Few doubt that something extraordinary has happened at Nvidia, as its share price has risen by more than 8,000% over the past decade. It now ranks in the top 10 of the most valuable companies globally, thanks to its transformation from the world’s leading provider of graphic processors to a leader in computing for artificial intelligence and autonomous driving.1 CEO Jensen Huang has confounded the conventional wisdom that established companies cannot reinvent themselves and their industries through radical innovation.
Nvidia isn’t an outlier — rather, we see it as one of the more eye-catching examples of the developing trend of large corporations leading radical innovation. Among them is LexisNexis, which became an early leader in big data analytics by creating a multibillion-dollar business that is larger than the original legal information firm. Another, Deloitte Consulting, is challenging the hundred-year-old management consulting model with Deloitte Pixel, a new open-talent model. Best Buy has broken out of its pure-play retail box to create a health tech and services company for the elderly. And MasterCard has moved from a focus on processing credit card transactions to creating new digital payment solutions.
Get Updates on Transformative Leadership
Evidence-based resources that can help you lead your team more effectively, delivered to your inbox monthly.
Please enter a valid email address
Thank you for signing up
A new cadre of leaders is driving disruptive ventures from inside large corporations. These corporate explorers are ambitious, purpose-driven managers willing to agitate for disruptive new businesses from within stable, successful organizations. They ideate, incubate, and scale innovations, much as an entrepreneur does. However, innovating inside an existing corporation is different in important ways from conventional entrepreneurship. These leaders need an enabling context that authorizes and encourages them. This is the role of what we call a strategic ambition.
Defining an Ambition
CEOs like Nvidia’s Huang, Analog Devices’ Vincent Roche, MasterCard’s Ajay Banga, and Best Buy’s Hubert Joly have provided their organizations with a strategic ambition that excites aspiration and hope, not fear.
Most fundamentally, leaders articulate an emotionally engaging higher purpose for their companies — like Joly’s aspiration that Best Buy must “enrich people’s lives through technology and contribute to the common good.” Many companies have mission and vision statements that articulate a commitment to a higher purpose. They may tell us where the company stands on important social issues like climate change and the Black Lives Matter movement.
1. As of Dec. 22, 2021, Nvidia had a 10-year stock appreciation of 8,736.68%, according to data on https://seekingalpha.com.
2. N. Furr, A. Shipilov, and A. Duvauchelle, “How Does Digital Transformation Happen? The MasterCard Case (A),” INSEAD case study no. 6348 (Fontainebleau, France: INSEAD, Feb. 26, 2018); and N. Furr, A. Shipilov, and A. Duvauchelle, “How Does Digital Transformation Happen? The MasterCard Case (B),” INSEAD case study no. 6348 (Fontainebleau, France: INSEAD, Dec. 1, 2020).
3. S. Pangambam, “MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga on Taking Risks in Your Life and Career (Full Transcript),” The Singju Post, Dec. 7, 2015, https://singjupost.com.
4. Jensen Huang, interview with authors, Feb. 27, 2016.