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Jun 25, 2019 2019-06 Accountancy Alumni Business Administration Faculty Finance

ICI Roundtables bringing Gies experts and Chicago business leaders together

“Innovate to create value—that is what we do best at Gies College of Business,” said Joe Cheng, Professor Emeritus of Business Administration and Research Professor of Innovation and International Business. “Being so close to Chicago, I feel it’s part of our education mission to reach out and bring our expertise to them.”

ICI Roundtables 1Cheng is the driving force behind the Illinois Corporate Innovation (ICI) Roundtables: a series of discussions in Chicago between Illinois faculty and leading executives in Chicago to help lead the way into the future of business. The initiative is led by Gies in partnership with the newly created Discovery Partners institute (DPI) located in downtown Chicago.

“We have been seeing an increase in a drive for innovation across the business community,” said Jeffrey Brown, Dean of Gies College of Business. “At Gies, we have faculty who can share their vast expertise and experience in this area where these businesses see an increasingly vital need. As an outgrowth of the land-grant heritage of this university, we believe providing this type of outreach to business leaders in our state is an essential role for our College—it’s part of our DNA.”

On December 11, 2018, the first roundtable was held at DPI on the growing importance of a Chief Innovation Officer position at major companies. Illinois faculty and business leaders in Chicago met to discuss the types of responsibilities for an executive with this position, as well as best practices to follow and pitfalls to avoid. The executives who took part either had this as their title or were in positions similar to what this title would cover.

Companies from a wide range of industries participated, including AbbVie, BP, Country Financial, Grant Thornton, and Leo Burnett, among others. Participants took part in two 45-minute discussion sessions that covered topics such as how a chief innovation officer position would be situated within a company and the challenges for such a position, as well as the corporate support needed to overcome those obstacles.

Taking the comments on best practices and challenges, Cheng worked with other Illinois faculty to create a summary report on that first roundtable.

For the participants, innovation meant more than just novel ideas. It entailed discovering new approaches to improve a business’ performance and value creation.

A second roundtable on “What It Takes to Win in Intellectual Property: Business andICI Roundtables 3 Legal Strategies” was held at DPI on May 21. Using a similar format, participants again had opportunities to share with University of Illinois experts and their business peers some of their experiences and insights on this topic, including how companies can better leverage their intangible assets and gain a competitive advantage in the global marketplace. Participants represented such companies as CDW, Kraft Heinz, Motorola Solutions, Walgreens, and Wilson Sporting Goods. Cheng and his colleagues are currently working on compiling the information from that meeting into a report that they can share with the participants and others interested in the topic.

“We had another great meeting with a broad array of business leaders,” Cheng said. “I feel that we, as university people, learned a lot from these business leaders. And, I think that we were able to give them some new information and perspectives that they can take back to their companies.”

Cheng looks forward to future roundtable discussions with business leaders in Chicago. Some possible topics for future meetings include building a sustainable innovation culture, managing global R&D networks, business models in a digital economy, and organizing for strategic innovation.

“I believe these discussions could go on well into the future,” Cheng said. “The business environment is constantly changing, and we feel we can give businesses some additional tools and knowledge to benefit from this changing environment.”