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how large is too large? regarding: megacorporations
january 2, 2021
A reply to:
drew devault: a megacorp is not your dream job
overeducated redneck: corporate authoritarianism
This post is an amalgamation of personal experiences as well as the experiences of my close friends and family. It's obviously still anecdotal, but as it's from multiple experiences spread across the U.S., I still feel confident in stating it as roughly being the general case. Also, to preserve confidentiality, both for me and the people I know, I'm not going to name names and will slightly fudge numbers. The examples will still be exemplary, but don't expect them to be spot-on.
Even if you're lucky enough to work for a decent company, there's three options of what's going to happen in the future. One, growth stagnates and the company stays as-is—which is not necessarily a bad thing, constant growth is a bad goal. Two, the company is bought out by a larger (usually significantly larger) competitor and is rapidly destroyed. Three, as the company grows, it migrates out of the comfortable size and slowly becomes like the “traditional” corporations. I'll focus on these, as these two situations are where the majority of my aforementioned anecdotes come from.
Every single time you make a merger, somebody is losing his identity. And saying something different is just rubbish.
— Carlos Ghosn, securities fraudster, international fugitive, and former CEO of many large automotive companies.
I've worked closely and am still friends with a number of people that worked at a certain 5-letter Denver accounting firm. They were a massive company (~$100 million yearly revenue and the ~40th largest accounting firm in the U.S.), but they had ~300 employees, and were /just barely/ within the upper bound of Dunbar's numberᵃ. People there were very close and formed tight relationships, and had a (reportedly) great culture and everyone I talked to really enjoyed working there. However, in the past few years they were acquired by a larger company, and everyone unanimously agreed that the company wasn't even partially enjoyable. Jumping from ~300 to ~3,500 employees, it is natural to see how the close relationship of camaraderie would be immediately destroyed when assets start to be subsumed into the existing structure. Half the people I knew immediately quit, fuck any retention benefits, and the remaining ones are still clinging on, continuing only through sheer power of willᵇ. It's funny, because this is probably one of the best case scenarios for a merger. The acquiring company is lauded as having “great culture,”ᶜ and I'm sure they have great culture for a company their size, but it's just impossible to have any human element or feeling of contact when dealing with that many people.
[a]: wikipedia: dunbar's number is a cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.
[b]: lots of stock is vesting this year apparently so we'll see how much longer they continue their employment. hopefully they'll all be able to find a better job despite the current economic climate.
[c]: poorly paraphrasing wikipedia in an attempt to anonymize: “their culture has earned them numerous awards from a variety of sources over the years.”
a kafkian metamorphosis
and just like in The Metamorphosis, these companies should just kill themselves and free everyone from their presence.
— me, but presumably the analogy has been made beforeᵉ
I've personally held the advice Drew gives about choosing your employer for most of my life, so I've never had the “fun” of directly being hired by a large company. However, even if your company is nice and small, if they're successful then eventually they'll grow too large for their own good, even if the current management does have good intentions. The group of smart and creative people that made your company what it is are also the exact type of people that despise working in a cold, rigid corporate environment, so if you're changing in that direction then you're going to lose all of your actually good employees, particularly the ones that actually made your company possible. [f] is a great story that shows an example of this metamorphosis that companies undertake upon reaching a certain size.
[e]: and funnily enough I picked one of kafka's few works that doesn't have to do with criticizing bureaucracy
[f]: as startups scale into a company, founders and the board need to realize that the most important transitions are not about systems, buildings or hardware. it’s about the company’s most valuable asset – its employees.
At this point I've run out of things to say without really making a point but whatever, there's some good stuff in here and I don't feel like rewriting it. I guess the main point I'm trying to make is that a big company ain't good, and that a good, small-to-medium–sized company is constantly on a knife's edge between going bankrupt and growing to being a big bad company.
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