WASHINGTON — I looked at the screen of my ringing cell phone and saw it was Gib Bulloch calling. Bulloch had started Accenture Development Partners almost precisely when I co-founded Devex, almost two decades ago, and over the years we had become good friends. But his thick Scottish brogue on the other end of the line, so well-known to global development leaders around the world, brought unexpected news: He had just been released from five days and five nights in a psychiatric ward on the Isle of Bute, the Scottish island where he was born and raised.
Bulloch left his role as executive director at Accenture a few months after the late 2014 manic episode that landed him in the hospital. In his leaving note, he omitted what he called “the “B word” — Breakdown or Burnout, take your pick.”
But in the interest of addressing the hazards of modern work culture — and promoting a new vision for how major corporations can be a force for good — Bulloch has gone public about his mental health struggle in a raucous and delightful new book, “The Intrapreneur: Confessions of a Corporate Insurgent.” It’s an insightful treatise on the revolution in the corporate world — a revolution he has been right at the center of — written from the perspective of Bulloch's conversations in, as he calls it, “the looney bin.”
His core thesis is that the stereotype of big business is outdated and will soon be hopelessly wrong, especially as enterprising and committed young people are sparking change from inside corporate halls. As a counselor to chief executive officers, Bulloch has seen up close how a rising millennial workforce — millennials make up 35 percent of corporate workforces on average, he says — and a new mindset around the purpose of business itself is changing the corporate world before our eyes. Right from the start of the book, which kicks off with a foreword by Unilever CEO Paul Polman, the message is clear: The days of business as usual are over.
As Bulloch explained to me in a recent interview, business is heading quickly away from the take-no-prisoners, profit-above-all image depicted in television hits like The Apprentice, Dragon’s Den, and Shark Tank. At Accenture, one of the world’s largest consulting companies, 10 percent of the workforce of 400,000 professionals are on the waiting list to work on social impact projects with Accenture Development Partners, a role that entails a significant pay cut. And, Bulloch argued, that same millennial “mindset” eager to find purpose and do good, more than just an age cohort or demographic group, is sweeping the corporate world.
Among his quirky insights — delivered to the reader through fast-paced, Scottish-inflected dialogue with Bulloch's new-found friends in the psychiatric ward — is that the idea of “giving back” is outmoded: “Begs the question what they stole in the first place, don’t you think?” He also describes “the corporate immune system,” a term Bulloch coins to explain why big corporations sometimes reject innovative ideas like social purpose.
Then there’s a fun thought experiment posed to the psychiatric patients and the reader alike: “How would Elon Musk run the United Nations if he were Secretary General?” That mind-bending conversation kicks off a thoughtful critique of the way in which the siloed aid industry compares, unfavorably in his view, to a modern, integrated, innovative enterprise such as Tesla.
Bulloch bravely uses the lens of his manic episode — perhaps linked to a 106 degree Fahrenheit fever he got after returning home from a trip to India — to ask himself and the reader to reconsider the very definition of insanity. “Did I go a bit crazy, or is it just that I was trying to change?” he told me. Bulloch concludes that true madness would be a world dominated by major corporations just seeking to make money for their shareholders, without regard to their impact on society and the planet. Fortunately, that’s changing, not least because of a wave of social intrapreneurs like Gib Bulloch.