My son graduated from Bradley University in December earning a B.S. degree from the Foster College of Business, with an entrepreneurship concentration. Neither his father nor I knew such a specific program existed before he was enrolled, even though we had become entrepreneurs ourselves. "One who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise," as defined by Webster's dictionary, certainly could use the benefit of study and not totally depend on trial and error experience to fulfill their vision. So I believed the course of study was a good choice.
After he began his job search in late summer, I was hoping he would interview with several large corporations and begin his career immediately after graduation. But would that be the best way for him to go, especially considering his special college focus? I had the benefit of owning my own small business while watching closely the dynamics of corporate life play out with many friends, and I had to admit that fresh out of college would be a good time for him to explore his options.
Statisticians tell us more people will be working in small business in the next century than big business. That's already true in Peoria, where 82 percent of the businesses that belong to the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce are considered small, meaning they have fewer than 50 employees.
But what's right for my son? Where would his entrepreneurial interests play best-in a larger or smaller company? I've given him a list of advantages and disadvantages of both size companies to consider as he weighs his alternatives.
- Job security. In the past, job security was usually better at a large company than a small company. But not always, especially lately. With the economy appearing unsure which way it's headed, large corporations are doing things–like mergers, acquisitions and downsizing–that has threatened that job truism. Some job positions, and the employees, who fill them, are no longer considered viable. Entry level employees are always at greater risk.
- Salary. The starting pay is almost always better at a large corporation. There are more assets, more resources, often much higher profit, so companies can afford to pay their people more.
- Benefits. Again, large companies win here. Vacation time, sick days, medical benefits, pensions, 401Ks, and personal leave are usually superior because of the numbers of people involved as well as their history.
- Recognition. The winner here is the small company. Individuals who are organized, are problem-solvers, work independently, require little training and are self-motivated will be rewarded at most small companies, where those qualities are held in high esteem. It's not that they're disregarded at a large corporation, they're just not as easy to assess in a large company because of the bureaucracy built in the organization.
- Productivity and Accountability. Who are the most productive employees? Those of a small company, usually. They have to be. It's tough for a nonproductive employee to "hide" in a small business; you can't always say the same thing for a large corporation.
- Independence. The tendency at a large corporation is usually to hire those individuals who are good followers with specific skill sets and the potential to become leaders. A large company's employees, generally, prefer to be team members, don't like the responsibility of making decisions and are happier in a structured, corporate culture. The small business, however, thrives on those who want to spread their wings and do their own thing. In fact, they depend on the type of individual who has many different talents and who needs to be close to the decision-makers or who can actually participate in making their decisions. Interestingly, some growing larger companies are encouraging more entrepreneurial approaches to all decision making. That management style fosters "ownership" and "pay for performance" while requiring responsibility and accountability.
Those are obviously generalizations about the characteristics of large corporations and small businesses. Some companies don't fit either mold. Many are medium-sized and elude categorization. Large corporations treasure their leaders, individuals who are keenly motivated and who consider decision-making an integral part of their lives. Nonetheless, I have purposely generalized to help my son clarify his thinking about what he wants to do.
If I were a gambler, I'd wager that he'll want to work for a small company, perhaps even be his own boss. After, all, that has been his expressed interest at Bradley, and he began his first business while in high school. But part of me hopes he'll spend at least a few years at a large corporation just so he can experience the culture, carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages, and then decide for himself if the environment is or is not a "good fit". I guess that's the reason for the list, he needs to realize that there are benefits and drawbacks no matter which direction he goes. Now is the best time for him to find out first hand, before he has the responsibilities that come with families and age, that may force him to make a decision for other reasons. IBI