Corporate Innovator Profile

Name: Jim Pallotta
Title: VP of Wholesale Operations Excellence
Company: SunTrust
Previous Experience: Accenture
Total Corporate Innovation Experience: 2 years
LinkedIn: Jim Pallotta

SunTrust may be one of America’s largest financial institutions, but they’re not standing idle when it comes to corporate innovation. We recently spoke with Jim Pallotta, who has spearheaded some of the company’s latest innovation initiatives, on the challenges and opportunities facing intrapreneurs and what the future holds for the financial industry.

There’s a lot of buzz around corporate innovation these days. What are some of the trends you see shaping in the industry?

Jim Pallotta: I see two major trends shaping the industry. First, companies will be looking to increase speed to market while gaining continuous client feedback during development. In other words, I see a lot of lean startup mentality coming into the enterprise where innovation teams will create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and become obsessive about client input along the way. Companies who work this way will reduce the risk of creating a product their clients don’t want, while iterating and increasing the number of small risks they can take in order to fail – and succeed – very quickly.

The second trend is taking the untapped brilliance of a company’s entire employee base and leveraging their ideas to create fantastic teammate and client-facing solutions. Every enterprise employee has at some point had an idea for how to make their job or company better. Sometimes, the idea is something so simple that it can be implemented on their own. Other times, it’s a larger idea that requires the right environment to be nurtured so it can reach widespread adoption. Companies who put in the work to enable this strategy of inclusion will be well-positioned against their competitors.

What are some of the challenges for corporations to embrace these trends?

Currently, I see three major challenges:

  1. Funding – This can often be a zero-sum game (with many players), and if the company has not fully committed to delivering that way, funds can be hard to come by.
  1. Enterprise Buy in – Widespread company adoption of the innovator mindset is difficult, as old habits can be hard to break. Most companies need a critical mass of their employees in order to reach ubiquitous use of something new.
  1. Go-to-Market – For those companies with non-continuous planning cycles, crossing the bridge between an approved, completed prototype and a live, widespread solution can be tough. It can hurt a company’s speed to market and thus delay giving the client what they want.

On the flip side, what are some of the most promising opportunities available for corporate innovators?

I love the idea that we are living through this amazing time for innovation, and that it will only get better, and that there are opportunities for improvements in every aspect of our lives. To put a finer point on it, if we as a country could extrapolate the amazing innovations that we currently all live with (and take for granted), and apply them to experiences that we still describe as slow, or clunky, or inconvenient, there is just so much potential for improvement all around us. This is 100% true in the corporate setting as well. The sharing of ideas and best practices can make all of our lives easier and more focused on value-adding activities. There are unlimited “wheels on suitcases” opportunities out there waiting for us.

Do you think enterprises are, or will, have trouble adjusting to the pace and economics of corporate innovation? If so, what can, or is being done, to remedy any doubts and fears?

I do think larger enterprises are having trouble adjusting to the pace at which innovation moves. However, there is a solution. Enterprises must be willing to hold aside a certain percentage of investment dollars specifically for exploration and discovery of innovation projects, and be willing to let a small percentage of them fail up front. This is good for two reasons:

  1. Enterprises will ultimately save the money they would have spent on those projects that were ultimately doomed.
  2. With enough accumulated “at-bats,” the winners will likely eclipse the failures in terms of value provided and revenue for the enterprise. There is an overall positive expected value when taken as a whole.

5 years from now, what does corporate innovation look like?

What is cutting-edge now will be table stakes (or worse) in five years. The entire project lifecycle from idea to prototype to full production will shrink from “days to weeks” down to “hours-to-days.”

Any words of advice for corporate innovators?

Recognize that innovation can come from anyone at any time. I have seen teammates come up with ideas that they’ve prototyped and implemented for the enterprise in a matter of weeks, saving the company millions of dollars per year. It was truly incredible. I also recommend that every corporate innovation pro read three books, including:

  1. Drive, by Daniel Pink
  2. Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath
  3. The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries

Like this article? Make sure to also read our latest interviews with corporate innovation executives from Visa and Equifax.


Robert Berris is EVP and Managing Director of Three Five Two where he leads company strategy and day-to-day operations.