Posted by: crustynomad | February 25, 2008

Is it better to work in a large corporation or a small business?

The following article was first published on the helium.com writers website.

You can view some of my other articles here.

Is it better to work in a large corporation or a small business?

My career to date seems to be gearing me towards self-employment. When I first started out on the ladder in the mid-80s, I worked for a world renowned Insurance company with 4000 others. With it being my first job I was little more than a stickleback in the Pacific.

Perhaps unsurprisingly I began with very menial tasks such as fielding calls from customers wanting claim forms, filing and hurling boxes at other temporary staff in the basement.

This position was very much a stop-gap as I’d left college with no clear idea where I was headed. I had looked into work in art and design and technical drawing but this was scuppered once my mother insisted on me wearing a suit to Lincoln College of Art. Being better dressed than an art lecturer is pretty easy but I looked like a very young bank manager and as that is part of the establishment, I was escorted from the premises without further ado.

So it was my brother that came to my rescue. He was already fast-tracked to success in the afore mentioned insurance company so he was easily able to arrange for a position for the summer months. When this stint was over I wasn’t any closer to a new career so with the lack of anything else better, I stuck around. This clearly bothered my brother as he kicked me out and I had to find lodgings of my own.

This was all very well for a couple of years but insurance wasn’t really my thing. I needed to get back home so I got a job at another large company, this time in travel. Again it was temporary but it was a position that required excellent numerical skills – I counted travelers’ cheques.

Unlikely as it seems I actually enjoyed this job but it was never going to be a long term move. I was as surprised as anyone, therefore, when I allowed myself to be persuaded to join the company full-time. For the next 12 months I was happy enough but before long I began to get itchy feet again.

By now it had been a good couple of years since I’d opened up my art box but one evening I started doodling while watching TV. I took a Biro and began copying pictures from a magazine of Susanna Hoffs from the Bangles and British singer Neneh Cherry. I looked at the images before me and thought that they were actually rather good. I immediately felt that I may have given up on my dream too soon.

Then an odd thing happened – a position in the in-house design studio came available the very next week.

To cut a long story short I got the job despite being the least qualified of the 13 candidates and there I remained, in a department of less than 10 in a company of 1500, for the next 11 years.

This role was good to me as I was able go from junior to full-blown designer very quickly. I just needed a chance and some self-belief and I was away.

Despite being in such a large organization it felt small as my department wasn’t directly dealing with the core business of selling holidays. We were a family but we had all the benefits of being part of bigger company plus the camaraderie of the social side of the business. These were happy times.

All good things come to end and I was feeling the need to make my own mark in the business world. I was certainly more confident in myself as I now had a good portfolio of printed material rather than Biro doodles and was pleased to able to be offered the role of graphic designer at a medium sized business locally.

Unfortunately, there was some bad news – I was back in insurance again but I was still essentially my own boss in the company. This was great as I was able to enhance my skills with marketing, PR and the writing of press releases and articles.

All was well for two years until news broke that the workforce was to be slashed in two from 65 employees to 30 as the parent company reorganized. I kept my job but there were some uncertain times ahead.

In the summer of 2003 I was happily working on a 16-page brochure for the group which featured details of the three UK offices when, two days before the print deadline, all references to our office were removed on instruction from head office. I duly spoke to the marketing manager who knew nothing so it was looking exceedingly likely that I was first to know that our days were numbered and we were to close.

This left a very bitter taste as we’d been told by the chief executive at head office that there was no-way the company would close. In retrospect the question we should have asked was: ‘Is the company going to remain in this city?’ and we may have known the truth earlier.

Anyway, attempts to lure me across the country in a relocation package failed and I was effectively left redundant…for a day.

You never quite know how things will turn out and I found myself in an even better job, with more pay and more responsibility. If I hadn’t been made redundant I’d never have seen the job at all.

My new, and still current employer, had a workforce of just 21 spread over two offices. This time I was working in the Internet world despite being a technical dullard but it gave me the opportunity to do event management with some overseas travel too. Better still was that I had a more varied workload as it was split pretty equally between marketing, PR, design and copy writing.

I was a big(ger) fish in a small pond and so it has become easier to get noticed. I’m well known at events and I’m the writer, editor and designer of the company magazine which is distributed to 1000 addresses world-wide with many more downloaded on-line.

So I’ve gone from organizations of 4000, 1500, 65 and 21, all of which were smaller than the one before. There are elements I miss about the larger companies but on balance I’ve been happier in smaller scale operations. It’s easier to be heard if you have ideas and you live and die by your decisions. That’s important to me.

Being a one man band is not out of the question. I tentatively began my own business about a year ago in the wildly different field of life coaching, just to test the water. I may yet return to this idea as a full-time proposition but for now it is a fun and rewarding sideline.

I’m developing my writing capabilities plus building some useful web design skills so I have that most important of things in my life – options. Let’s see where they take me.

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