When it comes to climbing the corporate ladder, it can feel as though the only way forward is to reach for another rung. For many high-powered executives, having a thriving career means ascending from management into corporate leadership, crafting high-level strategies for massive companies, and providing counsel and direction in board rooms. It’s laudable work, but it often can feel limiting. Corporate leaders are hemmed in by internal politics, stakeholder imperatives, and industry expectations. They have little flexibility, and few opportunities to pursue business ideas beyond the company’s scope. For these reasons, climbing the corporate ladder can feel exhausting for independently-minded leaders, but it isn’t the only path available.
With all of the prestige surrounding corporate leadership, few consider entrepreneurship as a logical career transition for a burned-out executive. But leadership skills are transferrable — and if you have an entrepreneurial drive, there may be no better way to further your professional career than by stepping off the corporate ladder and building your own business.
I speak from experience. As a finance professional, I spent most of my early career within corporate structures, working in portfolio management and private banking for companies such as Dresdner Bank, UBS, and BNP Paribas. It was at the last that I earned my first prominent leadership position and assumed responsibility for a portion of the company’s initiatives in the international banking sector. From there, I moved on to become the CEO and later President of the Board of Directors for the Centrex Group.
I was on track to remain in corporate leadership for the rest of my career; however, I ultimately opted not to. By that time, I had realized that my responsibilities as a corporate leader were keeping me from doing the part of my job I had loved: helping clients.
I decided to become an entrepreneur so that I could reconnect with my passion for guiding clients through complex financial endeavors and make business decisions without worrying about corporate politics or expectations. I founded three businesses: Private Asset Partners AG, a licensed Swiss asset manager and multi-family office; Agrocore Finance AG, a financial company that centered on advising clients in the areas of commodity and trade finance; and Wicki Consulting, a business which advised private and corporate clients alike on how they could structure financial products to meet their needs. Today, I serve as the founder and CEO of WETEC Consulting, a financial services firm in Dubai.
Let me be clear: entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. It’s challenging and risky; it lacks the sense of security that a corporate leadership role can provide. However, becoming a founder can be an incredibly rewarding career move — one that allows a leader to have more control over their business direction and a more hands-on role in day-to-day operations and growth.
Are you interested in leaving the corporate ladder for entrepreneurship? Check out the tips below!
Assess Your Capabilities
As I mentioned earlier, entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. Before you decide to make the shift, you need to hone in on your motives for seeking a career change in the first place. Do you have a business idea that you want to pursue, or are you merely looking for a change of pace? If your answer is the latter, you may want to consider finding another corporate leadership position instead of leaving the security of a corporate structure.
Make sure that you can take on the challenge that entrepreneurship poses before you commit.
Hire the Right People
Every hire matters when you’re building a small company. Don’t hire too many people, don’t make impulsive staff decisions, and make sure that you’re investing in the right people before you onboard them.
Take a Detail-Oriented Approach
One of the foremost challenges that former corporate leaders face in a small business is one of perspective. As one CEO puts the matter in an article for American Express: “The skills it takes to manage a corporate career, the matrix and strategic thinking in a global organization are very different from the operational skills needed to run a small business.”
Those used to an enormous corporate structure naturally take a high-level approach to strategy — but in the smaller environment of a young business, every team member needs to be detail-oriented and precise in their work. Otherwise, a new founder could inadvertently harm (or even sink) their business. Take a detail-oriented approach and proceed carefully!
It is possible to leave the corporate ladder for entrepreneurship. The road won’t be an easy one — but given time and hard work, the change may be the most rewarding career decision you ever make.