I recognize I’m probably a somewhat strange animal at a start-up: a lawyer in his 40s who has spent most of his career at giant New York law firms and a massive global financial institution. 

Looking back, the smallest organization I worked at before joining my first start-up several years ago still had over 4,000 people (the largest had over a quarter million employees…). Now, I’m part of a small, agile team at Rhino that probably accomplishes more in a week than many huge corporations achieve in a year. Moving projects forward is second nature at Rhino. I would love to believe it’s because we are better, smarter, or sharper. However, the answer is much more fundamental to our DNA – we’ve created a culture that encourages and rewards ownership.

In large organizations, the unfortunate truth is there must be more reward for standing up and taking ownership. If a project fails, is delayed, or doesn’t deliver, the project owner gets blamed. If it succeeds, there is rarely a reward because the many layers of bureaucracy and management take credit for it.

JFK famously noted: “Success has many friends, but failure is an orphan.” This attitude creates a culture that discourages employees from raising their hands and taking risks. Everyone is waiting for someone else to take the initiative and take charge (and take the chance of getting blamed). Almost always, no one steps up to lead…so the project stagnates or dies. 

Working at Rhino offers a radical departure from that model. 

Venture-backed start-ups like us are full of lean teams trying to accomplish crazy, lofty goals. There is rarely extra time or bandwidth, and there is always an overabundance of great ideas. For us to succeed, it is fundamental that we find colleagues who do not fear ownership. 

This means people who are excited by the idea that this project will succeed or fail based on their hard work, skills, and abilities. Employees who are energized by the prospect of stepping up, learning a new skill, or taking a risk. And as leaders, we encourage those traits by recognizing that sometimes projects fail, mistakes happen, and things go awry.

We can own our successes and failures, and our culture celebrates learning from both. It’s an easy thing to say – but it’s a far rarer thing to find. I’m lucky we have it in abundance at Rhino…

Alastair Wood is the Vice President, Legal and General Counsel at Rhino.
Alastair Wood

Alastair Wood is the Vice President, Legal and General Counsel at Rhino.