6 successful Australian entrepreneurs reveal their first job and the lessons they learned

The Internship/ IMDB

Where we start in a career and where we end up can change dramatically over the course of our working lives.

Research by McCrindle finds that the Australian average tenure in a job is 3.3 years, based on voluntary turnover of around 15% per annum.

Based on that, a university graduate today would have on average 13 jobs in their lifetime.

But this may not be a bad thing considering new skills and knowledge are acquired each time a person learns a new role.

With this in mind we asked six successful Australia entrepreneurs what their first jobs was, and the lessons they learned from the experience.

Here’s what they had to say.

Emma Welsh, co-founder Emma and Toms

I did agricultural science at Melbourne Uni, but somehow it came into my head that I wanted to be a commodity trader, so I did some more subjects – econometrics and macroeconomics. When I finished uni I got a job with commodity firm Cargill to be a financial markets trader.

My first job was trading the Australian dollar for profit, basically punting whether the dollar would go up or down.

I liked it, but I always knew I wanted to start my own business. And I wanted to get lots of different experience in business before I had my own.

I liked the people I worked with and they all had a hard work ethic. My first boss was actually an American woman — and sort of a tough person. She always had to fight her ground. So I sort of learnt about having a good manager and a collaborative approach to working with people.

The company itself was privately owned and the family was still involved. The chairman would come out to Australia at least once a year and we would have a drink with him. So there was a very good corporate culture driven by the management. People were treated with respect and valued for their contribution, not necessarily their age and stage. I really liked that and that’s what I try to do now.

Salvatore Malatesta, founder of St Ali

Salvatore Malatesta. Photo: Chris Hopkins © 2015/ Supplied.

I’ve mostly only ever been self-employed. I’ve always been a self-starter. I was studying Arts Law at the University of Melbourne and I was disappointed by the food and beverage offering, so I approached the student union and opened my first cafe on campus as a third-year student. By the time I graduated I had 15 venues.

I think being the end user, and having an innate understanding of what’s needed, was definitely an advantage. I was a student and I knew that students would pay for good coffee.

I worked for a couple of years as a lawyer right after graduating but I was still running my businesses at the same time. I probably didn’t give my legal career a fair shot because I wasn’t programmed for the amount of hierarchy I encountered in law firms back then. I just learnt that I wasn’t suited to it.

Now I encourage entrepreneurism in everyone – certainly my children and everyone that works for me. Especially when you’re young, you have got this window – pre-kids, pre-mortgage — where you can do anything. I’d say back when I was getting started I learnt to go for it and give it your best shot.

Naomi Simson, founder of RedBalloon and Shark Tank Australia investor

Naomi Simson. Photo: Don Arnold/ WireImage via Getty Images.

My first job was IBM in New York, but I got that job through the University of Melbourne. I started the Melbourne University’s chapter of an international student association called AIESEC, which hosted a job exchange for people around the world. It’s wild to think that my exchange was to New York in the mid-80s.

I was a marketing assistant for IBM at the European Trade Headquarters. I had the opportunity to manage a team — I had eight students reporting to me.

I learnt at that time that business is a people’s game. At uni we had always done management or marketing assignments in groups and I never appreciated why. But of course, in the workplace, if you can’t work with diverse opinions and insights then you will struggle to get ahead. I get it now. You can’t work in isolation.

I’m still friends with some of the people in that club. One is godfather to my daughter. And I made friends with people from all over the world through that group. I think that’s one of the delights of being a student. If you connect with other people at uni you’ll go on such a variety of journeys with them.

Dr Jaclyn Pearson, researcher at the Peter Doherty Institute

Jaclyn Pearson. Photo: Mathew Lynn/ Supplied.

My first job was playing as a drummer in an all-girl rock band in Perth in the early 2000s. We were signed to a major record label, toured the country with artists such as The Living End, Motor Ace and Eskimo Joe, were nominated for an ARIA for our first single and wrote the lead song the Disney film Freaky Friday. I absolutely loved it – it was an opportunity like no other, exciting and so much fun. There were tough moments though, and inevitably, I was drawn back to the more stable career of science research.

I learned so much from this experience, especially in management and leadership roles. I helped coordinate tours and travel, meetings with accountants and lawyers, and provided moral and emotional support for the younger members of the band. Most importantly I would say that I have taken a strong work ethic, leadership, mentoring and resilience from this job and apply this to my everyday practices now. The experience helped me to find more personal confidence and energy, which I think has really benefited the way I approach my work today. Overall, I feel a little tougher inside for it and quite privileged to know what it’s like to live the “rockstar” lifestyle.

Shaun Holthouse, co-founder Catapult

Shaun Holthouse Photo: Pivot Summit via Facebook

My first job as a graduate engineer was with a company called GBC, which made scientific equipment. Those guys made extraordinarily complex machines, like the Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometers and Time of Flight Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometers – both full of engineering challenges in material science, heat transfer, optics, fluid mechanics and more.

I loved it. I felt like I was doing really important work with a license to innovate. It was small enough that you could really make a difference and it gave me a real appetite for turning cutting-edge technology into new products. I decided I never wanted to work in mature industries like automotive or mining, but in smaller, much more dynamic teams.

I learned that you should see the organisation structure as just a guide, and no impediment to getting the job done. I learned that you should be your own advocate for the good work you are doing and not just wait for management to notice and reward you.

When you first start your career, you expect that there are perfect organisations that make sense and operate logically. But none of them do. The challenge is not making these borderline dysfunctional structures perfect, but making them effective.

Adam Garone, co-founder of ‎Movember Foundation

Adam Garone founder of Movember. Photo: Dan Tuffs/ Supplied.

I was an officer in the military before I went to Melbourne Business School, so for me, it was a key part of my transition out of the military and into civilian working life. I did the Master of Marketing program and while at school, I started working with a service provider in product marketing and development.

I gained a lot of skills in the military, particularly in leadership. But to be honest, the experience at Melbourne University and my new job broadened my perspective on life in general. It gave me a bit of confidence, as well as the skills necessary to go out and get a job in the civilian world.

Just after graduating, my three co-founders and I came up with the idea for Movember. And even now I combine that desire to serve, which I learned from the military, with an understanding of the frameworks I learned during that time – how you need to build a product, marketing strategies, and partnerships with other brands. Plus, I made so many personal connections at Melbourne Uni and a lot of them were leveraged with Movember.

I remember wanting it to be over, because life was so hectic, but it was an amazing time to form friendships and learn how to build your life.

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