After graduating, I worked in property services for one of the big global players – there’s a real sense of familiarity and security in moving from one large organisation with well established policies and practices to another. After all, most people would have betted on a Goliath figure rather than a David.
After 7 years’ experience in the field, however, working in such a structured system started preventing me from being able to adapt to the specific needs of our NHS client base. It’s hard to rewrite a rulebook that’s seemingly carved into bedrock. When an opportunity came up to work as Associate Director for Property at Essentia, I went for it.
Although Essentia has been around for many years as the in-house capital, estates and facilities management team of Guy’s and St Thomas’, I joined Essentia Trading Limited, the start-up business Essentia has formed to provide consulting services to external organisations.
It’s been a fantastic experience to date, and despite initial trepidation, after 3 months I’m playing a key role in developing the business and helping shape the direction of Essentia Trading. I can appreciate a start up business isn’t for everyone but, as of today, I can’t envisage returning to a large corporate set up.
Thinking about making the jump yourself? Here are some of the differences that I’ve found, and some advice on how to make the most of working at a newly established business.
Take the initiative
- The first thing you need in your new post is to ask yourself “what do we need to make this company run?”
- Large corporate firms have established systems in place ranging from licensed software, equipment, databases and reporting structures. Make sure you have everything you need to do your job. Taking responsibility for deciding where to invest key capital at the outset reinforces the concept of walking before you can run!
- You’re above the parapet at a small start-up business and understandably at greater risk. However, justifiably, your potential rewards are far greater. This isn’t always in monetary terms but could be in regards to profile, responsibility, challenges and visibility to the wider client market.
It’s ok to be located in a different area from the rest of the industry
- Many of the large property firms are based in the West End or the City with regional offices throughout the UK. I was a bit apprehensive to learn that Essentia was based at London Bridge and that I was leaving the Mayfair dream behind!
- However, this is not a significant issue for our business – it’s become common for even large firms to move to alternative areas such as the Southbank and Kings Cross, as they seek locations with good transport links, affordable rents and closer to where staff live
Invest energy into fostering partnerships, not just external ones
- My life in a big organisation included bidding with and working predominantly in partnership with external bodiesexperienced in NHS work, often taking the role as lead partner when delivering client projects. Our role was often in silo given the size of the firm, rowing our own boat.
- As a specialist start-up we are fortunate to have the multi-disciplinary skill set in house with bespoke NHS experience to provide a comprehensive client service.
- This means working hard on building great internal relationships with colleges as there is a huge crossover in the work we undertake, often having all worked for the same client albeit at different times at different firms! This has led to working across disciplines including energy management, valuation, building consultancy, healthcare planning and IT services all for one client.
- That’s not to say external partners aren’t key as by fostering external relationships and utilising our specialist skill set, a lack of regional base hasn’t prevented us winning work outside of London. We’ve been able to win big contracts with this approach, such as the work Essentia Trading recently won for major hospital projects in Dublin, Belfast and even Doha… a great change from rainy London!
Hierarchies will be flattened – so be prepared for greater visibility
- I’ve gone from working in a company of around 1,500 employees to an executive team of 12. The morning scramble for the kitchen coffee machine certainly isn’t the challenge it once was.
- You’ll no longer be a ‘small cog in a big wheel’. Four years after joining my previous employer, the company purchased a small specialist firm to work alongside us and decided to host a welcome breakfast party for the new employees. When a member of senior management introduced himself to me with a handshake and a ‘welcome to the company’, my only option was to smile politely – I ended up feeling like I was ‘no cog in a big wheel’!
- Here at Essentia Trading I am fortunate to work on the same floor as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer – I can have direct access to key decision makers just by strolling over to their desks. They can immediately provide feedback whether positive or negative.
Graduate schemes and career development processes may be embryonic
- Your industry area may be heavily reliant on graduates – in surveying for example, up to a third of most departments are graduate employees.
- If there are no official schemes or external advisors in place, you may have to take on responsibility for new grads in a hands-on, intuitive and responsive way.
- Don’t let that put you off, though – just take into account the extra time you may need to put into guiding someone through a training programme, and importantly, organising how that programme works. Our new graduate started recently so the program will be an fast evolving process!
The prospects of life outside a structured corporate set-up can prove daunting but in the words of Richard Branson,
You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing and falling over.