What’s going on underneath the surface

Let’s presume, for the moment, that you’ve got two different opportunities staring you in the face.

Your friend Mike at MegaCorp has called you to tell you there’s an opening just announced — the incumbent’s getting his outplacement treatment even as he speaks — and that he can broker a lunch meeting with the hiring executive today to help you bypass the whole hiring process and just be the one who gets the job.

At the same time, you’re reading an email from your friend Jill, who left the corporate world two years ago, and who’s telling you about how happy she is with her community green energy business installing solar power and water heating systems — and how you could be doing the same sort of thing in your town of Happy Valley. “I don’t make anywhere near the money I used to, but I sleep better”, she says.

Well, in today’s world, we’d all be delighted to have choices.

Still, how do you decide between two very different things like these two?

The Personal Due Diligence answer is to look beneath the surface, and figure out which of these is in tune with the times, and which is pushing against fundamental forces shaping the world.

MegaCorp is a global player. It’s exposed to risk and opportunity in over ninety countries. It’s been gaming the currency markets and playing the tax game to manage its earnings nicely, and its price/earnings ratio is high.

Much of its true growth in the past few years, though, have come from the BRIC (Brazil-Russia-India-China) countries and some of the other less developed nations rising in their wake. In core markets like the United States, Europe, and so on, it’s pretty stable.

While MegaCorp has had some interesting new products lately, it’s also attracted a slew of lawsuits all over the world, as competitors have played the patent card to slow them down.

You’re also aware, having done a little digging, that MegaCorp’s operations in your country are deeply indebted, even though corporately there’s billions in the Treasury sitting around. But that money’s offshore, and bringing it in to retire the debt would expose it to tax. Thank goodness for record low interest rates, because without them there’d be mass layoffs and closures to deal with the burden.

Underneath MegaCorp’s own situation, we have the slowing in the global economy (showing up as a complete stall in Brazil and India and a near stall in China), and the creeping up of interest rates in the bond markets even despite frantic quantitative easing by central banks all over the world.

Underneath that, of course, is the growing global impoverishment of the masses, as global employment falters.

Mike’s opportunity, in other words, comes with a slew of risks, and not just from the normal cut-and-thrust of office politics in a large global organization with competing power centres.

MegaCorp, despite its track record of late, is at the top of its curve. On the downside — and there is always a downside to contend with — the effort to keep that share price from tumbling will lead to all sorts of pain.

So, really, going to MegaCorp at this time should be seen as a high risk venture. Any share options in your compensation package aren’t likely to be worth anything. Yes, the money will be good even so, but how long will it last — and what will the market for opportunities look like a couple of years from now if you’re dumped then?

Jill’s situation is quite different. She needed very little capital to start her venture, and has been ruthless about keeping it manageable since, so that all its funding needs come from clients. She’s avoided debt, avoided having a footprint that requires growth just to sustain it, and avoided the need for keeping the stock market junkies happy.

She’s also keeping it in her town of Slatesville, not expanding beyond that. She’s been able to build a cracker-jack team because it’s small — she can be picky about who she takes on, since she’s not always in expansion mode.

Her business is steady, as one person after another comes to realize they can save money using what she offers. (The solar hot water systems, in particular, pay for themselves incredibly quickly — and whether the customer used oil-fired, gas-fired or electricity-driven hot water systems before, the utility rates aren’t going down. The solar electrical systems are a longer term investment for the buyer, which is why she does both.)

She isn’t offering you a job, just network effects: advice, counsel, hooking up with people who know how to do this who can help you get started. You’d be your own boss.

You’re aware that more and more of the world’s oil and gas supplies are coming from more expensive sources, which means the price for these isn’t coming down anytime soon. (The more expensive sources not only use more capital more quickly and use more operating monies to process the product, they also go downhill faster and produce less net energy per unit invested — guess those “crackpots” talking about peaking might have been on the right track after all, since that’s what they said it would be like.) Even electricity costs more each year. So Jill might be on to something with legs.

But why isn’t she going for the gusto, and rolling out a nationwide company?

Then you realize that keeping it small and local is part of keeping it out of the same waves of trouble that MegaCorp might be heading toward. Sure, as a small town local business, it’s got limits, and so you can’t take that much out of it in pay.

But it’ll be there for years and years — in fact, the harder it gets for the rest of the economy, the more likely it is this will continue to find business.

Different people react differently to different situations. Many would choose Mike’s opening: it comes with a name brand, a title, big bucks, all the items that make the people you meet at receptions and conferences go “ooh! wow!” when you answer their “where do you work?” question.

Jill’s suggestion, on the other hand, won’t impress most anyone — but if it’s security you’re after, it’s probably got more in it (even despite that nasty statistic that four out of five start ups don’t make it to age five that keeps being flashed about) than MegaCorp ever could.

That’s not how it was twenty years ago.

As you perform your own personal due diligence, make sure you’re not operating with an old instruction manual for the world. Really look at what’s going on, getting underneath the surface. It’s the only way to judge, for yourself, whether Mike or Jill is pointing you in the right direction when opportunities come to your door.

And, if you’re having trouble seeing the world clearly, that’s where we come in. Give us a call or drop us an email — let’s talk.

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