What happened to the Company Man?

Career and the Companyman

Career and Company

Rex Tillerson Secretary of State
Secretary of State Tillerson

Rex Tillerson was a company man. Before becoming Secretary of State, Tillerson worked an entire career with ExxonMobil Corporation. He joined the company out of college as an engineer and worked his way up through the ranks, becoming CEO in 2006.

In the oil industry, the “company man” is the man in charge. The phrase has a double definition. According to the Schlumberger Oilfield Glossary, the company man is the representative of the oil company or the operator of a drilling location. He makes most of the decisions at the operation.1

The traditional definition of the phrase also applies, especially in Tillerson’s case. For the company men, career and company were intrinsically linked. A company man devoted his allegiance to the company – his career success or failure happened within the corporate structure of one employer. 

The Evolution of Work

Today, the company man is a rare breed. Those corporate careers were based on loyalty and trust relationships between individual employees and corporate managers that are seldom found these days. The company man’s loyalty was well-founded. He was on a career track and would be helped along his way. Managers and mentors would guide him on his career path, helping him to develop the abilities and leadership skills needed to advance. 

What happened? The answers are speculative, but they have to do with economic and cultural change, increased global competition, automation, technology and a host of other causes. The causes are interesting to read about, but the result is something that most career-minded individuals must deal with. Today’s corporate relationships are less personal and less secure. Few people can envision an entire career within the confines of just one company. 

Human capital management firm ADP has studied the effects of the erosion of the relationships between organizations and the people who work for them. For the past two years, they’ve conducted survey research on the “evolution of work.” ADP’s conclusions from the research are fascinating. They have implications for the success and profitability of the large firms that are the company’s clients, but they also provide some valuable guidance for those of us who are planning our careers.

The “Me vs. We” Mindset

With this year’s analysis of the evolution of work, ADP addresses the consequences of the breach between companies and employees who might have once been “company men.” It’s a broad study, conducted in 13 countries among 5,330 employees and 3,218 employers with workforces larger than 50 people. ADP’s observations focus primarily on the disconnect that exists between employers’ long-term view of business and their widely defined workforce initiatives and employees’ shorter-term expectations of work, work environments, and daily experiences. ADP characterizes the difference in outlooks as “me vs. we,” a disparity between employee (me) and company (we) goals and needs.2

Here’s the gist of the evolution of work:

1.  While still expressing some company loyalty and a great desire to excel, employees increasingly view their work experience from a self-interested perspective. Their careers aren’t hinged to the company for whom they work.

2.  Company perspectives and attitudes are increasingly impersonal, focused on long-term goals, profits, and “workforce plans,” but not individual careers. Corporate managers and HR departments may undertake initiatives to improve their workforce, but they balance these wholesale efforts with the desire to keep options open, including the ability to recruit “better” outside candidates into the organization.

There’s certainly an irony to this attitudinal divergence. The topic of “employee engagement” has been trending in the HR community for the past several years. It’s the practical concept that employees who are engaged with the company goals are more efficient, boost morale, and produce broad and profitable benefits to companies. The ADP analysis leads to the conclusion that the problem may not be employees’ engagement with the company they work for, but the company’s engagement with their employees – specifically with each individual’s goals, desires, and career path. 

The data indicates the evolution of work.  66% of employees in the 13 countries surveyed are either actively looking for a new position or receptive to an offer (passively looking). 56% of employees globally agree that “there is no such thing as job security today.”

US Employee Job Length Chart

In the US, the average employee has been at his job for 7.5 years. 59% express some feeling of loyalty towards their employer, but 17% are actively looking and 46% are passively looking for the next move.  

The employers surveyed underestimated the instability of their workforce – by a significant factor. Globally, they presumed that 21% of their workforce might be willing to jump ship for a better offer, significantly less than the 42% of employees that were passively looking. The ADP report observes:

While employers think they are doing an admirable job at managing talent, their current and prospective employees are less impressed by such efforts. Only about one-third of U.S. employees give their companies high marks on career performance, compensation or learning management, onboarding and succession planning and recruitment strategies. 3

Career, Company (and Culture)

How do you fit into this not so optimistic picture? First, the ADP conclusions paint with a very broad brush. Company cultures vary widely and the best employers are supportive of the individuals who contribute to their success. That said, the indisputable conclusion is that you are responsible for your own career decisions.

Your career path is likely to include multiple employers. Your degree of satisfaction with your career will depend on your attitude, but also on your success with winning the positions you want at the companies you target.

There’s plenty of opportunity. Even if the old school relationships between the company men and their employers are gone, organizations still want top performers. Some things haven’t changed. To advance in today’s environment, you’ll need to develop and demonstrate the same leadership skills and abilities that the company men were taught.

At times, managing your career may demand personal initiative in an environment where it’s difficult to make an impact. You’ll need to seek mentors and outside help where you can find it. You’ll also want to look for companies that fit your career objectives. Salary is certainly important, but other cultural considerations should also factor into your career decisions:

  • Work Environment
  • Flexibility
  • Work/life balance
  • Relationships with Managers
  • Corporate integrity

These are cultural attributes that can make a real difference in your ability to contribute and to accomplish your career goals.

Job Factors
Other Career Factors by Age Bracket

Making the Right Career Move

Think about it. Rex Tillerson really never had to conduct a job search. The company man had the advantage of a clear career path within their organizations, but maybe today’s opportunities are better. You can design your own career.

Are you ready for the next opportunity? A better question: Are you working to create the best opportunities? Even if you’re not actively seeking a new position right now, you should ready to take advantage of the opportunities you make and the ones that may come unexpectedly.

A resume is part of that. Is your resume current? Is it written in a way that identifies you as a top performer?

CareerPro Global can provide valuable assistance and coaching as you prepare for your next career move. Our Master Resume Writers will work with you to create management and executive resumes that produce high response rates, interviews, and rewarding positions and offers with highly rated companies.  

It’s easy to get started. We hope you’ll get in touch today for a free career consultation.


1 Oilfield Glossary, Schlumberger Ltd.

2 Evolution of Work 2.0: The Me vs. We Mindset , ADP Research Institute, 2017

3 Ibid. p. 9.

Photo Credits: US Embassy, Korea, Pixabay.com

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