Ahh, the incredible lure of a big company paycheck. This post was inspired by some recent events, but it covers behavior I’ve seen repeated many times before.
I was having dinner with a good friend earlier this week. For the sake of anonymity, we’ll call him M. M is someone I used to work with and have a great deal of respect for. We have over 12 years of history together and have, on separate occasions, both asked the other to come and work on a new startup. Since he lives out of state, we don’t catch up as often as I’d like.
For a significant period of time M was a high level VP with a Fortune 500 company. He was heading up a big initiative that was very important to the company’s future.
In typical big company fashion, they told him to go do it, held him accountable and then enabled every conceivable roadblock to prevent success while personally putting him and his team through the wringer.
A classically clear example of set up to fail while betting on success.
In 2001 M’s ever growing desire to quit dovetailed neatly with some corporate downsizing and he took a layoff package. After a few months off, he started his own business, effectively doing what he was supposed to be doing at the company he used to work for.
Eight years on, M has had some ups and downs, but things are generally good. He will never again work as an employee of a big company.
During dinner we discussed what he called his “recovery” from working in a big company. The short version is that you get very used to the salary, the bonus, the perks and perceived position and it takes a massive slap in the face to get real. It took him at least six of the last eight years to realize that the big company lure was a shitty deal. He downsized his life and has been much happier ever since.
Less money, but zero inflicted bullshit. He still deals with BS, but it’s on his own terms and not mandated by some idiotic HR lackey (or other empty suit) with more papers than brains.
Big company “benefits” are a highly effective drug. They dull your mind to other possibilities while chaining your feet to your desk.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my six figure salary back in the day. It doesn’t suck to buy a bigger house, nicer car, take a swanky vacation to Hawaii, join a healthclub, get a big home theater system etc etc. And no matter what you make, it’s always easy to spend it.
But the further you get down this road, the more your reality gets distorted. You just get used to spending $60 or $100 on dinner, instead of the $30 or $40 you used to spend. Or buying the $50,000 car instead of the $20,000 import.
And when that happens, you’re stuck. Even if you are entrepreneurially inclined, it’s hard to take a startup seriously. You
drop from $200k a year to $80k with lots of prospects. The budget just doesn’t work. Not without some serious life changes. And that goes double if you have a family.
And so your tolerance for bullshit goes up. Way up. In the case of M, I believe the company he worked for broke almost every promise they made to him and yet he still stayed and tried to do the job he was tasked with.
Another friend of mine, we’ll call him K, is also at a Fortune 500. K is somewhat senior, but not on the management team. He’s paid very well. K gets to work by 7am, leaves by 8pm and usually works weekends. He’s been there for over 3 years and his schedule has always been like that. It’s not officially expected, but it’s certainly not discouraged.
K’s employer went through a re-org and his group now reports to a different, less relevant part of the organization. That got K started on getting back to a startup or small company. He got two different interesting offers, one full time and one on a moonlighting basis. But when it came down to making a decision, he froze. He just couldn’t imagine leaving the mothership, the salary and the perceived safety.
Two other recent run ins were with guys that work for a company that has treated them abysmally. They’re paid well, but the place has been in constant re-org and their office keeps getting the shitty end of the deal. Despite repeated assurances that the worst was over, they were recently told that their location will be closed entirely. Their jobs will end unless they are willing to relocate, but the relocation doesn’t really fit with either of their personal lives. If they aren’t chosen for relocation or don’t agree to uproot their entire life, they’ll get some kind of severance, but they don’t know what. They are in absolute corporate limbo.
These guys have valuable experience in a hot area. They are very capable and have a demonstrable track record. You would think they might be willing to jump, or at least put some feelers out. But no. Both are waiting to “see what happens”.
And I know plenty of other folks that fall in to the same boat. They are paid well and treated poorly. They’re tasked with big hairy audacious goals, only to have the rug pulled out from under them at ever turn. They are promised support, promotion and flexibility and receive nothing. And they run fast and work hard, often moving mountains to achieve their goals only to be screwed by a large, autonomously stupid machine that cannot understand or reward individual value.
I believe it’s a shitty and truly faustian bargain. You are selling yourself, your conscience and your abilities… to a buyer that is incapable of sticking to the terms of the deal.
And compounding that shitty deal is the fact that no matter how high you rank, you can still get tossed out at a moments notice. In the current economic climate, the corporate safety net is an illusion. When even Don Dodge isn’t safe, it should be a wake up call that big companies are often fundamentally broken.
I know not everyone is wired like me, and I often think having the entrepreneurial gene is the embodiment of the chinese curse “may you live in interesting times”. But if you’re a cog in a big company, even an important one, take the time to step back and examine the deal you’re being given.
Take out the shitometer and get a proper reading. How much are you putting up with just to support a lifestyle that doesn’t really make you happy? Does the company really keep its promises? If not, hold them accountable. You can bet your hiney that if you missed your goals, you would be held accountable, just ask them for the same deal.
p.s. if you have a big company job, are treated well and generally happy, feel free to ignore all of the above…