements, it has also helped identify promising new products. The best among them have been given as much as $1m in seed money by Chubb’s internal venture capital group.
One home run, Mr Bidwell says, was the creation in 2010 of WorldCert, an automated, web-based system that provides life-sciences companies with instant, compliant insurance documentation for global clinical trials. WorldCert is one of three ideas that was seeded internally and now generates more than $10m in revenue.
“This has helped us generate more ideas and more quickly,” Mr Bidwell says. “We saw the power of networking people—and the power of that for problem-solving at all levels.”