Execs ditch startups for stable corp jobs


Like homing pigeons, executives who got into startups a decade ago are said to be interested in returning to traditional industries. Many executives — particularly in the financial and consumer goods sectors — had jumped on the startup bandwagon earlier, lured by greener goals. After gaining experience working in start-ups now facing a funding winter, some are turning to search firms to bring stability back into their lives.
Kunal Girap, co-founder and director of WalkWater Talent Advisors, said it’s amazing how many positive endorsements the company has received from the startup community, expressing a desire to return to established organizations. “There is a notable trend that individuals from the startup community are actively seeking and open to leadership roles in stable and established organizations. We are currently managing a few such searches and are surprised by the positive responses from the leaders in the startup community,” said Girap.
Ronesh Puri, Managing Director of Executive Access (India), said that a few years ago, top executives expressed their willingness to join a start-up to make big money. In the past 18 to 24 months, sentiment has gone the other way, he said. “Very few end up making money. For the rest, dreams were not translated into reality. Now, in the financing winter, it’s all about survival. Of the inquiries we receive, at least 30-40% come from executives looking to exit the industry. Talents today are skeptical about joining startups. So it’s harder to attract high-quality talent to the startup sector,” Puri said.
Jyoti Bowen Nath, managing partner of Claricent Partners, said the clear trend is that senior executives – who have joined the world of startups, lured by glitz and glamour, lucrative packages and glamorized designations – are choosing to return to more stable climes. “We see this trend more in the tech and edtech space, but not necessarily limited to that. Almost 40-50% of the talent that has joined startups is taken on by traditional IT companies,” said Nath.
Girap said: “Ultimately it’s about value creation rather than valuation. Leaders who are primarily driven by the goal of creating value within the startup ecosystem tend to stay true to their entrepreneurial journey. However, those who have gotten into the valuation game are struggling with the uncertainty that the funding winter brings.”
This has created a pool of good talent for other industries. “Some clients have asked us to attract top talent from failed startups. By default, such talents have broad skills required for business growth and expansion. Most have a very strong entrepreneurial spirit, the ability to take risks and deal with intense pressure,” Nath said. Recruitment firms say candidates are even willing to take a cut in their pay if they retire from the industry. “Most of the returning talent have left because of inflated salaries and are ready to come back with a cut,” she added.
Even if employers prefer boomerang talent because of their cultural fit, the existing structures and hierarchical groupings would sometimes make it difficult to take them on. Nath said companies are therefore cautious about reinstating such employees for fear of disrupting internal parity equations. “The significant salary increases that used to be common in startups, some of which even reached 100%, have now leveled off at a more moderate range of 10-20%,” said Girap. He also pointed out that individuals are no longer fixated on job titles, instead focusing on other aspects such as the breadth of their roles and career opportunities.

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