CEOs Didn’t Start with Fancy Jobs, And Your Kids Don’t Have to Either

As a former peanut seller, I know how much I learned from hawking those bags of goobers at Atlanta Crackers games as a young boy. I also learned many lessons from being a bag boy, babysitter, gas station attendant and a paper boy.

I think of those days every time I see parents stressing over their children finding the perfect summer job, believing it will be the key to their future success. While I understand their concern, I know the most successful people didn’t start as an intern in a fancy office.

One of my first jobs was selling peanuts at Atlanta Crackers baseball games at the Ponce de Leon Stadium, now replaced with a shopping center. The Sears building in the background is now Ponce City Market.

They were baby sitters, fast food employees and vacuum cleaner salesmen. Like me, Warren Buffett started as a paper boy. In my blog, Want to Be a CEO? Any Job Can Be a Good Start, I wrote about the early jobs of the CEOs of Netflix, Dell and Yahoo. None of them included an office with a desk.

Reading about their first jobs is one of my favorite parts of the interviews with CEOs and founders in “The Corner Office” column in the New York Times on Sundays. Here are just a few of my favorites:

Lisa Gersh, former Chief Executive of Goop: After realizing she wanted more than the $1 an hour she got for babysitting, as a preteen Gersh went to classes and got a degree in umpiring girls’ softball. She blew the whistle during games on girls older than she was for $5 an hour.

Mark Nathan, CEO of Zipari: At the age of 10, he took a wheelbarrow and collected old newspapers. Then he’d tie them into bundles, throw them in the back of a station wagon and take them to an industrial market that recycled newsprint. He got $15 for a load.

Deryl McKissack, CEO of McKissack & McKissack: Descendants of slaves, McKissack’s family owns the oldest African-American architectural firm in the country. Deryl began making architectural drawings when she was six.

Ashton B. Carter, former secretary of defense. Carter worked at a carwash when he was 11, but after complaining that he wasn’t included in the tip distribution, got fired. Then he got a job at a Gulf gas station and also worked as an orderly in a hospital. His duties included taking dead people to the morgue.

Yuchon Lee: CEO and co-founder of Allego. In kindergarten Lee resold fancy stickers his father brought back from Japan. In his later years in elementary school, he sold silkworms.

If your child doesn’t end up with a fancy office job this summer, remember that valuable lessons come from any job. And they may have a great “first job” story to tell in their later years when people ask about their success.