A company of one

Do you remember that ‘slightly’ ill-advised recruitment campaign by the United States Army, called “Army of One”? It became an easy thing to spoof, to make mockery of this idea that a single person can do everything, but you must admit that it had a good ring to it.

Which is why I’m cribbing the spin and calling this posting: A Company of One. By that, I mean that every person, no matter their ‘external status’ (i.e. employee, consultant, contractor, temp, et al.) has what I call an ‘internal status’ of being an employee to their own company.

But, let me explain myself a better by telling you were it started: with a brief conversation. 

A random statement
Recently, while talking with a good friend and colleague of mine. I was doing my normal bit of kvetching about work – I believe it can be a form of social bonding if kept under control. I passingly muttered that I may eventually start looking for another role soon (another typical way of letting off steam). He immediately said: “If you do that, your resume is going to look like a mile of bad road!” To which I responded: “And what? Who cares?”

And I was right: who does care?

Methods and types of gainful employment
In my mind, there is no conceptually discernible differences between:

  • A: Consultant for an MBB [as McKinsey, Bain, and Booz Allen, but one of those Bs must be scratched as Booz was bought out by PWC last year and renamed Strategy&] who works on at a number of different companies on engagements, gives a piece of output (i.e. meets their deliverables) and then walks out the door, probably never to be seen again
  • B: Consultant for different tier of firm [e.g. PWC, KPMG, IBM Consulting, West Monroe, North Highland, etc.] that does exactly the same thing
  • C: Contractor who takes on project work and moves every time a contract finishes/project closes/funding gets pulled, etc.
  • D: Employee in an internal consulting group that effectively does A, B, or C
  • E: Worker who has been an A, B, C, or D at various points

[Now, I submit that you may disagree with the above, however I am setting that as the premise of this analysis and will continue along that vein. However, I am fully open to talking about it – so please email me, comment, write your own counter-post; I’m interested in making this an active discussion!]

Why this matters
I am definitely in Category E and not only am I comfortable with that, I enjoy it. It has freed me think very carefully about:

  1. My value proposition
  2. My “core competencies”, my areas of strength and my areas of weakness
  3. The type of work environment I’d like to be in and the type of work I’d like to do
  4. How to better market myself and communicate
  5. Making a plan for personal growth, both professionally and academically

If you noticed, some of those words there may seem familiar to you if you’ve ever done any strategy or market analysis or organizational change and that’s because, as I said above, each and every single one of us is an employee of our own company.

We are all “companies of one” and if you’re not doing deep strategy analysis on your own company, you’re letting yourself get driven around by market forces. You are reactive, not proactive, and that’s not sustainable.

But, remember that last question: “Who cares?” Well, obviously you should, as do the external companies you choose to contract yourself to, in whatever capacity you choose to make that contract..

Who cares
Tell me which type of company you would prefer to work for:

Company A
♦  Has not linked their real goals (project needs, cost limitations, time limitations, etc.) to their resource procurement process
♦  Interviews resumes, looks for buzzwords, assumes all conferred degrees from the same institution are equal

Company B
Can clearly articulate their real goals and apply that to a dedicated resource procurement process that is flexible based on changing drivers
♦  Interviews and hires people

For me, it’s very easy to say “Company B”! Of course, there is some exaggeration in there, companies don’t often fall on those extremes, but they do tend towards one side or the other.


I have seen job requisitions which have statements like:
♦  Must have MBA from a top tier institution
♦  Must have 10 years of experience in [full in the blank function]
♦  Must have worked at a startup previously

And then, recruiters, not maliciously I would believe, “interview resumes” and so quickly put to the side resumes which don’t exactly fit criteria. Or you get into an interview and a question that comes up is so baldly skewed into the “Company A”-style that even if you do fit the criteria, you question if that’s where you want to be and if that’s how you want to do you work.

How about putting together job requisitions with statements like:
♦  Must be able to demonstrate an understanding of business and market drivers, strategy concepts, operating models, and create financial models, cost-benefit analyses, define and visualize value chains
♦  Must be able to demonstrate progressive experience in [fill in the activities behind the function]
♦  Must have worked in environments which are market and time-sensitive, require responsiveness to demand and have the ability to wear different hats and/or learn new skillsets as necessary

The real question is: do you want to work for companies that look for a profile and if yours doesn’t fit sees it as a “mile of bad road” or companies that can define their real needs and so can look at the your same exact profile and how it’s actually a “treasure map to a wunderkammern“?

How being a “Company of One” helps you build that treasure map
You can’t find the Company Bs if you don’t know what you bring to the table. A “Company A” is easy to get into: figure out the buzzwords and the institutions/degrees they like and make yourself fit. You will work on, and go through, various days and tasks and projects and years – it will all blend into one, time and work, presentation decks and conference calls. You likely will never know what’s really driving it all and how you fit in and therefore probably suffer from burnout, lack of motivation, and this strange tendency to focus on external “markers of success” like office size, who has the nicer chair, and who has the bigger/better title.

But, if you know who you are and what you can offer and you can articulate that coherently so as to look for companies which both understand and are looking for and at people, it’s only a matter of time before you are:

  1. Gainfully employed in the style of employment contract that works for both you and your “business partner” (i.e., “Company B”)
  2. Consistently doing work that you enjoy, in which you can derive both challenge and stability from, and of which you will be successful at doing

None of this is easy, no, but if a mildly healthy 18 year-old kid can join the Army and a few years later come out rappelling down mountains, jumping from helicopters, and able to make decisions both small and large – if he or she can become an Army of One – then anyone, with a little time and effort, can become a viable, strong, profitable, and genuinely happy “Company of One”.

Challenge accepted?


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Also, let’s start a conversation! Please comment below or send me an email at cassandra@cassandrajohn.com.


  1. Putting together a profile for a potential recruit is an art form, both to act as a barrier to those that fail to meet the skill level required but also to make sure the right people apply.

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