Want to be a CEO? Any Job Can Be a Good Start

A friend told me about attending a school meeting once and telling another woman that her son had a job as a bagger at a grocery store. The woman said, “What is he going to learn from that?” My answer? A lot.

These days I see a lot of people stressing over getting their children a fancy summer internship, thinking that experience is the key to success. While those may be valuable, I’m a firm believer that you can learn many life lessons from any job. Sometimes those first jobs, which may seem menial at the time, can actually teach you lessons that set you off on a successful career path.

As I’ve written before in “Two Ingredients for Success Never Change,” one of my first jobs was selling peanuts at Atlanta Crackers games. The skills I learned there helped lead me to my career as a turnaround authority. I’ve also worked as a bag boy and a paper boy.

404451_f260I’m not alone is parlaying what may seem like menial jobs into a successful career. A recent article in Fast Company, “The Surprising First Jobs of Famous CEOs” reveals some of the jobs the top CEOs in the country once held.

And more than one CEO of a major corporation got their start at a grocery store. The CEO of Costco, Craig Jelinek, started working on the weekends at a store when he was in junior high. His day started at 6:00 AM with cleaning the bathrooms, sweeping the floors and then boxing groceries. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, started as a grocery clerk and says she learned a lot about developing a work ethic from that experience.

More than one CEO worked in a restaurant. Dell CEO Michael Dell, motivated to earn money to add to his stamp collection, washed dishes at a Chinese restaurant when he was 12. (Yes, that probably was in violation of child labor laws.) The CEO of Macy’s, Terry Lundgren, shucked oysters at a restaurant during college to pay the bills, after his father discontinued paying because he wasn’t taking his studies seriously.

Clarence Otis, Jr. is the CEO of Darden Restaurants, operators of Red Lobster and Olive Garden. He says he learned how to interact with a variety of people from his first job as a server at a restaurant at Los Angeles International Airport.

Seems I have something in common with Warren Buffet. We both had paper routes when we were children. But Warren was smart enough back then to claim his bicycle as a tax deduction.

The head of Netflix, Reed Hastings, loved his job selling vacuum cleaners door to door so much that he delayed going to college for a year.

A job, any job, can teach you responsibility, efficiency, organization, how to deal with people and how to get ahead. And that’s just for starters. In many cases, working at a menial job can provide the motivation to get educated for a better career. I know of more than one college student that took their studies much more seriously after a summer spent selling popcorn at a movie theater or stocking shelves at a warehouse.

Any job can be valuable for the lessons you can learn. If you’re just willing to learn them.