11 Reasons Why Big Companies Don’t Suck

I’m experimenting with a new headline scheme.  Apparently people like headlines with numbers, like “7 Reasons …” or “6 Steps to …”  So, I’ll cave to peer pressure (and clarity) and try to make my headlines less cryptic. Here’s my first shot.

There are all sorts of reasons to be frustrated by large companies or organizations. Believe me, I’ve experienced many of them personally. The list is almost too easy:  Big companies are bureaucratic, stifle creativity, discourage autonomy, etc.

There’s a cottage industry of experts telling you how you can chuck it all if you just commit to finding your inner entrepreneur. Much of it is pabulum and even the stuff I admire (like Jonathan Fields) assumes that everyone has the time, energy, and inclination to be their own boss.  

The fact is, not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. 

For you, let me offer a few reasons why large organizations don’t suck.

1.  They make payroll every month. With a few notable exceptions, most large companies aren’t scraping by. Quite the opposite, they have good cash flow, or they wouldn’t be big.

2.  Most have decent healthcare plans.   I can’t cite lot’s of statistics here, but most people I know who work for larger organizations have a healthcare plan. Whether it’s awesome or not isn’t my point. They at least have a subsidized safety net.

3.  Big companies will invest in your professional development. Most companies provide at least some personal and professional development opportunities like internal or external training. In the executive education classes I teach, I meet a steady stream of people whose companies spend between $400 and $3000 per year to improve their skills and performance.

4.  The big-company brand on your resume adds to your value. Many people assume (often, but not always rightly) that large companies screen and develop staff. Hiring managers value this filter when they lack the network or resources to put forth the same rigor. Having Ernst & Young and 3M on my resume has clearly helped and the same can be said for lots of large firms.

5.  They often subsidize all sorts of things in your life. My own personal experience (note that it includes 5 years of management consulting – thus the travel perks) includes >400,000 frequent flier miles, gajillions of hotel and Amex points as well as all sorts of employee discounts, free tickets to events, games, and more.. In fact, Michele and I took trips to France and Hawaii almost entirely on points.

We also have friends who have had expensive fertility and adoption processes covered all or in part by their large company. In some cases, this has run to the tens of thousands of dollars. You get the idea.

6.  Big companies offer “career paths” not just “jobs”. Most large companies want to develop and promote talent. They may do it poorly, but the intent is to build a strong organization. Larger companies tend to have actual job descriptions and a culture that makes it clear what it takes to get promoted.

At 3M we joked about the experiential “bingo card” we had to complete to be considered for promotion.  Things like experience across categories, functions, and geographies were clearly ingredients that got people promoted.

7.  You don’t have to do everything. Or stated differently, you can specialize. The sales manager can manage sales. He isn’t also the marketing manager, accountant and travel manager.

7a.  You’re often in a protected bubble. When I travelled internationally at 3M, there was a (sainted) person whose job it was to coordinate all our visas and travel docs. Bless her soul. I never had to think about it. 

When my family moved to China we had a moving consultant, real estate agent and various other resources at our disposal.

8.  You can find friendship in a shared experience. We are social animals and when you find the right fit, it can be rewarding and build lasting relationships.

9.  If you want a 40-50 hour per week job, you can probably find it. Not everyone wants to be burning at full temperature all the time. In a large organization, you can find “holding pattern” jobs that are rewarding, but not completely cranked up. Ask any new parent how they feel about throttling back at least briefly.

10.  Most at least partially subsidize retirement savings. Free money! That 401K match, or defined benefit plan isn’t a constitutional guarantee. People running their own businesses don’t get it. It’s not the be all, end all – but it is part of the total package.

11.  Change with stability. You can switch jobs without uprooting or re-learning everything. Want to move from IT to Marketing? A former student of mine just did that at a large company. He is very happy and didn’t have to go through the stress of changing companies, jobs locations, etc.  

I’ve been privileged to work on a number of entrepreneurial pursuits in my career, but have chosen to keep the security of large, stable firms behind me. I could focus on the work and not my cash flow. I admire genuine entrepreneurs, but not everyone is one.

Are big companies all hugs and kisses?  No.  I could easily create a compelling list of sucky things about them. My point is that you should carefully consider your priorities and motivations.  When you’re looking for the right fit, you just might find it at a large company.

Can you think of any other reasons?

2 thoughts on “11 Reasons Why Big Companies Don’t Suck

  1. Yo Big Phil!

    Nice new blog layout and use of images. I am very impressed. Looks great!

    Well, I am kind of interested in this post. Both because I would like to better understand your motivations for writing it, and I think that I might actually be able to add something to it.

    Are there students coming into your office that want to be entrepreneurs but are having second thoughts? If so, our county needs more entrepreneurs, not less, so please don’t talk them out of it! However, being an entrepreneur or seizing self-employment is a culture and a way of life, and individuals don’t have reservations about their cultures. Instead culture is an innate part of one’s identity that he or she takes great pride in. If someone is having reservations about entrepreneurship, you’re right, he or she probably isn’t an entrepreneur.

    I don’t like the term “lifestyle” when applied to entrepreneurship because I think that it lessens the economic value of being an entrepreneur, which I don’t think is that bad really. Our tax code is pretty generous to business in general, I think making your points #2 and #10 rather mute. In fact, if looked at differently, a young person can benefit from entrepreneurship by not being overly insured for health care and by taking advantage of the tax code’s preference for retirement savings. I think that the loss of those benefits should not be viewed as a cost to entrepreneurship, or, in the inverse, a benefit of working for a large organization. Our society makes owning a business very possible for a middle class person.

    Also, being an entrepreneur isn’t an intellectual role in our economy and starting a business shouldn’t be thought of as an intellectual decision. Entrepreneurs are people that have the emotional strength to absorb the risks and liabilities that the vast majority of people don’t have the fortitude to handle. I don’t think that an entrepreneur would ever say “I could focus on my work and not my cash flow”, not because they don’t THINK that way, but because they don’t FEEL that way. Entrepreneurs own the opportunities they create, possess the dignity of self empowerment, and have the strength to hold the bag or “loose some skin” if it doesn’t all work out perfectly. Sure, entrepreneurs need business plans, but business plans don’t limit risk, instead they give an entrepreneur a basic path to pursue and help to prevent absolutely stupid decision making.

    Business school students also have a low correlation when it comes to having the skills necessary to be entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs need to be intuitive, creative, and possess great vision. Most business school students are analysts that seek large amounts of data in order to answer a narrowly framed question. There is nothing wrong with that, it’s just not what small business people and individuals that run new ventures do. They work with instinct, ideas, and passion. The future entrepreneurs of America are not likely studying business or management; instead they are studying architecture, art, graphic design, or engineering. One of the limits that I see Business School as having is that students learn about industry in general, and not any particular industry, giving them a poor start when it comes to starting an enterprise.

    About large organizations, especially Fortune 500 companies, my understanding is that recruitment on college campuses is their primary channel for acquiring talent. Your students basically have NOW to grasp this opportunity. Two or three years after graduation your point #4 really kicks in and the corporate world becomes a closed circle of friends. They need to strongly consider taking the opportunity now because they probably won’t see it again. This is what my fellow entrepreneurs tell me.

    Lastly, I think the world has changed a lot since you were working at KPMG and 3M even though that was just a few years ago. America is no longer going to be the consumer engine of the world, most opportunities with big firms will be elsewhere, and they’re not going to send an American like they did you, instead, they will hire a local. Americans need to get used to developing trade-able assets that we can sell to each other, as opposed to simply leasing out our time on the labor market. The lease rates are declining and I think that this also includes the perks…

    Nothing but love for you bro!

    • Morgan – Great to hear from you and I agree with you on the general trends in the economy as well as the drive and innate motivations and skills required of an entrepreneur. You asked why I wrote this post and it boils down to a few things (in no particular order).
      1 – I wanted to test out a list type column and this was an idea I’d been kicking around anyway. So convenience and expediency played a role.
      2 – More important is the sense I have that many people I know at large organizations (note that I expand to talk about big orgs in the column, not just companies – despite the title) dream of “cooler” things. I think this reinforces your point that it is HARD to be an entrepreneur. Much harder than people think. They dream of freedom, but don’t realize revenue isn’t being generated if you aren’t really working almost all the time (at least at first).
      3 – There’s a whole cottage industry encouraging people to be fierce, go out on their own etc. I think this is terrible stand-alone advice. I’m trying to present a balanced view so people can get on the right path for them.
      4 – I feel that big places are what they are. They aren’t good or bad. Whether they’re a good fit depends entirely on you and what you want. As I mention in the post, I could write a longer version of what can suck. But as you point out yourself, if you don’t burn to build things, a big place can be rewarding. There are plenty of problems to fix and you can focus while being at least partly taken care of.

      On a separate note – I can assure you that I don’t steer people either way. I try to challenge them to figure out their goals and then pursue them aggressively. I love what you and Charlie are up to for example – building your own thing. But for our classmates who wanted big piles of data to work with, I’m happy for them when they find that too.

      Thanks for the thoughful input. Hope all’s well. P

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