We had a fascinating discussion about the level and type of risk you really undertake when embarking on a new venture. Coming into this program, I have to say I was comfortable in my corporate position. I have flirted with striking out on my own-- it would certainly alleviate much of the frustration I experience on a daily basis as part of being in the gears of a large organization. My father ran his own company, so my experience growing up was that my dad didn't have a boss and pretty much did his own thing. By the same token, my father was also unprepared to be a leader and ended up losing the family business, casting our family into a downturn from which we never fully recovered. The stress of managing that ultimately led to my father's death at age 50 (when I was just 19). So obviously that is also a strong countervailing memory in my mind of the risks of being out on your own (i.e., not having a corporate safety net to fall back on).
I tend to view things pretty simply: I chose to work for a large organization because I like both the opportunities and the protection it affords me: opportunities in the sense of working for one of the most recognized brands in the world, and protection in the sense of my employer having lots of cash on hand and the market share to survive economic downturns. Plus the benefits are pretty good too!
So, when you weigh that against the prospect of being out on your own, with potentially multiple years of low (or no) salary and maybe even needing to put your personal assets up as collateral to make your dream a reality, the cushy (if occasionally annoying) corporate job seems like a fair bargain. Especially when, like me, you have three small kids and a spouse who works.
Our professor told us story today, though, that has me questioning things. "Twenty years ago," he said, "I left a job at a large company and went to work for a VC firm." Many of his big-company friends said he was crazy taking on so much risk.
"Now I look back at those people, and they are all very successful in highly-specialized corporate jobs, but they also live in fear of being one step away from getting re-orged out of a job. And then what transferable skills would they have?" By contrast, he said, "I have played so many different roles in so many different organizations, I feel I could do just about anything."
Then he hit us with the zinger: "So in the end, who actually took on more risk?"
Many of my classmates are planning to use their degrees from this program to strike out on their own-- it is a common situation in many MBA programs I'm sure. Today's lecture has me thinking whether I wouldn't be better off in the long run joining them and forging my own path sometime soon. The company office is pretty comfortable, but I will also admit that rarely a day goes by that I don't worry about ending up like one of our professor's colleagues in the story: experienced, specialized, highly paid, and completely vulnerable.
My task will be how to reconcile that fear with the alternate (and visceral) fear I experienced when I saw independent business consume my father.