As the summer draws to a close, we thought it would be fun to learn what some of the summer jobs were that top CEOs in advertising had when they were kids.We collected stories from CEOs at 10 different agencies, including DDB, MODCo Creative, BBH, and Red Antler.
They also told us what they learned as guitar sanders, seaside photographers and—you guessed it—lifeguards.
First Job: Electric Guitar Sander
Lesson Learned: As a guitar sander, he learned the importance of teamwork and mutual respect.
His Story: 'When I was in college, I took a summer job sanding and painting electric guitars in Meridian, Mississippi. Although this was a summer job for me, I was working side by side with a number of people for whom this was their primary source of income. Seeing all that had to go into producing a guitar -- from the design and manufacturing process before we received them, to the carving, staining and then painting of the bodies - I observed and appreciated the amount of work that went into creating just one item. Everyone along the way had a role to play, and each part of the process was just as important as the rest. While I knew that this job would not lead to a long, storied career in guitar-sanding for me, I took great pride in my work, just the same. I credit the management at the company for this. They made sure that all of their employees felt not only protected -- safety was a top priority -- but appreciated and even celebrated. I learned a lot about how to establish and nurture a work culture, where everybody feels important and valued, whether they work with you for a few months or a few decades.'
First Job: Life Guard
Where: New York City Racquet Club
Lesson Learned: That indoor pools are gross, as well as the importance of patience when working with diverse groups of people.
Her Story: 'I had a short-lived job in NYC when I first arrived, working as a lifeguard at the NY Racquet Club. There were people of all different cultures frequenting the club pool, which was in a very minimally populated tomb where I sat by myself, marveling at the human skin and oil flotsam and jetsam floating on the hot tub surface and wondering if the chlorine gas in the air would permanently damage my lungs. Also, the fact that the pool was only 3.5 feet deep, so saving these people (thankfully) was only a matter of asking them to put their feet down. I lasted six weeks until I got a job at a design studio. I still get the willies in indoor pool situations. That experience certainly helped me learn how to hold my composure and it also was my first lesson in navigating professional relationships with vastly different cultures. In both cases, it forced me to learn patience and to take a deep breath and remind myself that everyone is coming to the table with a different experience and point of view.'
First Job: Welding Inspector
Where: Nuclear Plant
Lesson Learned: That he was not cut out for mechanical engineering.
His Story: 'Between my freshman and sophomore years in college I was a welding inspector at a nuke plant as part of an engineering internship. I had no real experience for the job and was petrified of the heights, so I checked many suspended welds rather 'quickly,' and once got contaminated and was detained all night, stripped and hosed down by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Council. But what the hell, the money was pretty good. This was the beginning of my realisation that mechanical engineering was not the best profession for me and I eventually went on to open up The VIA Agency, where I could use both my left and right brain (while not causing a nuclear melt down).'
First Job: Tour Boat Guide
Where: The River Cam in Cambridge, England
Lesson Learned: The delicate balance between embellishment and an authentic angle.
His Story: 'When I was studying at Cambridge, I got a job giving guided punt tours (translation: 'punting' is British for 'boating') on the River Cam (a hugely popular tourist activity). When I interviewed for the job, they walked me straight out to the river and put me to the test. First lesson learned: If you're going to lie at an interview involving boats, you'd better learn some serious boating skills in the next 60 seconds. The tourists all wanted a good guided tour, but there was no lesson on how to give a tour -- you simply made it up or copied other tours you heard, embellishing them for good measure. Soon, you'd hear guides telling visiting Koreans how the Queen lived in this college, or Americans that the River was made of port wine. Second lesson learned: If everyone's got the same story, find an authentic angle on it that's yours. And embellish a little, too. A couple of us realised the Japanese always arrived on coaches, so we would meet them at the coach station and offer to take an entire coach-load on one afternoon. 30+ tourists, on four punts lashed together, and they paid double to have this 'floating party.' Final lesson learned: If 'rules' make competition tight ... make up some new ones. And a find a friend with big arms.'
First Job: Photography Assistant
Where: Beach town in England
Lesson Learned: The importance of always making people feel special.
His Story: 'I did work as an Old Time photographer for some summers in a seaside town in England while doing my degree. We'd dress people up in vintage costumes in a street-side open studio, photograph them and then process the print in sepia. Obviously, I learned about lighting, posing groups of people, but I think the most important thing I learned was making sure that people felt that they were being made to feel special. They wanted a great experience and a great end product. I wanted them to walk out a little happier (and lighter in the pocket) than when they walked in.'
First Job: Software Developer
Where: Silicon Valley
Lesson Learned: The people you work with, not where you work, is the most important aspect of any job.
His Story: 'I got a call to go work at a software company called Connectix when I was in high school for the summer. They said they needed me right away and surprisingly my parents let me fly from Boston to Silicon Valley the next day. My job was to design the user interface for the first software utility for Mac PowerBooks. I learned it's never about the job itself but what you learn from those around you. Surround yourself with amazing people, even if it means going from one coast to another.'
First Job: Production Assistant
Lesson Learned: How to work under tight deadlines.
Her Story: ''It all started at a 5,000 watt radio station' isn't just a joke from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. It IS how some of us really did get into the business. In my case, it was the summer after high school: Typing the programming logs for the radio station led to writing copy for ad salesmen who needed it right away. Their same desperation led to my hosting live remotes for local retailers. The daily pressure of producing immediate results inspired me to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees in the art and science of persuasive advertising, which ultimately led me to start my own agency in order to deliver what I knew would work.'
First Job: House Painter
Where: New York
Lesson Learned: How to make a logo.
His Story: 'I worked as a professional house painter. The guy I worked for didn't have any sort of brand, so I managed to use some clip art and Microsoft Paint to make him a logo of a character carrying a paint pail and brush, and had T-shirts printed for the company. Little did I know that brand consistency was in my genes and it made its way onto his truck (and the back of my closet).'
First Job: Summer Camp Water Skiing Instructor
Lesson Learned: How to motivate people even when they fail.
His Story: 'I led the water skiing program at summer camps, teaching kids from 8-18 how to ski. Beside it being a fun job with a sport I'm still passionate about, I learned how to coach and motivate people to keep trying when at first they fail, and then to always push themselves to the next level, as well as the importance of celebrating success.'
First Job: Cello Player
Where: Mykonos, Greece
Lesson Learned: How to shoot fish in a barrel.
His Story: 'My parents had a summer house on the Greek island of Mykonos and there was a bar called 'The Castro.' I negotiated with The Castro to let me play cello for half an hour a couple of times per week at sunset and serenade the population. I didn't ask for any money, but I asked that my younger brother be allowed to walk around the room with a hat asking for contributions. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. The patrons of the bar simply couldn't resist emptying their wallets into the hat while watching me serenade them with classics by Debussy, Saint-Seans and other romantic composers. My brother and I split the proceeds. If memory serves, I think my hourly rate (had I played for the full hour) would have been about 250 pounds sterling (about $500 per hour at the time) - and that was a HUGE amount of money for a 17 year old in 1979. In retrospect, what I learned from the experience was how to look at a market and deliver a product that worked.'
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