Taking the Jump from Corporate TO SME

Advice to corporate employees on transitioning to a smaller business, and advice to SMEs on making the most of new hires from the corporate world


Kerttu Inkeroinen was building a career at Kimberly-Clark and Coca-Cola when she left in 2015 to become Marketing Director at SME Union Hand-Roasted Coffee. Two years in, she’s caught the entrepreneurial bug and has never been happier. The move was just as fruitful for Union Co-founder Jeremy Torz. He wanted to take on a more classically trained marketer to help Union continue its growth trajectory.


Below, Kerttu shares her thoughts on how best to move from corporate to SME, while Jeremy offers advice and insight to SMEs hoping to land an employee with a corporate background.


Things to consider when transitioning from corporation to SME – Kerttu Inkeroinen


  1. Follow your passions.There are some incredible SMEs out there and it is important to choose a company whose mission you believe in. For me, that was Union Hand-Roasted Coffee – a pioneering coffee roaster with sustainable development at its core. Union was the first UK coffee company to introduce direct trade as its business model. It still leads the way in this area and it’s fantastic to be part of a business that has a positive impact on tens of thousands of lives around the world (and produces the most fantastic coffee, which also happens to be my passion). It’s a marketer’s dream – a great story waiting to be told to a wider audience.


  1. Consider your career path and opportunities to keep learning.Ask yourself: ‘Will I learn more in the next two years by moving vs. staying within my current company?’. Whilst having smaller marketing budgets and resources, SMEs can often offer opportunities to gain experience and insight in management and running a business outside of your specific function, and to make a tangible difference to the company’s future. Often people can be worried about limiting their options in the future by moving into an SME, but in my view it can broaden your experience and open up wider opportunities. Like me, you are also likely to discover that you will love working in a smaller business, and decide to continue on that career path.


  1. Interrogate the business, owners and peer group when making your decision. You’ll work side-by-side with the founders, and it’s crucial you respect and enjoy working with other members of the management team. It’s important to feel that you have the trust, support and authority to drive through change. Sometimes it can be hard for small business owners to let go of being involved in each decision, and let someone else take charge. I’ve been very lucky at Union in this respect!


  1. Consider whether your working style will fit into a smaller company. Prepare to be hands on.Both my team and resources are now smaller and this took some getting used to. On the flip side, the people I work with are endlessly passionate and engaged in our mission, and that makes an incredible difference to the working culture.  You need to be autonomous and to know what you want, as there are fewer or no guidelines to follow, which can be daunting – but also very exciting!


  1. Stay connected.In a smaller team, there are fewer peers and marketers on who to sound ideas. It’s important to stay connected to your networks, and to stay on top of the latest news, trends and events. There are a lot of free events to attend, which are great for networking and fresh ideas– get on the mailing lists!


  1. Make the most of it.In bigger businesses, I worked on some amazing campaigns with incredible people, but the opportunity to affect real change and to contribute to the direction of the company feels much more immediate in a smaller business. At Union I had a chance to conduct a total rebrand – everything from logo, to packaging, to website – and to completely reinvigorate the brand. We’re now listed in Waitrose and Ocado, and we have also launched an online subscription service called CoffeeClub, and have exciting growth plans for the years ahead.


Making the most of a corporate hire – Jeremy Torz


  1. Hire to drive growth. For some, joining the board of a smaller company is a rung on the ladder – a notch on the CV. We very consciously wanted someone with a strong affinity to us, our coffee and our culture. Kerttu’s brief is to achieve change and drive the business forward, and for that, she had to share our vision.


  1. Ensure a good cultural fit.They might have the requisite professional toolkit, but if the personality doesn’t fit, things could go downhill quickly. You will need to give them the space from very early on to be effective without the owner signing off everything.  Build trust through dialogue. Make it clear from the outset that you will look to set them free as soon as possible.


  1. Emphasise the wider benefits.The rewards for being in an SME can be quite different from in the corporate world and it’s important that you are clear on the benefits of your organisation and the role. The big draw is giving people the opportunity to achieve change and results – not only in their immediate role – but across the organisation.


  1. Use their experience. At Union, we traditionally developed people from within and Kerttu’s experience gave us an external view we had been lacking. Having her on board means we can develop our brand holistically rather than by looking at it from within specific sales channels.


  1. Empower them. Kerttu has helped to speed up our decision making process, and given us the courage to make exciting decisions backed up by industry-leading analysis. In a corporate setting, people often have to ‘sell’ their ideas to wider stakeholders before they get the backing of the business. This is a skill Kerttu has put to great use at Union.