My Corporate Jobs Prepared Me For Entrepreneurship
Before being bit by the entrepreneurial bug and starting ChefXChange in 2014, I was a pure corporate brat. I graduated from the American University in Beirut with a BSc in Economics in 2004, did an MSc in Economics and Finance at the Warwick Business School in 2005, and started working in the banking sector. I worked at firms, such as UBS and Goldman Sachs, before doing my MBA at the London Business School in 2009. I then joined the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Abu Dhabi, Mubadala, and finished my corporate career at UBS in 2015.
My entrepreneurial interest started out of my MBA, when I started doing some angel investments, utilizing my banking and private equity skills to do due diligence on some tech deals. Eventually, I decided to bet and invest in myself and fund my own idea instead of others, alongside my co-founder Marc Washington. Below I share a few of the skills that are transferable from the corporate world and which will give you an edge in the entrepreneurial one:
1. The Double Cs: Confidence & Culture When I got my first acceptance letter from UBS after being rejected by over 10 other banks (despite of this I persisted in applying to banks and didn’t settle for audit or accounting firms), I got submerged by a sense of confidence and accomplishment. And this confidence kept on building over the years as I reached my different goals- working at Goldman Sachs or getting into an Ivy league school for a full-time MBA. Achieving these goals required a lot of work, persistence, while the road wasn’t always smooth, with quite a few setbacks. Unmeasurable amounts of confidence will also be required in your entrepreneurial endeavour- you will not have a blue-chip name on your business cards to help you open doors, most often than not your counterparty will have never heard of who you are and what you do, making it even harder for you to succeed.
More importantly, culture. Yes, the startup culture is more appreciated and sought after than a corporate one, but without being exposed to the latter, you wouldn’t have a sense of what company culture really means, and how hard it is to build it. Culture is not just about providing flexible working hours, pool or ping pong tables and couches for employees to relax on. It is about building a strong and close-knit team and growing it over time. No one better than corporates, who have done it across multiple economic cycles, know how to do that. So, get impregnated with it, and apply it, with a twist, to your upcoming venture.
2. The Double Ds: Discipline & Diligence I can’t say it enough, but one thing I will always be grateful for are the great bosses/mentors I have had during my career, every step of the way. Jean Luc Achikian at UBS, Carlos Albertotti and Omar Ayache at Goldman Sachs, Antoun Ghanem and Patrick Schneider at Mubadala. They made me who I am today, and most importantly taught me the importance of discipline and diligence in everything we do, work related or not. Any entrepreneur will tell you these are crucial, and there is no better school than the corporate world and mentors to teach you these. This includes following processes, vetting every scenario, having plan B and C and D in case that plan A doesn’t fall through, being transparent, and so on. In a startup environment, where nothing is a given and nothing goes as planned, this sense of discipline and diligence will help you get through tough and unpredictable times. At ChefXChange, we have set up some processes from day one, and these keep on changing and improving over time, as the team grows, as we get more client inputs, and son on, yet the basics are still there and guide our day to day work.
3. Stakeholder Management & Networking When you talk about stakeholder management in a corporate environment, you immediately think about politics. And yes, this is a sad fact that governs anything and everything in today’s world. Politics more often than hard work can make or break a career. But working in a corporate environment teaches you how to work with different stakeholders who have different goals and agendas- your direct colleagues, your boss, people in other departments, clients, shareholders, etc… Knowing how to navigate through these is not a science but an art, and getting this experience will make your life so much easier once you decide to start your own venture and need to deal with suppliers, clients, investors, PRs, influencers, you name it! Finally, the art of networking, which goes hand in hand with stakeholder management, and will become your bread and butter in your entrepreneurial life. Throughout my corporate life, I had the chance and privilege to get exposed to a lot of influential and successful people, in and out of work, and these are connections I still reach out to today.
When talking at conferences or mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs, I always recommend starting sooner rather than later, giving you the chance to fail multiple times (I started ChefXChange at 31 years old), but I also always recommend getting some sort of corporate experience before taking the plunge. It will never be time wasted and will help you acquire the above-mentioned skills.
Related: Lessons Learnt From Raising Our First US$1 million
Karl Naim is the co-founder and CEO at ChefXchange. He has an extensive international background in finance, spanning from wealth management, asset management and private equity with UBS AG, Goldman Sachs, and Mubadala Development Company. He also is an avid angel investor and a mentor to startups. Naim received an MBA from the London Business School and a MSc in Economics & Finance from the Warwick Business School. In his free time, he can be found working out or cooking a storm in the kitchen.