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Start-ups vs. The Establishment

At The Chapman Consulting Group, we represent clients from a wide range of industries, offering HR positions in companies at varying stages of HR development. Recently it has been interesting to see how willing candidates are to take on roles in ‘start-up’ or ‘greenfield’ type environments, versus the more established multinational HR teams. You might think that someone currently employed in a multinational with a robust business model developed over a number of years, or even decades, would not want to transition into this challenging environment. Over the last few months we have seen the number of start-up roles increase, as many companies expand into emerging markets, in particular. To our surprise, a large percentage of seasoned HR professionals are willing to take this step in their career development.

Start-up opportunities = excitement?

There are a number of key drivers behind this trend. A start-up opportunity may represent excitement, innovative thinking and a chance to start with a blank sheet of paper and get creative. The multinational environment on the other hand, can be very beneficial for people who are seeking to improve their stakeholder management skills. This is particularly true at the senior level in terms of rolling out processes from a global standpoint, and adapting policies to fit their local markets, from a regional or country perspective.

However, we do sometimes find that where the organisation is more traditional, and internal development is not progressive enough, some very talented people may proactively seek opportunities with more empowerment and creativity. The responsibility sits with the organisation – and HR leadership – to constantly evolve and improve to ensure the company retains and engages key talent.

The best individual contributor role?

Most aspiring HR professionals like the idea of running teams and managing people, but we are seeing less of these opportunities in the market, and more individual contributor (IC) roles. When it comes to an IC role, we believe that a ‘greenfield’ environment could be better for career development than a more established HR set up. Firstly HR employees are generally the first to be hired, along with the business leaders, bringing the business partnering aspect of the role to the forefront. In order for the business to grow, there must be collaboration between the two parties, creating a clear opportunity for HR to act as strategic advisor to the business. Secondly, if growth is sustained and managed, you will have the chance to build an HR team around yourself, thereby creating a managerial role.

Risk vs. Stability

Working in a start-up as an individual contributor, does involve a certain amount of risk and is usually a fairly challenging environment. Candidates know that if they take on a ‘greenfield’ role, they are going to have a greater degree of autonomy, from an HR perspective, in what will probably be a more entrepreneurial atmosphere. We often hear of businesses in country that have grown from 10-15 employees, to hundreds or even thousands, within two to three years. Understandably, HR professionals who have built up these environments take a certain amount of responsibility for and pride in the growth of the business. Of course there are risks, especially in emerging markets where external forces, such as constantly changing labour laws, can have a huge effect.


While we can certainly make a strong case for the excitement of ‘greenfield’ environments, we do acknowledge the fact that these start-up roles have their headaches as well. To grow a business from scratch in a new environment can be operational in nature, and will be very recruitment orientated, but for development purposes this experience can be hugely beneficial. There is the opportunity to build your own empire so to speak, and to partner with the business in a way that few HR professionals get to do in a more established and traditional multinational. The most well rounded HR professionals will have spent time in both a large multinational, as well as a smaller more agile start-up. As with so many decisions in life, this one seems to be a case of ‘horses for courses.’


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Key Contributors:

Ringo Lau
Ringo Lau

Managing Director

Consulting Team
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Ringo Lau
Consulting Team

Ringo Lau

Managing Director

Ringo is a Managing Director with ChapmanCG based in Hong Kong. His role involves in-depth research and analysis to seek out high-calibre HR talent across the Asia Pacific region, with a particular focus on Hong Kong and North Asia. He also assists the group in the design and delivery of strategic internal projects involving process and operation development.

Before joining ChapmanCG, Ringo did several internships as a business analyst and photographer. He holds a Master’s Degree in Management and Organisational Analysis from the Warwick Business School, as well as a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing.

Outside of work, Ringo enjoys travelling, outdoor activities and photography. Prior to his move to study abroad, he was one of Hong Kong’s top competitors in athletics.

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