Notes from the other side
Retired metal merchant Anthony Lipmann illuminates trading for the young entering the world of metals.
So, you’ve been offered your first job – terrific! But annoyingly (after the letter-writing, interviews, and emails) you’ve now received two offers on the same day.
One is from a large corporation listed on the London Stock Exchange. The human resources team has told you about their great pension scheme (even though you are only 23) and offered you a basic salary of £45,000 per annum, with a review after the first year. There will be a six months’ probationary period after which ̶ if all goes well ̶ you will enrol into the company’s private health scheme. You have a line manager, and your title is trainee. In practice, the job requires you to fill a gap caused by the departure of the last trainee who had moved up the ladder or possibly onto better things. The true title is ‘gofer’, which after your degree in Psychology (1st) is infra dig to you, but you can bite your tongue and accept it because the prospects are good. You have been promised travel and responsibility. The company is big ̶ so anything is possible.
The second offer is from a private company. The boss wasn’t there for the interview and forgot you were coming. When you arrived, you noticed there was a delay at reception, and you picked up that the person interviewing you was ill-prepared and unable to answer questions about career prospects, job-role, company structure, holiday entitlement, parental leave – and the salary was lower at £38,000 per annum. But the company appeared homely. While you were there you could hear gentle laughter from the upper floor. The building was set in nice gardens and there was a park nearby. While you were there you bumped into the company’s bank manager who was welcomed as a friend and said when he heard you were being interviewed “they’re lovely people, very honest, you’ll love it here”.
The first company had about 3000 employees globally with HQ in the City while the private one consisted of just nine people all based in the one office located on the outskirts of south-west London. The corporation told you about the metrics of their bonus scheme while the private company just said you will have a basic salary but if the company does well you will also.
The first company was created when an employee from a successful commodities trading house became at a young age hugely wealthy when his former employers were taken over and went public. The second company is over seventy years old and has been in the family for three generations.
The private company seems to be quite disorganised, but their net worth and figures are good. The management structure is rather flat – no big named roles with words like ‘president’, ‘vice president’, ‘CEO’ or ‘CFO’ on business cards.
So, what to do? Small fish in big pond? Or average sized fish in small pond?
At 23, it’s hard to turn down a starting salary that’s £7,000 higher. “Who cares if it goes wrong?”, you think, “At least I’ll get some experience whether good or bad, and I’m young, I can always move on. The big corp is super competitive. That sounds good. But is it good for me? Will I ever get to see the big picture? Will the company simply own me and my private time too? Am I that competitive? Is it the right environment for me to feel valued and thrive?”
I know at this point you might be expecting me to give some advice. But, actually, I don’t have any. I have known young bright graduates who have adored the idea of going onto a training scheme with a big company ̶ seeing the never-ending ladder stretching above them and up for the challenge. And I have known others who loved the sometimes anarchic management skills of private companies.
If these choices come up, I am not sure there is a right answer and the beauty of being young ̶ it is true! ̶ is that your first step will not be your last. There is time, before marriage commitments, mortgage payments, and the appearance of a young family (which make such decisions so much harder) when you can just go out into the world and explore.
All I would say is ̶ if there is any chance to do so ̶ I would try to speak to those at the lower levels of the potential companies and see what they say or if you have any connections in the industry to seek comments off the record from those who know the companies in question. To be honest I have been in the position of the one who’s advice is asked ̶ and it is quite a responsibility. On one occasion the choice was very much like the scenario above. The young person had upon leaving University gone for the big company ̶ in fact an oil company ̶ and had been given the sulphur book to run in his early 20s. But he was too bright for this role and was very quickly bored. When he came to me, he had been offered a role at a listed steel trading company that was making headlines at the time, while also offered another role at a private company. In this instance I suggested the private entity.
There is no hard and fast rule. In my forty years or so, I worked for private companies 90% of the time and my experience of corporations was not good ̶ so I am slightly prejudiced. This path suited me, but it might suit others differently.
The one thing in your favour when it is your first job is that even if you take the wrong first step first, after the six months’ probation you can start all over again!
By Anthony Lipmann