Last week, the IEI partnered with Vanguard’s Innovation Studio for the second installment in the Innovation Leaders Speaker Series, a program launched this past spring to highlight best-practices for innovation in corporate settings. The event featured Lisha Davis, Head of the Innovation Studio, who sat down with Professor Robert McNamee to discuss how the Studio operates alongside the larger Vanguard organization and best practices for accelerating innovation at the enterprise level.
The Studio itself is located on Chestnut Street in downtown Philadelphia, about 30 miles from Vanguard’s main headquarters in Malvern, PA. It features rows of open work stations, collaboration rooms, and a central space with colorful soft seating that Operations Manager, Colleen Evans, said is fondly called “the living room.” A nearly floor-to-ceiling blackboard highlights progress of the Studio’s donations towards Vanguard’s annual canned-goods drive, inspirational sayings, and a calendar listing national days of designation (National Smile Day, National Wine Day, National Bike to Work Day). It’s a fun, laid-back, high-energy space—not exactly what comes to mind when you think of an industry-leading investment-management firm. But the location of the Studio was intentional—it sits in the center of Philly’s entrepreneurial ecosystem of universities, startups, accelerators, and investors—and its funky design fosters the creativity needed to continually uncover new opportunities and solutions that move the company forward.
Despite geographic distance and a diversion from the traditional corporate environment, the Studio is every bit a part of Vanguard’s overarching mission. Innovation has long been a focus for Vanguard, which disrupted investment management as a startup many years ago. “I have been involved in department level innovation work for years,” said Davis, who was with Vanguard for several years before the Studio launched in 2017, “and innovation was always happening in pockets of the organization.”
Now the Studio offers a centralized place for this innovation to live, and their reasoning behind its launch—to explore the unknown, uncover opportunities to make strategic bets, launch new ventures, explore growth paths, and catalyze a movement at Vanguard—is brought to life by the 40-person, multidisciplinary team lead by Davis.
The Studio takes an exploratory approach to finding opportunities, during which Davis says that “finding the right problem to solve is half the battle.” But once they do, they’re “launching ventures,” Davis emphasizes—ones that can be scaled and rolled out across the enterprise to improve the organization, and, ultimately and most importantly to Vanguard, the client experience.
“Everything we do is for the client,” Davis shared.
Vanguard’s—and Davis’s—dedication to placing innovation at the forefront of the company’s strategic direction made for an ideal Innovation Leaders program partner.
“Showcasing innovation thought-leaders throughout the region is the goal of this series,” Professor McNamee shared. “We want to look at the intersection of innovation and entrepreneurship since that is where next generation innovation programs, structures, and processes are emerging. Vanguard’s Innovation Studio is just a phenomenal example of how large companies can incorporate approaches that originated with entrepreneurial ventures – approaches like lean startup and design thinking – and the impact this can have in an enterprise setting.”
The event was attended by Temple alumni (some now working at Vanguard), students, community professionals, and members of the Innovation Research Interchange—a worldwide network of cross-industry innovation leaders and a sponsoring partner of the Speaker Series.
“Some of the world’s most widely adopted models, such as ‘open innovation,’ ‘front end of innovation,’ and ‘stage-gate,’ were born from the work of Innovation Research Interchange (IRI) members,” said Gary Shiffres, Director of Membership Development & Partnerships for IRI. “IRI values strength in cooperation and partners with other organizations at the forefront of developments in innovation. These partnerships have created a hub for all to convene and contribute in an experimental, noncompetitive, and noncommercial environment. Working with Temple University and Vanguard’s Innovation Studio proved to be an excellent partnership and IRI members are looking forward to more from the Innovation Leaders Speaker Series.”
Davis’s insight and the success of the Vanguard Innovation Studio since its launch exemplify what the Series aims to showcase—that innovation is an imperative for today’s companies and entrepreneurs, and when leveraged in the right ways, can drive organizations—regardless of size or industry—to new levels of customer experience, competitive advantage, workplace culture, and overall success.
“From our earliest conversation I was incredibly impressed with Lisha and this accelerator program,” said Professor McNamee. “It struck me that a successful company like Vanguard could likely rely on incremental innovation for a number of years. However, the fact that they were putting this much focus on experimentation, learning, and disruptive innovation highlights why they are likely to remain leaders into the future.”
Stay tuned for details coming soon on the next installment of the Innovation Leaders series, featuring Todd Carmichael, Founder and CEO of La Colombe, happening Fall 2019.