Sixteen years ago I received my last pay check as an employee of a large company. It wasn’t a bad life; it just wasn’t for me. So I reinvented myself as an entrepreneur. Several businesses later I made the right decision, at least for me.   However I have never lost my interest (or fascination) in how big corporations work and what it takes for employees to not only survive but also to prosper within them.

A good friend of mine is a corporate survivor. He has worked in big businesses his whole life. Despite restructures retrenchments and mergers he has inched his way to the top and made a lot of money along the way.

He’s a quiet guy but he has a steely resolve. He is not a workaholic and in fact enjoys a good work life balance. He doesn’t check emails on the weekend nor does he answer his phone. In his opinion the weekends are for time with family and friends only.

When he works however he’s 100% switched on and he goes at 100 miles per hour.

What is obvious in speaking to him is that he cares about doing the right thing for the company. He never criticises it or any of his workmates. In his mind they all have a job to do and, as a leader, he has to set the right example. He does his best to avoid corporate politics and treats everyone the same way no matter who they are.

Recently his company (a large corporate) restructured its operations and many of my friend’s peers lost their jobs. My friend didn’t. In fact he was promoted. This is not the first time that this has happened.

I asked him what was the secret of not only his survival but also of his success. He modestly told me that in his view the more self-reliant you are, and the less support you need around you to successfully run, the further you will progress and the more valuable you will be to an organisation.

He told me that he has never had a PA (although all of his peers did) and he rarely outsources work. The tighter he can run things the better. This forces him to focus on getting the big things done well – things that create real value for his organisation.

In his veins he is essentially a “worker” and every minute is precious to him. He prioritises well and doesn’t involve himself in things that will waste his time or distract him from achieving his goals. He minimises down-time well.  You won’t find him having long lunches or sitting in a corporate box at the football. He hates travelling and he minimises his time away by getting an early flight out and a late flight home. Comfort is less important to him than time.

Underneath it all he has absolute confidence in himself but is humble and modest. He’s very good at what he does and he doesn’t need a big team around him to support his efforts. He produces great results and does it quicker and with fewer resources than his peers.

If his company wants something done (difficult, or otherwise) he’s the guy they turn to. This makes him extremely valuable and while he’s not indispensable, he’s damn close to it. It’s no surprise that he continues to not only survive in big business but also to prosper…