This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. I'm 23, and haven't spent 10,000 hours on anything – except maybe food consumption, sleep and my education. But I've worked for two companies in quick order, one big and the other small. The contrasted experience offered me an interesting perspective.
I've had two loves in my life: science and business. Science was my high school sweetheart. We were young, doe-eyed, and dazed with the dizzying excitement about the potential we had together. Not to say things didn't work out (I like to think our affair was postponed amicably), but a new suitor presented itself in 2013 in the form of an internship with the Canadian technology company, Kobo. The timing was right and, two weeks into the internship, I was smitten.
My second love ultimately informed my decision to apply for several jobs at large technology companies like the one I fell in love with the summer prior. I started at Cisco Systems in 2014 as an intern, and was fortunate enough to be offered full-time employment. While I learned a lifetime of skills at Cisco, and appreciated and enjoyed the opportunity, after much self-reflection, I decided to leave my job and try my hand at a smaller company. That company was Turnstyle Solutions. Turnstyle specializes in helping bricks and mortar businesses make their WiFi network more valuable. It does this through a cloud-based marketing platform that enables businesses to use data and analytics to reach out and drive loyalty with customers.
Moving from a 71,000-person organization to a 25-person company was a shock to my system: Size really does matter. I am eternally grateful for my big company experience to help me learn more about myself, and of any big company in the world to work, Cisco is one of the best. But I left to follow my heart, and these were my reasons:
The first was impact. I wanted to be able to see, concretely, whatever I did had the potential to make a mark on the company and make a difference in its growth. Large companies rarely face life-or-death decisions. But I wanted a taste of that – to be in an environment that groomed my decision-making pedigree so that I can make the best possible decisions in any given situation. I wanted higher stakes. By moving to a smaller company, the daily decisions I make have more impact on the success or failure of the business, and that matters to me.
Culture played a large role in my transition to Turnstyle. Every company places great importance on its culture and the work environment it cultivates. I view the differences between big-company culture and small as the difference between a sports car and an SUV. The SUV is big, stable and comfortable. While the sports car is smaller and closer to the road. You feel every bump. Both can get you from A to B, but how you get there is a matter of taste and personality.
Operational transparency was also one of the pieces I was looking for. Working at a smaller organization means that I get to be in the kitchen as the meal is being prepped, cooked and served. Right from my initial interview I had a clear idea of where the business was heading, and how I was a part of getting it there. This transparency builds my belief in the company, the culture, and boosted my personal commitment to it.
Finally, the potential drew me to Turnstyle. I believe in the technology and think the company is on the threshold of massive growth. The market is exhibiting the right signs of adoption and the team is all working toward the exact same goal. The unrelenting, unparalleled ambition that pours out from this potential is what engages me most about my new small-company role.
So if you're young and trying to navigate between big-company opportunities and small, a significant part of finding the best way comes down to what you need rather than what they offer. Work isn't just about content, it's about context. No amount of education will be able to tell you what type of company you will like and thrive in. Get out there and experience, learn by doing, get your hands dirty and don't let the fear of failing deter you from experimenting. You alone hold the answer to which company size works best for you and the only way to find that answer is to experience both.
From my millennial perspective, size does matter.
Sam Hillman is an account director with Turnstyle Solutions.