Helvetia CEO Philipp Gmür explains how to foster inventive thinking in large organizations, how employees at Helvetia can wind up becoming entrepreneurs with their own company, and what that has to do with kickboxing.

Terms such as “agility” and “changeability” as well as the opportunity to pursue novel ideas are primarily associated with start-ups and young companies. Nevertheless, I am convinced that there is room for entrepreneurial freedom, especially in a large company. Employees and the organization can benefit from this in equal measure. When it comes to innovation and progress, the focus is usually placed on external investments and partnerships. One important source of innovation is forgotten too quickly: it lies within the company itself, in its own employees. And it is worthwhile to rely on them. Our experience shows this, and at the same time it is reflected in the motivation of our employees, who want to be actively involved in the development process.

Have the courage to try new things

At Helvetia, we have therefore created a structure as part of the helvetia 20.20 strategy that allows our employees to pursue, elaborate, and further develop their own innovative projects: the Helvetia Kickboxing program. Together with the start-up incubator Bluelion, which is committed to promoting entrepreneurship in Switzerland, we have established this tool at Helvetia. The aim is to drive forward promising projects, support their implementation, and promote the entrepreneurial thinking of our employees. And with success: The Kickbox program has shown a positive effect on the spirit of innovation within Helvetia. Twice a year, five to ten so-called “red kickboxes” are awarded to various employees to help them further develop the innovative projects they submit. The red kickboxes mark the start of a two-month project phase during which the project is validated and elaborated. During this time, the participants receive training in innovative working methods and coaching, in addition to a small budget, and around 20% of their working time. Just give it a try, is the motto. I am always enthusiastic about the creative, novel approaches – and also about the courage our employees display when they present them to an audience.

From the Kickbox to entrepreneurship 

After two months of intensive idea testing, the results are presented to an internal jury. If the project receives approval, the idea contributors receive a blue kickbox to concretize the idea for another six months and check its feasibility. In this further development and learning process, employees can gain valuable insights and are enabled to tackle ideas and the implementation themselves. In this way, our Kickbox program makes an important contribution to establishing an innovative corporate culture. The end goal is to secure a golden kickbox. Those who achieve this can pilot their business idea in a long-term setup. At the end of the process, it is possible to spin off your business into your own company or implement the project in Helvetia’s core business. Various start-ups have already emerged from Helvetia. The most recent example is Adresta. This young company makes all the important stations of a watch accessible to manufacturers, dealers, and buyers on a blockchain.

Employee potential

Our kickboxing projects are thematically very diverse: from technologies such as blockchain to insurance-related developments to, for example, a platform of virtual art galleries, there is room for everything. Since complementary topics are promoted alongside innovations in the core business, all employees can actively participate in the company’s innovation process and make their contribution to the further development of Helvetia The kickboxing projects show that many good ideas are slumbering in our employees and that they surely know how to make use of entrepreneurial freedom. I am therefore convinced that there is still a lot of potential for inventiveness left to explore in our ranks.

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Philipp Gmür (1963) has been CEO of Helvetia Group since 2016. In addition to studying law at the University of Freiburg (Dr. iur.) and at Duke Law School (LL.M.), he is a member of the Swiss bar. He also completed the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School. After working as an attorney and in administration, Philipp Gmür worked as a secretary at the Lucerne Court of Appeal. In 1993 he joined Helvetia Versicherungen, then known as Helvetia Patria. From 1995 onwards he was general agent in Lucerne, from 2000 on head of sales and member of the management of Helvetia Switzerland. In 2003 he became CEO of Helvetia Switzerland and member of the Executive Board of Helvetia Group. Philipp Gmür is, among others, a member of the board of the Swiss Insurance Association SSV and economiesuisse, a member of the board of trustees of Avenir Suisse as well as a member of the board of directors of the Swiss Insurance Association.