Why Don’t We Like Big Companies?

A recent article published the findings of a survey on how well a number of institutions and professional groups are being managed which presented surprising results. To borrow the terminology of old school reports, SME’s got “top marks”, whilst big companies were marked as “very unsatisfactory” and, multi-nationals “failed” miserably. This is not the first survey of its kind, but this one highlights something I have picked up on in conversations with friends and other professionals which I find rather disquieting. Why is it that on the one hand we hold SMEs in such high regard, but on the other, big companies arouse so little passion in us?

We all accept that a balanced, competitive and tightly-knit business network is vital to any economy, something which has been conspicuously absent during the current crisis here in Spain. Although the role of SME’s is fundamental, the importance of big companies cannot be overlooked in terms of job creation, contribution to the GDP and to Inland Revenue. Moreover, we must consider the pull effect that big companies have on SMEs in a given region, on the sophistication of management systems and practices, and on the training of qualified managers, not to mention on the R&D capacity of the country it is located in.

It is actually quite surprising that most people simply dislike big companies. Yet, the focus of government industrial policy is to stimulate the growth of SME’s so that they may make up for certain deficiencies inherent to their small size (a drawback which leads to less international competitiveness comparatively speaking).

When one of our athletes or teams triumphs abroad gaining international media attention, people usually swell up with national pride. Still, what I find bewildering is how little appreciation there is for business people and management teams who are successful in overcoming serious difficulties, building up solid and competitive companies, and ultimately becoming benchmarks in their respective sectors.

It also strikes me as odd that we don’t value own large companies right here at home. What is more paradoxical, though, is our excuse as to why our neighbours to the North enjoy healthier economies. We applaud them for having the very thing we disdain here at home, i.e. large, competitive and multi-national companies. There may be dozens of reasons to account for this inconsistency. Perhaps, in the process of expanding and going abroad, we feel that these companies are no longer ‘ours’ and we don’t realise that their presence in our region is the same as, or even greater than before, albeit in other lines of business, but in essence equally present.

A possible explanation why this is could be are the oft-commented cases of six and seven digit salaries and questionable management practices, even when we have no clear picture of who or what types of companies they are. However, in cases where a company’s turnover is in excess of €50 million (examples abound in such diverse sectors as energy, machine tool, automotive, transport, etc.), these are viewed as positive and admirable when looked at individually, but not so, when we consider them as a group.

Though difficult to prove, certain lingering prejudices associated with the idea that big companies are ‘exploitative’ may continue to persist. My own experience is quite the opposite; rather than offering poorer working conditions in smaller companies, I have found that big companies frequently tend to be the most progressive in terms of balancing work and family-life.

In summary, I don’t know why it is that big companies fare so badly in the public eye, but it is certainly hard to understand. Instead of condemning them, we ought to be proud of our big companies (just as we are with our national football team or monuments in our city). All these things, big companies included, stand as shining examples of shared effort and healthy ambition.

*Published in El Economista, 06/11/2012 (Spanish)

Beatriz Tejedor

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