The Mumbai monsoon lashes relentlessly at the floor-to-ceiling glass panes at the Belvedere Club at The Oberoi. Joining me is a 45-year-old seasoned professional, the CEO of the Indian arm of a flourishing agency business. Having teetered on the edge of entrepreneurship for a few months, he’s eventually decided not to take the plunge after all. Bemoaning his lack of risk appetite, he sighs, am I just a corporate coward?
I decided to list down why being in a job was not such a bad thing after all.
To start with, you get paid, and increasingly, get paid quite well. Not as much as the entrepreneurs, but then you are not risking your capital. On the other hand, many entrepreneurs get paid less than they are worth for a long while, and many will lose their shirts altogether.
As Indian conglomerates or Indian operations of global firms grow in complexity and scale, their demands from professionals have grown. Never before in India have senior professionals had this degree of empowerment, the opportunity to play in the big league, the chance to be at the forefront of industry with the backing of a platform, organizational resources and access to capital, as they do now. Apart from getting to do really exciting work and shape organizations and industries, senior professionals have unprecedented access, build global networks, have varied experiences and extend influence.
Large-scale companies are increasingly able to provide unprecedented growth opportunities and increasingly complex responsibilities and experiences, across sectors and geographies, to Indian professionals. If you are starting off on your own, it’s unlikely you would have the experience of listing in London. Or attending Davos. Or running operations across Asia. Many career dreams cannot be fulfilled without scale and resources.
And while most organizations have their share of politics and bureaucracy, most companies are less concerned about the hours you spend at your desk and more about the productivity in your role. If you are delivering at work, a mature organization will happily allow you to take the day off to attend that cricket match with your son, or encourage you to climb that mountain. And as for being a corporate slave with no work-life balance, as the CEO of BlackBerry said at a seminar I attended—it does come with an off button.
At the end of the day, there is the very real risk of losing one’s job—or getting tangled in corporate politics. But these risks are considerably less than the financial and reputational risks one undertakes as an entrepreneur. Even if a particular job doesn’t work out, a good professional will usually be able to dust himself off and get back on the carousel. If you think you cannot—that’s another discussion, but certainly not the best basis for considering entrepreneurship. And you can always walk away from a bad job, a bad company or a bad boss.
If you still have the E-itch, there are still advantages of working in a company. You may well choose or develop an “intrapreneurial” option, where you are able to innovate and create a new business within the context of a larger organization. This works well for the corporation, which gets to harness and benefit from entrepreneurial skills, and for the professional, who can get a shot at creating value with access to resources, scale and checks and balances, without taking on all the risks. Many companies have successfully used sweat equity to share the wealth with such intrapreneurs.
Perhaps the corporate jungle isn’t so bad after all, and while entrepreneurship is an exciting career option, it’s certainly not for everyone. The question, then, is perhaps not so much about being an entrepreneur, as about whether you are in a fulfilling career.
So here we go: Do you enjoy what you do? Do you believe you get paid fair value (more or less!)? Do you enjoy the environment that you work in? Does your job stretch you? Do you tangibly add to your bottom line—of wealth, experiences and learning—every year? Do you go home feeling the “good tired”? Or is it time to make that change?
Perhaps real cowardice is when you are not true to yourself.
Sonal Agrawal is chief executive, Accord Group, an executive search firm.
Write to Sonal at email@example.com