The difference between working for a corporate and getting a job at a corporate

August 24, 2011
3 min read

The landscape of the working world is most interesting. For every industry, the value chain consists of a vast array of one man bands, small start-ups, SMMEs, large corporates, multinationals and in cases, large institutions. For each of these, there  is a spread of people, talent and the way business gets done.

The entrepreneur in me always seemed to be kicking and screaming out against the stayed old conventional corporates, in any interaction I had with them. Processes seem bureaucratic, committee decisions seem risk adverse, and staff never have a commitment of skin in the game so they’ll gladly push paper around, but never during their tea time. My experience of moving from running my own business into a corporate environment has been so diverse, and almost two years on, am very happy being an entrepreneur within a big corporate. Here are a few tricks that I’ve learnt..

Firstly, pick your corporate correctly. There are a lot of lumbering beasts, age-old dinosaurs who have retained staff since their inception. The risk in these corporates are the plethora of rules and processes that have stayed the test of time that you have to adhere to, as well having what seems like a crowd of geriatrics belittling you and your ideas. Changing the world in these places is going to be tough! So I’d rather pick out those who show signs of moving with the times – promoting new technology and have a strong IT focus; employing dynamic youth that you can work with and learn from; are known as innovators in their industry and are often first to market; and importantly, remain ambitious and competitive. This will flush out the dead-wood quickly, and the grey hair in the executive will be more than likely open to considering new ideas and products.

Be strategic in which corporate you work for. Firstly, don’t pick the first job that comes along from any old industry player. Take time to decide which industry you’d like to play in for the long run, and then, which corporate is the best in class. Then only take an offer from them. This will bring you into contact with the cream of people in the industry, and their clients and suppliers. You’ll learn so much more, be challenged to be commercial, and effectively plan the the “Premier League.”

And thirdly, don’t become a specialist, just yet. Typically, I’ve discovered two kinds of people in corporates. Those that work for a corporate, and those that have jobs in a corporate. Those with jobs just do their daily grind. They’re good at what they do and just focus on that deep and narrow part of the business, blissfully unaware of changes happening in the macro-environment which could lead to their redundancy. Those guys are also not endearing themselves to be headhunted into the new and exciting projects of the business, with an exposure to the wider network of a corporate. I’ve found it best to be the entrepreneur in the corporate, it leads to a heck of a lot of learning, networking and progression. At the end of the day, corporates still need dynamic minds and enabling people to get their businesses ahead of the pack.

So those are a few of my thoughts on the corporate working world. I’d be keen to hear yours.



Hey Murray,

Great post, I think this most important point you raise here is around choice. Chose which environment you want to work in, in this case a corporate that met partuclar criteria you ensured they met.

Just my 2 cents here- I’ve worked in/with two corporates, both in the innovation space and with my entrepreneur hat on..The one I launched a business decision with and their beaurocracy (unintened) made it extemely difficult for us to move fast in the market. The second,
Is the total opposite and we are in the process of launching what is on its way to be the market leader and as adaptive as any other startup..with the backing of great resources 🙂 The conclusion- one isuilt from the ground up with innovation at its core and the flattest organization structure I’ve seen! The other wasn’t competing on a global scale and had the luxury of controlling monoploized industries..


Great article. As you mention in the article, Strategy is key.

For as long as a large corporation fails to recognise talent and to cleary define how human capital is classified as an asset or liability, there will always be deadwood classified as assets within an organisation.

Real talent is often lost to deadwood, the greates obstacle that keeps large corporations from quickly adapting to dynamique changes.

Truth is, smaller coporations are more flexible, ambitious, competitive and entrepreneurial, there is no room for complacency.

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