Why I’m Glad I Started Working in a Huge Corporation

People who hear my story presume I must have hated working in a huge corporation. And I get why:

  • I lasted fewer than five years in corporate before pretiring.
  • I now work solo, keyboard preaching about being “unconventional.”

But the truth is the opposite.

I have fewer than zero regrets about starting my career as a corporate lackey.1🚨 Self-justification alert! That’s right. I have negative regrets—about minus eight of them.

Benefit of Working in a Corporation #1:

Great Friends

New hire and intern party, 2008.

In September 2008, I was among over 100 new hires and interns onboarded into Procter & Gamble’s EMEA2 Europe, Middle East, and Africa headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

It felt like the UN. I came representing Canada. My fellow fresh colleagues came from everywhere else. And most, except the Brits, spoke multiple languages.

But what we all had in common was that we’d survived the many filters of P&G’s interview process to score what was then a prestigious role. So everyone was “smart,” educated, and pretty full of themselves.

This made the first days on the job feel like frosh week, minus the Arts students, plus Swiss salaries.

And just as many freshmen make lifelong friends during these early days in university, I did the same when starting my corporate job.

Me and two friends who started working the same day as me.
Fourteen years later, none of us work corporate anymore, but we’re still friends.

Benefit of Working in a Corporation #2:

A Blown Up Bubble

My first role at P&G was to report and reconcile the multi-hundred-million-dollar transportation and warehousing budget for CEEMEA (Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa).

This had me working with people who spoke languages I’d never heard of from cities I couldn’t place on a map. And I’d routinely go for lunch with folks I’d be unlikely to eat at the same restaurant as otherwise.

While my corporate colleagues were all to some degree Westernized, they were certainly more culturally diverse than in most startups. More diverse in age, too.

This taught me a better understanding of and appreciation for the world’s diverse residents—and maybe a better ability to get along with them.

Humilty and ego competing for your attention after making a mistake.
My corporate bosses job helped Humility get the last word over Ego. (More on this model in my post on how to stop justifying yourself.)

Benefit of Working in a Corporation #3:

Getting Put in Your Place

As an entitled 22-year-old who coasted to good grades in school, I thought I was going to float my way up the corporate hierarchy.

Turns out the hundred-plus others who joined P&G beside me had similar thoughts. And I soon found out that most were more qualified than I was.

So rather than soar up the corporate ladder, I nearly fell off.

I struggled to find my place and figure out what it took to succeed in the real world—or at least the P&G version of it. I couldn’t hide behind self-justifying excuses for my poor performance, either, because my boss cut to the chase about how I was being rated relative to my peers. His own survival/thrive-al depended in part on my performance, after all.

It was humbling.

Scary, too. Because company policy was that the bottom fifteen percent who couldn’t cut it were culled every year.

This experience taught me I’m not God’s gift to anything and to learn from this reality rather than fight it.

Benefit of Working in a Corporation #4:

Training Wheels

As harshly Darwinian as P&G’s up or out culture was, it wasn’t as harsh as heading into the real world on my own. The company offered support to anyone, like me, willing to take it.

There were regular corporate trainings. These helped me get a broader understanding of how the business worked and how to work within it. Plus, the lunch courses had free food.

There were mentorship programs. These connected me with senior managers who could help me see what I was missing and find my way.

And there were my teammates in the projects I worked on. Most of them were higher up and worked in different functions, so they weren’t competing with me for promotions. Almost all were willing to lend a helping hand or word of guidance, which I learned to take.

How to measure personal productivity cover of Chris happily closing his laptop
The grown-up professionalism I learned from vets has helped me be more effective as an entrepreneur.

Benefit of Working in a Corporation #5:

Grown-Ups

With few exceptions, my senior colleagues impressed me.

They were so professional.

They communicated clearly, managed up and down strategically, and did what they said they’d do when they said they’d do it.

And they expected the same from me.

To live up to these expectations, I developed my own professionalism by picking, choosing, and copying from the best practices I was exposed to.

Unsurprisingly, my favorite colleagues to imitate were the Vice Presidents. I looked forward to my infrequent opportunities to interact with them. They oversaw thousands of employees and billion-dollar budgets. They were leaders—decisive, knowledgable, and inspiring. And even though they operated on a whole different level, because P&G is a promote-from-within organization, I knew they had started at the same ground floor as me.

Maybe the VPs had more natural talent than me. But the biggest thing separating us was experience. So this taught me A) Respect for grown-ups and B) Appreciation for experience.

Had I started my career working for myself or at some startup, I’m not sure I would have learned those lessons and developed the same professional skills.

Benefit of Working in a Corporation #6:

Intrapreneurship Practice

It took me about six months to find my footing on the corporate ladder, develop a modicum of professional skills, and have some idea of what was happening around me.

Then, I realized something:

As well-managed as P&G was, there was tons of room for improvement.

Middling managers could get by working within the system. But leaders changed it to make it work better. And I was encouraged to do so.

Mostly encouraged. I met resistance from people who were comfortable with the way things were. But those challenges made it fun.

I pushed forward new reports to increase visibility on plant warehouse savings, changed how actual versus budgeted transportation costs were reconciled, and simplified structures for managing salaries in Latin America.

Yawn?

I wouldn’t blame you for thinking so. But I relished the opportunity to make my small dent in a huge company. And I was rewarded for it with raises and, most importantly, being granted my unusual request to relocate from Geneva to Panama.

This helped me uncover and polish a passion for something I continue to do: challenging conventional approaches with fresh ones that might work better.

How to be more patient cover image of me watching seedling grow
Time is money, and I could afford to be patient thanks to my savings from working in corporate.

Benefit of Working in a Corporation #7:

The Ability to Afford Patience

Because I got paid more than I should have and spent less than I could have, I managed to stash a good pile of cash in my four-and-a-half-year corporate career.

By the time I pretired, I had over $200,000 saved and another $40,000 in company stock.

That stash has been enough to buy me the time to be patient. Rather than feel pressured to compromise for a quick buck, I was able to reset, upgrade, learn from many misadventures, and find my way in my into this job I love.

Delusion Bubble, Potential, and Comfort Zone diagram
My corporate experience helped me distinguish delusion from potential so I could expand my comfort zone in that direction rather than fight reality.

Benefit of Working in a Corporation #8:

Real Confidence

Working around highly qualified professionals in corporate helped me whittle down my excess confidence and figure out where I do and don’t stand out.

I also proved to myself and others that I have what it takes to contribute and succeed. So even when my post-corporate business ideas flopped, I had the confidence to learn my lessons without taking them personally.

Plus, I’ll always have this corporate experience on my resume, which I keep in my back pocket as insurance. I hope to never have to use it, but it gives me confidence to know that there will always be corporations willing to hire me.

Chris in his new go-to button-up shirt
Had I not succeeded in corporate, my subsequent failures as an entrepreneur might have led me to believe I don’t have what it takes.

Don’t Count Out Working in Corporate.

If I were starting my career from scratch today, I’m not sure what I’d do. I’d be enticed by the startup, entrepreneurship, and super flexible remote job opportunities that weren’t in such abundance back in my day.

But I would be wise not to count out a corporate job at a company like Procter & Gamble that:

  • Surrounds you with high-quality professionals from all walks of life
  • Supports your growth
  • Encourages intrapreneurship
  • Pays fairly

That’s a pretty solid package.

Not everyone needs it, can have it, or would benefit from it as much as I did, but many would. And since corporate jobs seem to be getting a bad rep these days, I suspect more people should consider it. So, whether or not my experience encourages you to pursue a corporate career, hopefully it helps make a choice you’ll have negative regrets about, too.

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