How to KILL it In the Corporate World (or the Big, Small, Big Theory) – Part 1

My Corporate Experience

For a 25 year old, I think I know more than expected about the corporate world. Working as a corporate recruiter for almost 4 years in Sydney and my natural curiosity for business kinda helped.

I had some of the biggest companies in the world as my clients including Citigroup, JP Morgan, UBS, Deutsche bank, Vodafone, 3 Mobile, Symantec, CA and many more. I also serviced a number of smaller companies too. Mostly niche software development firms (I recruited developers).

As a recruiter, you get to see a company from the outside. You see how the structure is built, how decisions are made and how people move within organisations and to new businesses.

In essence, you see waay more than most employees within the actual company see as they are stuck in their little subdivision, working as a tiny cog in a monstrous machine.

The Corporate Struggle

Getting ahead in these big businesses can be very tough. There is an immense amount of competition, and nothing you do really ever has an impact on the company.

Think about it. If you work for Citigroup in Sydney, and the whole of Citigroup’s operations in Sydney account for less than 5% of Citigroup Global revenue, as one of the 3000 people working in Sydney, you are contributing to 0.00016% of the business. Even then, if you’re not at least a middle manager or a bread winner you’re probably contributing less.

So how do you stand out? How to you take your career to the level you really want? And more importantly, how do you do it quickly?

See, not only is it harder to make an impact in the company you are working in, there are slower decisions, the organisational structures is set and growth is slow.

Basically, you’re up the proverbial creek and you aint got no paddle.

Unless you use cunning office politics and networking to get ahead, which can work very well but is a whole other post, or maybe book… it can be very difficult.

But then how do you see these young gun managers and bankers running around the big institutions? How do they get in?

I have a theory that may just answer the question. This is something I picked up from observation, but I don’t think my sample was big enough to call it a fact, so I call it:

The Big-Small-Big Theory

The big-small-big theory refers to someone who comes out of university and gets a job in a big company then leaves that big company for a small company. While working for the small company he progresses quickly through the ranks. He then returns to a big company at a much higher level then would have been possible if he just stayed working for his original big company.

This happens for a few reasons.


Small companies are growing much quicker than large ones (if it’s a decent company). Growth means expansion. Expansion into new territories, new markets, new services and new products. Growth also means opportunity. As an insider your natural odds go up.

Organisational Structure Holes

Small companies make do with what they have. There will be employees wearing many hats. This is due to budget constraint or lack of activity. When the company grows, the burden on the people working multiple roles becomes too much, forcing the company to split the job, creating a new position. In big businesses, the organisational structure is defined to perfection. There are no holes. The only way you’re getting the bosses job is if he moves up or out.

Less competition

This should speak for itself. Less people, less competition. Better odds of getting that promotion.

The Deep End

Ahh, the deep end. Welcome to small business pressure. This is when you are working away until suddenly, your business lands a new client. Maybe the client is bigger than ever before, maybe it is in a new industry. Whatever the reason, you need to learn and you need to learn quick. It is rare that a big company like Citigroup will ever come across a client or situation that it doesn’t already have detailed documented processes on how to handle. Thus you are rarely chucked in the deep end and your learning curve is much slower.

The Result

More responsibility = a faster learning curve = more productive employee.

Sounds easy right? Have questions? Like why it’s called the big-small-big theory and not the small-big theory? Or are there any downsides or risk?

Don’t worry, Ill cover them in part two of this post.

Click here to read Part 2

10 responses to “How to KILL it In the Corporate World (or the Big, Small, Big Theory) – Part 1”

  1. i think there is a massive misconception within everything we read its all get promoted quick, get rich quick, get laid quick. I have worked at blue chip companies for all my working career. I have consistently been chosen to work on the largest and highest profile projects in my section of the bank, and there is no secret, no quick method or easy way. Its through being competent at your job, and taking personal development seriously then in 5 years you start to see results. there are no short cuts in life. if really want to work for big name companies with high profile projects be prepared to work.

  2. hehe thanks for your comment Matt. Yes it is true that there is lots of hype going around promising the blessed life. In the next post I talk about the downsides of this method. But the fact is that many (read most) employees do not have the careers they would ultimately like. Obviously a blue chip company is built like a pyramid and there are less positions at the top then there are at the bottom. By this logic in its self, odds are against you for moving up. Taking a proactive approach is something you have to do if you want to increase your odds. I am not saying the big-small-big theory is the exact blueprint to do this, it is a theory after all, but it is an example of something proactive that someone who is willing to take a risk can try. And I have seen this work (albeit usually unintentionally) many times in the real world.

  3. i think the theory works big small big. however independent of this is fact those who take on more responsibility and deliver are rewarded for it. the biggest lesson i ever learnt was at IBM i worked harder and provided more value to the business blah blah however some douche got promoted above me.. i was like wtf but the lesson really is to take responsibility for your own development independent of whoever you work for and it doesnt really matter what happens around you. good blog keep it up.

  4. “however independent of this is fact those who take on more responsibility and deliver are rewarded for it….some douche got promoted above ”

    yeah I think there is always a risk of that, I mention it in the next part. But I think this happens much more often in big companies than smaller.

    The fact is, like I stated in the Citigroup example, no matter what you do, you are never really making an impact on the business as a whole. You are never too valuable to replace or get screwed.

    In a small company, its easier to cement your value and actually make a big impact on the success of the business.

    “the lesson really is to take responsibility for your own development independent”

    Amen brother

  5. big company small company doesnt matter.. its just big successful companies have reputations of selecting elite however the same could be said for small boutique firms working in a small however profitable niche.

    the point you make about being a number is really bad. if we measure our worth in life by our percentage of business contribution then really are all doomed except for owner operaters. in the end what is meaningful to me is at the end of the day i come to my European wife and cat despite what business value i provide.

    rock and roll my friend.

  6. I think you’re going a little off topic but I definitely agree with you. You should not attach your self-worth with your job.

    But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be interested in getting ahead in your career. Whether the reason is personal pride, so you can provide better for your family or achieve the freedom you desire whatever your reason, if progression is your goal you should proactivly pursue it.

    Receiving more responsibility and making correct decisions so you can contribute to the success of a business not only looks good on your CV but it also will help you develop as a person (at least in terms of the skills required on the job), thus helping you progress. If that’s part of your goals.

  7. This is a really cool blueprint for fasttracking to the top (and by fast I mean faster…. I can imagine it takes years).

    I have a theory which kind of can be explained with your theory. My theory has to do with providing more value, you get more value in return. So I can see what you mean….. if you come out of school, you provide value to a BIG company by showing them that you are hard working, smart and dedicated. After a few years, you can go to a small company and provide value in that you have all the previously mentioned traits plus experience at a big company. They provide you with the value of having the opportunity of going higher faster by taking on more responsibility. When you go back to the big company, you provide them value in that you have all the previous traits + experience growing a company and working as an executive decision maker so they provide you the value of being at the top and making the decisions.

    Looking forward to the next posts on the subject!

  8. Thx for your thoughts Pat.

    Unfortunately the sad truth is that sometimes in a big company, providing value sometimes just isnt enough to get you ahead.

    You may have noticed Matt’s comment above with his IBM story.

    Many promotions are based on personal preferences (this is where networking comes into play), then you have the whole dilbert principal (where being worse at your job will get you promoted, because they don’t want to promote talented workers), and then you have external hires taking the jobs (like someone who has done big-small-big).

    Not saying if you work hard and do a good job you wont get promoted, but I have seen many many people who have done just this their entire life and not seen the results they were looking for.

    I guess its just something to think about.

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