Are start-ups less forgiving?

Posting date:07 Oct 2019

Zeeshan Tayyeb has spent almost two decades working as a Finance Director, CFO and COO for both multi-million pound corporate and start-up organisations. Having transitioned between established and disruptive companies for some time, he discusses finding his happy medium within Private Equity and how despite working longer hours, he found greater job satisfaction working in a start-up - but, are they less forgiving?

I think if you look at corporate companies; due to their age or the sheer amount of time and money that has gone into their development, they have institutionalised practices which are hugely beneficial to professionals starting off their careers. These types of environments provide a safe starting place to know and understand what good practice looks like while receiving guidance from experienced professionals.

You also have training programmes, room for learning, budget for development and allowances for mistakes. You learn to understand how things can go wrong as a result of a bad decision and learn how to avoid failure knowing what the consequences are. 

You are not going to repeat your mistakes in the corporate world as there are boundaries and structures in place to direct you and tell you that you were wrong, but you can fix it. Smaller organisations are less forgiving and a small mistake could be life or death for them.

When transitioning from a larger organisation to a smaller one, a frustration both I and colleagues of mine on the same journey have faced is the speed. A smaller organisation is more agile, it takes less time to make big decisions and becomes easier to chop and change if things aren’t quite going to plan. It’s a lot more flexible in that way which can be a fantastic thing but there is definitely an adjustment period to be had.

The downside of working for a leaner organisation is that you run the risk of not having your key people. The benefit of working within a corporate is the processes and people that exist to help you; which are especially beneficial for transactional services, but the same thing just doesn’t exist within a start-up. Although frustrating, this can be of real benefit to you if you join from a corporate background with the ability to implement the day-to-day methodology needed to automate and utilise a small workforce.

On the reverse, moving from a career where you have only worked in start-ups into the corporate world can be difficult. In my experience, it’s much harder to transition and you would need a specific skillset whether it’s speed, agility or a niche talent that can differentiate you from others. You also need to prepare yourself for the different politics, pace and processes that exist within a corporate environment.

I think the nature of how training in the two types of organisation works means that senior finance people deriving from corporate backgrounds are ultimately more experienced. They are often second to the CEO and the person everyone within the company looks to for guidance and knowledge. 

In a corporate role, learning is constant as you not only constantly evolve yourself to meet the growing needs of the company, but you also get to mentor a great deal of people, work alongside group CFOs and Managing Directors who are all on a learning path themselves.

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