Thursday, June 15, 2017

Large Corporate vs. Small Business

I don't really talk much about my day job. That will continue to be the case, for the most part. But I was thinking about this issue this week and decided to ramble about it: the difference between working for a large corporate company and working for a small company.

Interestingly, even though I work in administration and could theoretically, uh, administrate for any kind of industry, I ended up in a very similar company, industry-wise, when I moved from my old job to my new one. I worked for a transportation engineering company for ten years, and it just so happened that the company that hired me next was another transportation engineering company. The focus is a little different here (more design, more diverse applications), but it's the same industry and we work with and for a lot of the same people.

But the most significant difference is that my previous company was a multi-office corporation based in California, and my current company is a small business that has one smallish office.

Weirdly, even though the previous company had over a hundred employees, my office there was smaller. We had five people in the office most of the time. Sometimes a few more depending on if I had to manage field workers or if we happened to be particularly prosperous. In my new office, there are usually seven or eight people around, sometimes more depending on work.

But in my new office, this is it. The owner of the company sits behind me a few feet away. When we order supplies, he puts them on a credit card himself. When he wants to pursue a project or decide against doing so, he can do that based on his own whims, and he's the final authority on how we do business and what we undertake. I can get up, take a few steps, and ask him.

At my previous company, there was a decent amount of "corporate culture." We were a little isolated from it because we were not part of the corporate office, but we had company-wide coordination on many things, including how business was done. My boss was a principal and he made a lot of decisions without consulting anybody, but for the most part he had to answer to his boss on many issues. We had to coordinate with other offices to produce marketing documents, and we had to have permission to chase a project or pull out of one. If we lost while competing for work, our president wanted justification. If we wanted a new piece of equipment or new software, we had to get approval from my boss's bosses, and we weren't supposed to install anything on our computers ourselves. Sometimes we'd have to show evidence of our marketing efforts, and there were yearly evaluations and weekly marketing calls. Corporate training events. Complicated signing authority. Red tape.

The above makes it sound bad, but it wasn't. Corporate culture is also sometimes fun, because you have goofy events you can participate in, bonuses you can win, and support from other offices if you get in a pickle and need resources. The down side is obviously having a lot more stuff we have to deal with where we answered to higher-ups who had a lot invested in us. We had to coordinate with our west coast president when we wanted him to be part of an interview. We had engineers in multiple states and there are limits on what kind of practice you can perform if you don't have a license in that state, so there were problems sometimes with having engineers from other offices being included on our proposals, or sometimes I had to coordinate the frustrating issue of getting someone licensed in another state. There's nothing like that in the office where I work now, except just one of the licensed engineers is not licensed in our state.

The thing I don't like about small business life is the comparative lack of security. We have to win new work all by ourselves. We have no extra resources, and if we don't have someone in the building who knows how to use that software, we have no one to ask. I don't own any company stock here. I don't know yet, but I don't think we get bonuses here and I know we don't get reviews and periodic organized raises. (I don't care about that at this point because I'm being paid at a slightly higher rate here than I was there, but I have to do harder work too, so it balances out.) We're a corporation, and we have some good health benefits and other benefits, but the 401(k) plan isn't as robust here as it was at the bigger office, and there aren't as many incidental benefits here. 

But here's something else interesting about being a small business (that also happens to be a minority business): in our line of work, there is a push to include "disadvantaged businesses" that are small or headed by minority populations or women. The biggest potential client, the department of transportation in our state, has a percentage they try to meet, so there are incentives to include small businesses and disadvantaged businesses on teams. When I worked for the bigger corporation, which was owned by white men, we generally had to proposition disadvantaged and small businesses to be on our team so we could contribute to those goals when we were hired. Working for this company, we ARE one of the companies that others solicit to join teams, and we can help the Department (and other public organizations) meet their goals every time they hire us.

There are some things I like better about the small business atmosphere, and other things I liked better about the bigger business. I try to focus on the stuff I really don't miss from there, because I can't go back. But there's usually a trade-off. No different here.

I do miss my old boss though. Man. That guy was great. 

I'll end it here. :(

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