Thursday, July 02, 2009

Ya got your small companies, ya got your big companies

Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal had a little article on large company refugees who are finding asylum, as it were, in small companies.

I've always thought of myself as a small company person, because I did spend more than a few years during my full time career in companies that were on the smallish side. And most of the companies I work for now are smallish - some even downright small, small.  (Is 4 person small enough for you?) But I did log more than a few years in biggish companies - some even downright big, big. (Is 30,000 employees big enough for you?)

So I do get what works when it comes to working in either model. Not to mention what doesn't work.  Life being life, and work being work, half the time the upsides were also downsides. I could write these pros and cons in my sleep, and I may do so at a later date. But what struck me was the guy, downsized from DHL, who believes that working in a small company, he'll find more stability.

Poor baby. Poor, poor baby.

When it comes to small company stability, here are a few of the things I experienced:

  • Where'd the guy from Sloan go? When I was interviewing for my first post-B school job - in the small company of my dreams - I was told there was a fellow Sloan School alum working there. He was away when I interviewed, but on day one, I looked him up.

    "Where's Allen?" I asked one of my new colleagues.

    "Oh, he got fired so they could hire you."

    So that's what he meant when my boss-to-be called and told me he'd "found the money in the budget to hire me."

    Stable enough for me, I guess, but not for old Allen.
  • Payday's coming. I worked for many years - the last few as one of the top dogs -  for a small company that lived from payday to payday. We had a list of who wouldn't get paid if we couldn't scrape together enough dough to pay everyone. For a while there, I was number two on that hit parade. Fortunately, we never had to put Plan B into action, and after a lot of bowing and scraping, we were able to bow and scrape our way into a credit line to smooth out our cash flow. Still, we were often hovering on the brink, and everyone knew it.
  • Yes, Virginia, small companies do have lay-offs.  In the 25 years I worked full-time, I must have lived through (and a couple of times died during) dozens of lay-offs. Small company, big company - mattered not. This was tech, and it was all pretty much Mr. Toad's Wild Ride - the flivver shaking, the wheels flying off. Sure, the lay-offs in big companies are, not surprisingly, bigger. But if you only have 40 people in your company to begin with, and 6 of them are weeping their way out the door carrying their carton of personal effects, it is just as unnerving and disheartening as trying to figure out who you knew in the latest round of 2,000 lopped off heads.
  • Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide from the capricious and the arbitrary.  In a smaller company, there may not be anyone  - HR or other - to protect and defend you from a sudden and arbitrary decision at the hands of the person running the joint. I was sitting there with the president of my company, and he looked over a me and, out of what to me appeared to be the clear blue, announced, "You report to her now," pointing to the person who up until that very moment had been my peer. Not that capricious and arbitrary doesn't happen plenty in big companies, but there are often a few protections that are completely absent in a small company. (The good news: I outlasted them both. The investors parachuted in a turn-around guy you turned-out that capricious and arbitrary president, and - a couple of months later - his sidekick there.)

There is much to recommend a small company, but stability was not in the repertoire for me, that's for sure.

But where is there stability these days?

You want stability? Win the lottery and stick it in munis.




1 comment:

Suzanne said...

Hello from outside 128, and pleased to make your acquaintance. I read through this post after another layoff - The caliber of writing around the brutal truth is comforting somehow. Thanks for creating something lasting.