What is it?
SMEs (small and medium size enterprises) are inherently smaller (5-500 employees) than Large Corporates and are, in many cases, meant to remain as such for the long term. In the vast majority of cases they are privately owned.
SMEs are usually a great learning environment due to heightened organizational visibility and the chance to see results of strategies set and actions performed in person.
A career in an SME can take various avenues. The three main functions where future GMs/MDs (General Managers or Managing Directors) develop their core skills are commercial, operations and, sometimes, finance.
Working hours are similar to those of Large Corporates (sometimes, longer hours are required, especially in peak season given reduced staffing levels), with the average week being between 40-60 hours. The competition for advancement is lower than in Large Corporates and compensation is average (usually with less perks and benefits than in Large Corporates) Overall, the work is less routine with significant amounts of employee flexibility being required.
Many people are drawn to an SME career for the learning opportunities offered. These opportunities mainly arise from very actionable on-the job experience. Additional magnets are the easier and faster camaraderie that is made possible by smaller size organizations.
A small and medium size enterprise (SME) provides lots of opportunities to demonstrate a hands-on approach, develop ownership and a sense of responsibility. There are far less organizational layers and visibility is much higher than in Large Corporates or Large Family Owned Companies. Opportunities to relocate, rotate across functions and get formal training can be reduced compared to other larger organizations.
What are the advantages?
Benefits / Advantages:
Speed and visibility tend to be greater than in larger corporate environments albeit with sometimes less structure and means.
Exposure to higher-ups (owners and General Manager) in the organization is high and there is more probability to gain P&L and balance sheet ownership earlier than elsewhere.
Exposure to many different clients and suppliers.
Visibility from outside, results are easily spotted
SMEs can also be a stepping stone towards larger organizations, especially in the early career stages, preparing future leaders with more practical experience and breadth.
What are the typical traits of someone fitting with an SME career?
The personality and character traits of someone suited to work in an SME are typically the following:
What are the magnets to an SME career?
The SME career path attracts people who:
Like to be part of smaller organizations and prefer less structured and complex environments.
Seek specialization in a specific function (sales, finance, HR, marketing, OPS…) and are not that interested in a variety of assignments along a multiyear career.
Are comfortable with relatively lower risk/reward parameters compared to other careers.
Typical SME roles depending on functional area/department
An area sales manager typically manages a sales force within its defined regional territory. He/she is responsible for overseeing sales operations, meeting targets and managing the sales team in the region. Primary job responsibilities of an area sales manager would include:
The operations manager role is mainly to implement the right processes and practices across the organization. It is also to supervise, manage and ensure the delivery of goods or services, despite unexpected issues and obstacles. The specific duties of an operations manager include formulating strategy, improving performance, procuring material and securing compliance.
The role of a Corporate Finance Manager is to maximize bottom line opportunities for a business. Finance Managers are responsible for identifying and securing M&A deals. Additionally they manage and invest monetary funds, buy and sell financial products, as well as securing that the company has the financial means and controlling structure to deliver the expected financial results and earnings. An important aspect of the role is also to comply with all administrative tasks, issue quarterly, half year and yearly results as well as manage accounting and taxation matters.
Human resources managers plan, direct, and coordinate the administrative functions of an organization. They typically are in charge of payroll, oversee the recruiting, interviewing, and hiring of new staff, administer training, deal with employee relations and serve as a link between an organization’s management and its employees. They advise managers on organizational policies and coordinate performance management and support with staffing.
Individual contributor (Entry level)
Contributes to fulfill a functional task with defined responsibilities
Perform the functional tasks assigned in liaison/coordination with the other contributors according to Company organization and processes. If senior, then often mentor/coordinate junior contributors.
First line manager (Amber level)
Manage individual contributors
Ensure that her/his team achieves the goals of the functional role, managing people that could be geographically spread. Coordinate with the other managers according to Company organization and processes. Often define and implement goals/strategy for own team inside a broader strategic frame.
Manager of managers (Bronze level)
Ensure that his/her teams do achieve the goals of their functional roles or business units, managing teams that could be geographically spread and possibly encompassing more functions or business units. Coordinate with the other managers according to Company organization and processes. Define and implement goals/strategy for own team inside a broader strategic frame.
Lead the team: plan their work, supervise work quality.
SVP or EVP (Silver level)
Manage a function or a large Business Unit for the whole company and be part of the Executive Committee
The most senior functional role in an organization (reports directly to GM/MD). Gives the strategic and operational functional inputs. Ensures that the department teams achieve their goals, manages teams that can be geographically spread. Coordinates with the other functional/BU SVPs. Contributes to the overall strategy and management of the Company.
General Manager or Managing Director (Gold level)
Manage the Company
The most senior role in the organization (AKA Chief Decision Maker). Gives the strategic and operational inputs, having the ultimate responsibility for the company. Works both with the Board and/or the owner and the company organization. Ensures that the functional and BU teams do achieve their goals. Manages the Executive Committee, defines and implements the senior management policies.
Specific sacrifices required in an Corporate career
Drawbacks / Disadvantages:
On average, an SME career carries a better work life balance than others. Back office functions (Finance, Legal, HR, IT, R&D…) require far less travel than sales, technical service or (sometimes) operations but, even then, we are far away from the 80-100 hours/week schedule of Investment Banking or Management Consulting. Conversely, work environments tend to be less dynamic and frenzied (the extreme opposite of a startup). While more formal than startups, the SME world tends to be more relaxed than the typical Corporate environment. Of course this changes by country/location as well as owners’ character and culture.