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leading in corporate companies vs startups around the world | leadership spotlight

Updated: Dec 7, 2022

CMO and CGO at Latana, Angeley Mullins has over 20 years of experience in high growth startups, large scale corporations and NGOs. With a wealth of experience in various types of companies including big names like Amazon and GoDaddy, Angeley has built a successful career in digital experiences and helping companies grow and expand into international markets in multiple different industries. Her international experience covers Europe, US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, China, India, Mexico, Canada, South Korea, Japan, Brazil, & UAE.

We sat down for a chat with Angeley to unfold her experiences in various different company structures and international locations and find out about her journey to leadership across them.

“Overall, I will say in both large corporations and startups the skills of: empathy, listening, vulnerability, inner strength , and overcoming adversity will serve well for your entire career."

Q1: In what ways did you have to adapt when you moved from the US to Europe? What were your learnings from that process? What can the two continents learn from each other?

A: “Between Europe and the US, there are some very different approaches to achieving the same goal! In Europe, companies are more team oriented and projects are more process driven than the US. The US is all about “outcomes first and process later”, whereas Europe has more of a “process determines outcomes” approach. One of the things I really enjoy and admire about European companies is their approach to team work and employee wellbeing. You can definitely tell that employee wellbeing is extremely important in European companies. In the US it is of course also important however this does not always come through in the culture of the company or the laws surrounding employee welfare. A drastic example is the approach to maternity and paternity leave. The US is still one of the few countries in the world which does not have paid maternity and paternity leave across the board for all companies.

“In Europe, because the environment is more community driven, this can lead to a slower pace and also hamper innovation in an overall consensus-driven environment. The speed of innovation is something that is slower in Europe than the US. However this is a key trait that both continents can learn from each other. European companies can learn to operate in a faster-paced environment, and the US companies can learn to be more community driven and employee friendly.”

Q2: What key differences have you noticed between startups and corporate companies? What can the two learn from each other?

A: “Startups are all about speed, innovation, and hitting the next milestone (usually revenue related) so that that startup can get to its next growth stage and funding round. Large corporations are usually about maximising the growth from within the current customer base by creating optimisations of existing products or processes. You don’t usually see larger companies come out with new products or services (outside of Tesla, Amazon, etc). Larger companies have a very long established product-market fit, have already achieved a significant market share, have great brand awareness, and a long list of long time customers. In this type of environment, it is about retaining their customers, growing LTV, and maximising products/services within their current customer base since their new customer growth will be slower. In larger companies leadership roles tend to be more about optimisation and less about innovation or creating.

“Startups on the other hand are all about new customer growth/acquisition, revenue growth, innovation, and change. They are usually on a path to growing 100%+ year over year which requires the pace to consistently be fast, and the ability to adapt and change a must. To thrive in this type of environment, you have to be a fast thinker, open to consistent change, and wanting to really build things instead of just optimising an existing process. In fact you might be the one creating the process! One thing to note is that in 2022 and moving forward, companies are now looking at profitability instead of just straight revenue growth which means that both startups and large corporations may have to re-assess their approaches to customer acquisition, growth, and long term strategy.”

Q3: Did you have a mentor or someone that supported you throughout the transitions? From corporate to startup and/ or US to Europe. If so, can you tell us a bit more about how that experience was for you?

A: “I was very fortunate to have a female mentor who used to be a senior executive at some of the largest blue chip companies in the US. She has since retired, however in her career she has seen it all and was able to reach the top in a much tougher environment for women than it is today. It has been invaluable to be able to have her as a mentor. She can also give perspective about situations that sometimes a person your own age cannot. I would advise having multiple mentors overtime who can advise from different angles and perspectives. Try to include someone who is at least 1 generation older than you as well. The wealth of experience there is so valuable.”

Q4: From your experience, what leadership skills or characteristics are valuable in each environment?

A: “Overall I will say in both large corporations and startups the skills of: empathy, listening, vulnerability, inner strength , and overcoming adversity will serve well for your entire career. These are foundational skills that every leader needs to have in order to be successful and to persevere.

“In startups the best leaders I have seen are ones who can clearly communicate their vision and adapt to new situations as they arise often. Many people say they can adapt however when it comes to the reality of it, the truth is that most people cannot. They let their fears about change consume them. They usually go into what I call ‘doubt mode’ which is a self-perpetuating cycle and self-defeating. The ability to be able to adapt and change is what separates the masterful leaders from everyone else in the startup world. The truth is that most people say they want change but not many can handle it.

“In larger organisations, the best leaders are the ones who can mobilise the masses to complete initiatives. In larger organisations, the issue often becomes that there is too much process and you end up needing 20 teams to accomplish a simple project. Leaders in this environment who can mobilise large numbers of people to complete goals are the ones who are most successful. This requires them to have great project management skills and a great understanding of how different teams and functions work together. And this is also true of startups.”

Q5: You previously told me that if you want a long career, you have to learn to fight. What are some of the battles you had to fight in your career so far? Were any of them specific to the corporate or startup environment?

A: “There have been so many battles! The one thing that is true about leadership is that you will have to learn how to fight: for yourself, for your teams, your departments, and even your company! This starts with building your inner strength and a belief in yourself. No one is going to fight harder for you than yourself so this is the first thing to master.

“In the early days of my career I had to deal with blatant gender discrimination where I would give results based reporting and my executive at the time turned to a man publicly to verify that what I was saying was correct as he could not believe that a woman giving a data-based report could possibly understand the subject matter or worse actually be correct! In this case I had to fight just to be heard! The best way to handle a situation like this is to confront it head on.

“Other examples include being told that I was not ready for a particular promotion because I had not proven enough over the years, when I saw men around me get similar or higher promotions based on their ‘potential’ instead of actual results. I would not say that these battles are specific to corporations or startups- they are specific to the overall business environment that we find ourselves in. Very often I am still the only female in the conference or virtual room, or the only female in the executive team, etc. These are things that need to change. Companies regardless of their size need to reflect the society we live in and also the diversity of their customer base. Diversity is not just about gender but also about race, orientation, age, etc.

“The more you stand up for yourself the easier it gets. I would tell everyone to flex that muscle because the higher in leadership you go the more complex the situations become.”

Q6: What should one take into consideration when choosing whether to start their career in a startup or a corporate environment?

A: “The best advice I can give is to be really honest about who you are and what you want out of your career and life. Do you want a path that is more steady, stable, and reliable? Even if it is slower? Or are you the type of personality that wants to absorb everything there is to know and is willing to go through a very chaotic and ever changing environment in order to do that? The important thing to remember is that your future is determined by what you believe is or isn’t possible. The advantage to startups is that you can carve out your own path and you oftentimes are exposed to situations and learnings that you would never have at a larger organisation. However in larger organisations there is usually a more steady and stable environment. It really is up to you! I would say that depending on where you are in your life and career, there might be the right time for either option.”

This interview was conducted as part of our leadership spotlight series, in which we aim to demystify the path to leadership for aspiring leaders by sharing a variation of journeys and defining moments.

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