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Defining innovation: how Whirlpool transformed an industry

Environmental issues and the pressures for companies to “go green” are among the biggest facing businesses across the globe currently. For Whirlpool Corporation, this commitment is being matched by a push to ensure that every single electronic product in the company is smart grid compatible by 2015.

Behind this push is Bracken Darrell, the President of Whirlpool Europe – a wholly owned subsidiary of the Whirlpool Corporation. The move will allow energy companies to smartly measure the rate of each use of an electrical appliance, and while Whirlpool have been pushing for this from the early ‘90s, there is a now a revived effort with this new innovation so that the products being produced by Whirlpool will sit in line with these requirements.

Darrell, however, is no stranger to innovative thinking. In his previous role at Braun, Darrell was accredited with giving the company “their mojo back”, helping create a series of new and innovative products that not only helped to boost sales, but also played a critical role in helping the company to grow to what it is today.

In an exclusive and insightful interview with executive business channel MeetTheBoss.tv, Darrell demonstrates just why green issues are taking on such significance for modern businesses – and, beyond this, explains why innovation has to be at the heart of successful business leadership.

“If you grew up playing sports, you know the real competitors. You know that the people who have the biggest drive to win respect their competition. And we do that,” he says. “When they come out with something that’s terrific, we break it down. We tear it apart. We weigh the parts. We look at every innovation, we look at every feature, and we try and figure out how in the world did they get to market with that before we did and how can we do it better?”

Doing it better is definitely something Whirlpool measures itself against in everything it does. “All of us in leadership positions have to have the wherewithal to throw ourselves into everything we do as if it was a big turn around because change management is just what we do.”

So how are issues like company culture related to making innovation happen? And what advice would Darrell offer to those organizations looking to change the culture of their firm and stretch innovation?

“Well, at the risk of sounding boring,” jokes Darrell. “What most people want to hear is you know to put bean bags on the floor. Bring a pool table into the lobby. You know have a – everybody wear flip-flops to work day, and you’re going to get more innovation.”

Sounds a little too much like Facebook? “Well it might,” adds Darrell. “They definitely have a pretty good story. But I guarantee you, the companies that do that have the processes that drive, that attract, that drive innovation.”

So how does something like Darrell define innovative success? “We’re a growing business,” he notes, “We’re growing market share or improving our overall value creation as a business. We’re also creating higher engagement for employees, so when you put those three things together, you have the best definition of ‘are we winning in the innovation race’.”

To see the interview in full, please go to http://www.meettheboss.tv