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Read or listen to articles published in this section and via BartonRock’s Digital Careers podcast series – also featuring interviews with high profile business leaders internationally.

Should you quit a corporate job in favour of scaleups?

This recent post by entrepreneurial cereal brand SURREAL caught my attention this week as they achieved a landmark listing in Sainsbury’s.


The irreverent humour in their marketing campaigns somewhat encapsulates the freedom that the leap from the big job to the entrepreneurial world can give you.

Whilst consumer and retail generally had it good through the pandemic years, the sector has experienced a talent shake-up in subsequent years, especially for those companies that were way behind on the digital transformation curve.

Candidates previously attracted to working for the more prominent players are re-evaluating their relationships with their employers.

So, what do I see as some of the benefits of working for a more entrepreneurial business?

◾️ Fewer legacy technology issues to deal with. Many scaleups are digital natives that can move faster with innovation.

◾️Org structures are generally flatter, so you have greater access to decision-makers, allowing you to make a more tangible impact

◾️This also means roles tend to have more lateral influence within the business and are less siloed. This offers a much wider sphere of influence

◾️When you make a difference, it gets more easily noticed – so entrepreneurial businesses are arguably more meritocratic

Of course, this is only a snapshot and isn’t to understate the trade-offs in working for scaleups. But follow the correct due diligence and a more entrepreneurial path can be very enriching. Many leaders I hire for high-growth, scaling businesses come from more prominent, recognised organisations—typically more hierarchical companies with multi-layered decision-making.

So, how can scaleups ensure the best chance of success with their next leadership hire?

Here are some of the characteristics I have observed in leaders who make the switch successfully:

◾️ If they haven’t been ‘entrepreneurs’, they have been intrapreneurs, operating in a culture of empowerment and accountability

◾️ Willingness to lock away their ego and let their results do the talking

◾️ Tolerance for higher levels of ambiguity. There often isn’t a playbook in scaleups.

◾️ Measuring the size of a job, not by the number of direct reports or revenue oversight but by influence across the business and your ability to impact growth

◾️ Rolling your sleeves up and being as hands-on as you were 5-10 years ago

◾️ Recognising that sales is the lifeblood of an early-stage business. You can only do so much strategising

◾️ The risk-reward trade-off. Pay will be fair with significant upside, but don’t expect fantastic fringe benefits.

Hiring for scaleups can be challenging. Articulating a powerful story that engages leaders with some/all of the above characteristics will fuel your growth.

If you’re scaling up in consumer and retail or behind the curve on digital transformation, contact me for a discussion.

About BartonRock: BartonRock is the executive search partner for high-growth consumer and retail businesses

We manage the careers of executives whose know-how and commercial acumen steer the strategic direction for companies to thrive.

Our assignments search for executives who understand how to operate in dynamic and entrepreneurial environments.

For more information visit: or contact or call +44 (0) 20 8092 6048.

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