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Farewell, Job Title
A job title confuses me. When Cook Pine Capital offered me a job in 2006, the title they gave to me was Research Associate. I felt the Associate title didn’t sound as exciting as Analyst and asked the company if I can be called Research Analyst. I didn’t know that Associate is a higher rank position than Analyst in investment banking. I was also confused about the distance between Senior Vice President and Vice President. Senior Vice President sounds like a title right above Vice President, but Senior Vice President is actually quite a senior role in many organizations, probably right below President. However, Vice President is closer to the bottom.
We are doing business with people, not with fabulous job titles. So, when Star Magnolia Capital started, we decided not to put job titles on our business cards. In fact, our business card does not even have an office address and a phone number.
As we welcome CHAN Yong to our team, we decided to say goodbye to our job title. Previously, Star Magnolia Capital had two titles (Partner and Associate) and five sub-titles (Managing Partner, Partner, Senior Associate, Associate, and Junior Associate). We struggled to fit Yong into any category as we felt he was between two titles. Then, we asked ourselves… why do we have job titles? Is it really important for what we do?
I realized that I never liked the concept of a job title. It is so bureaucratic for the flat culture organization we want to build. In fact, a job title is often used by employers to please employees by promoting the position with a change in title, but without increasing the salary. That’s not what we want to do for sure.
We were based in Hong Kong when we started the business. A typical ice-breaking conversation in Hong Kong was “Where is your office?” I actually hated the question because I felt I was judged by how much we are paying for rent. Many banks had very nice offices to impress their clients, but we felt it was not necessary for our business. Instead, I wanted to take advantage of the attractive rent of Cyberport, which was located 5 minutes from my home in Hong Kong.
I also didn’t want to have the “CFA” designation on my business card because the value of the CFA program is not its title, but the process and experience. I learned so much through the painful three years of studying. I didn’t need to show it to be sympathized by others.
Now, the most difficult question was… what can we call ourselves without any job title. In the venture capital world, I started seeing many firms using “Investors” as their titles. MITIMCo, an investment management arm of MIT’s endowment fund, also took a similar path. The following excerpt is from MITIMCo’s Joel Cohen (his blog):
We have no titles. Everyone’s job is the same. In my time at MITIMCo, I have never, ever, been told I was too inexperienced or young to do something (such as lead an investment, present to our board of directors, champion an internal project). That is just not something that happens here. Our team is set up to empower people to take on additional responsibility as soon as they feel ready, not because they finally got a promotion that takes them to the next level. This dramatically shortens the feedback loop of learning.
MITIMCo has no CIO. The legendary leader, Seth Alexander, is President. And, amongst the Global Investment Team, essentially all of them are called Global Investment Staff. (source: https://mitimco.org/directory/)
We are not going to copy MITIMCo, but want to come up with our own structure. We haven’t decided what to call ourselves, but we know there is no more title of ‘Partner’ and ‘Associate’ at Star Magnolia Capital. We want to judge people by their qualities and not by their titles, and want to be judged by others in the same way. If you have any good ideas on how we can call ourselves, please leave your ideas in the comment section.
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