Magazine article Management Today

Is Small Beautiful or Big Better?

Magazine article Management Today

Is Small Beautiful or Big Better?

Article excerpt

In association with British Gas Business, MT gathered leaders representing both ends of the business scale to debate the pros and cons of being an SME compared with a large corporate.

John Vincent: I started out quite big; I used to work at Procter & Gamble in sales and marketing. I had all of the joys of working for a big multinational. I then worked at Bain & Company, the business consulting firm. Then I started a little business called Leon with my business partner, Henry Dimbleby. The mission we had there was to try and make fast food good, as opposed to bad. But at the same time I did an aggressive turnaround of a Scotch whisky business called Whyte & Mackay. So I had this very sweet little Leon, a company we were trying to grow on the basis of that pure culture; but, at the same time, I had to turn around this big, quite difficult Scotch whisky business - which we did.

Matthew Gwyther: So, John, if you had to come down one way or the other, working for a large organisation or for yourself in a small organisation, which gives you more of a buzz?

John Vincent: It's a question I often ask myself. I think: 'Do you want to be involved in something where you are at the creation stage, or do you want to be involved in something where you have at least some form of cashflow and scale with which to work?' The benefits of taking over Whyte & Mackay were that I had lots of problems to solve. That is good news. We managed to refinance, cut out the distillery, take two bottling halls and put them into one. We managed to sack our UK distribution company and rebuild that organisation.

Generally, my view is that most big businesses are more badly run than small businesses. Most are so far away from their customers and have so many layers of stupidity and waste in the corporate overhead that, on the whole, most entrepreneurs going into a big business would probably make quite a difference.

Andrew Caesar-Gordon: I love being an entrepreneur in media training. I go home at night and cannot wait to go to work in the morning, because I'm in control of my own destiny. However, like most people, I did start off in corporate life: Thames Water sits on my CV. Most importantly, I rely upon and embrace large blue-chip corporate organisations as my clients. I love them. They are reliable, they pay their bills, they have a partnership with us. This might be a function of working with their PR communication teams, who are always a bit more lateral and free-thinking than other parts of the corporate organisation.

As an entrepreneur, what are the things you want to do? You probably want to grow your business, and growing your business brings growing pains. Do I want to head a Plc and therefore become remote from what I'm doing? Not really. As with most organisations that grow rapidly, quite often the management has to change, because they are great at establishing the business and the initial growth period, and then you need to bring in professional managers, good or bad, to take the business to the next level. Most entrepreneurs do not want to be involved in that kind of thing.

Roger Southam: As a property manager, nine times out of 10, I would rather deal with small businesses. Unless you are incredibly determined and dogmatic, large firms are such faceless bureaucracies. It is a bloody nightmare. The amount of time we have to spend kicking, fighting and pushing at big business is way more than small businesses. What I want to do is keep the ethos we have and the mentality we have because, sure as hell, one thing I will not end up with is the big-business mentality.

Matthew Gwyther: Everyone feels that, do they not? It's difficult to keep control on something like that if you grow to be enormous.

Roger Southam: Every business is kind of a reflection of the people at the top who are running it. Ultimately, you are all talking about individuals here, about people, because we are all human beings and we are involved in the companies. …

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