Here's What 23 Successful Australian Bosses Learned From Their First Jobs

Our first jobs can teach us a lot.

They’re our first taste of hard work where we learn about commitment, perseverance and team work, and they often spark our inspiration and confidence.

Whether washing cars or working at Maccas, everyone has to start somewhere and most of the time it’s not pretty.

Business Insider has asked some of Australia’s bosses to find out where it all started for them and whether they have carried any lessons with them through life from that very first job.

Here they are.

Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin, Founder & CEO of BlueChilli, was in the navy when he was 17.

I haven't had a job interview since 1999! My first and only 'real' job was with the Royal Australian Navy where I served as Weapons Electronics Engineering Officer for a full decade and included being deployed to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Navy is great as every couple of years you change roles, so you are constantly challenged and end up with a very diverse range of experiences. On my last posting, to an Anzac frigate, I was in charge of around 30 technical sailors in the Weapons Engineering department and and a sub role as Fire Control Officer. Basically I was the guy who sat at the fire control console with my finger on the trigger for the main weapon systems of the warship, the Harpoon and ESSM missile systems and the big 5-inch gun at the front - and yes, that's just as cool as it sounds. In an earlier role, I was deputy combat system manager for the $7bn Air Warfare Destroyer project which thanks to a very good mentor, allowed me to work at a high level in a large engineering project where I was exposed to government procurement, politics but still got to play in complex engineering systems.

I owe a lot to the Navy. Besides teaching me structure and process, which is the very foundation which BlueChilli is built upon, it gave me the skills and environment of which to hone in my leadership skills. The strong team culture of the Navy gave me an understanding on how mentoring and training should work, again elements which we've bought to BlueChilli's startups. Additionally, being involved in a tight operations team in adverse conditions gives a very healthy understanding on human psychology and teamwork under immense stress and has the added 'benefit' of putting everything else I do in life in healthy perspective.

Karen Lawson, CEO of CareerOne, was a hairdresser assistant when she was just a tot.

My first job was literally as soon as I could stand! My dad was a hairdresser so I started off by 'handing up' rollers to him (and pins!) along with things like folding towels, cleaning mirrors before I was old enough to be let loose on welcoming the men and ladies that came into the salon. I loved meeting new people and my dad's regulars. It taught me a lot about manual hard work, customer care and how important your rolling revenue (loyal customers) are.

I also worked for Thomas Cook travel whilst I was at college. Starting as a 'brochure hostess' meeting and greeting customers, finding out what they were interested in and converting them to the 'counter' to buy. I eventually became a travel consultant and was very proud getting onto the bus to work with my red bow tie and uniform!

Sharon Zeev Poole, Director and Founder of Agent99 PR, was a Woolies deli assistant when she was 17.

My first job was at Woolworths as a Deli Assistant when I was 17. Although it wasn’t the most glamorous job, it taught me many customer service skills that I still apply at Agent99 Public Relations today. By speaking to so many different customers each day I learnt how important it is to cater to various personalities, which has helped me not only manage staff but also to establish strong relationships with clients, media, suppliers and other stakeholders.

Nick Bell, Founder and Managing Director of Web Marketing Experts, was a Bell Boy when he was 18.

Nick was a Service Express Attendant, or Bell Boy, at Westin Hotel in Melbourne.
He says he was responsible for carry luggage, opening doors, room service, the valet and odd jobs within the hotel and for guests.
When asked what it has taught him, he said: 'Work fast. Need speed.'

Jodie Fox, Co-founder of Shoes of Prey, was a chemist assistant when she was 14.

My first job was as a store assistant at Munro & Wicks Soul Pattinson Chemist. Responsibilities included serving customers, receiving prescriptions, understanding products, cleaning and stocktaking.

(I learnt) the importance of customer service and listening to your customers.

Jan Pacas, Managing Director of Hilti Australia, was a waiter when he was 17.

When I was 17, I got a job as a waiter in a Hotel Maisberger in Munich as a part of a two-month summer internship.

Responsibilities were to service guests in this newly opened hotel, take orders, ensure diners were comfortable and that their experience was 5-star quality.

The most valuable lesson I learnt from my first job was the value of hard work and to recognise and have an appreciation of all the moving parts that make up a business. Although the customers only saw the end product, there was a dedicated team behind the scenes that put so much effort into to that place, something that is replicated in most business models.

Zach Johnson, CEO of, was a Special Operations Soldier in the U.S. Army when he was 18.

Working in small teams of 2-6, employed conventional and unconventional warfare tactics and techniques using a range of specialised combat skills and weapons.

While I regretted the decision to enlist on many days during active duty, I have been glad and proud of my service every day since. I learned a lot about myself as well as the true value of interdisciplinary teamwork, the art and science of high-stakes decisions and the importance of optimism tempered by reality -- all of which I've carried with me throughout my career.

Alec Lynch, Founder and CEO of, washed cars from the age of 11.

In primary school, I used to door knock houses in my neighbourhood and wash cars for a couple of dollars each wash. I didn't make much money but it was my first entrepreneurial experience and it was fun. My first job in high school (at 14) was working at Dick Smith Electronics. I sold computers, mobile phones and gadgets. It taught me the importance of customer service and selling.

Greg Taylor, Co-Founder of, was a footy umpire when he was 12.

My first job was umpiring for the AFL Football Umpire at the Southern Suburbs Umpires Association.

I'd be umpiring the kids in my grade at school. I did get quite a bit of stick for it, but a lot of favours were asked of me. Looking back now, maybe I should have capitalised on these better! The most important lesson it taught me was that respect is earned, not demanded. I realised this because I was 12 at the time and would be umpiring kids who were 2-3 years older than me at times.

Gen George, Founder and CEO of OneShift, was a swimming coach when she was 16.

One of my first jobs was as a swimming coach at the Tivolli Swim School, when I was in high school. I taught younger children how to swim for the first time, and worked with older swimmers in squads. It was great and it also taught me to balance celebrating your achievements with keeping focussed for the next challenge. It's important to keep looking forward and to make sure you're ready for that next race, but have fun at the same time ... you will only be as young as you are today!

Ash Davies, Founder of Tablo, was a writer when he was 18.

My first job was as writer and producer at MyDrive Media, hunting down the coolest stories in the automotive industry and writing and producing segments for television. I got to test new cars from manufacturers and produce short films about the auto-industry. I sought the gig because I wanted to be an automotive journalist (and it's still a bit of a dream!). It taught me project management. There's a lot involved in taking a story from a simple idea to a polished piece for television. There's writing, planning shoots, managing a production team and stitching raw clips into something people want to watch. It's not unlike software. Every week at Tablo we're turning little ideas into working products, and a lot of stuff happens in between.

Matt Bullock, Founder and CEO of eWAY, was a programmer when he was 16.

I was a programmer at CSIRO who wrote basic code on an Apple 2E which helped guide visitors at the CSIRO Parkes Telescope dish on a journey through the solar system. I learnt a lot at my time there, but something that stuck with me right from the get-go was that Apple computers are cool!

Daniel Flynn, Co-founder and Managing Director of Thankyou Group, worked at Maccas when he was 15.

As a 15 year-old, I started my first job at McDonalds. My responsibilities involved customer service and food preparation. While at the time it might not have felt like I was learning a whole lot aside from flipping burgers, in hindsight the job taught me loads about team dynamics and how to efficiently work as part of a team. At Thankyou Group, teamwork is one of our key values because the reality is that if you don't have a healthy team dynamic, you'll more than likely have an inefficient business that struggles to meet its goals.

Dean Ramler, Co-founder and CEO of Milan Direct, worked at KFC when he was 14.

I landed my first job at the age of 14 working back of house at the local KFC, I was paid the princely sum of $4.61 before tax. My motivation for getting a job was so I could earn money to do more of the things I wanted, rather than ask my parents for money. I probably spent my money on footy cards or something like that. The work was very hard, but I thrived on the challenge. In reflection, what I learned from my time at KFC is the value in having a process driven business, it works for them on a global scale, most of the company’s employees are under the age of 21, so their processes need to be spot on.

Justin Dry, Co-founder and Co-CEO of Vinomofo, also washed cars when he was 8.

I started a business washing cars when I was eight years old. I would charge $4 per car and it would take me an hour. The business grew to a point where I actually needed to employ someone else. And here was my first lesson in business... Employ the right people for the job! Unfortunately, I made the mistake of employing my cousin because it was easy. He didn't exactly have the passion or work ethic I'd hoped and that cost me a few good customers.

Stuart Marburg, CEO of MessageMedia, worked for IC Technologies when he was 18.

I worked at IC Technologies, Australia's largest apple reseller at the time, setting up their Online Information System. The BBS was a fore-runner to the Internet and meant that a customer had to dial up with a modem, and connect to obtain shareware software, and information for Apple and Macintosh products. I remember having to wear a shirt and a tie - not a real problem as I had to wear one to school for seven years, but after university it was weird to have to put one back on again. I remember being given a seat close to the Sales Manager who was one of the owners - everyone was incredibly helpful and keen to understand what I was going to be doing.

Oddly enough I still catch up once a year or so with the three directors of IC technologies. I loved my first job, I was only doing it for a year when I was at a 'sandwich' year at uni where as part of my degree, I had to work for a year. Being a large reseller of computer product IC allowed me to order at wholesale rates all of the modems that I needed that enabled me to set up what turned into Netspace that I started running full-time the following year whilst finishing my university course. After a year at work - I never really wanted to go back to study full-time.

Lauren Williams, CEO of, worked at Solomon Smith Barney (now Citigroup) in a graduate program after university.

My first job was in investment banking at Solomon Smith Barney working in their technology group in Palo Alto. I was part of the graduate intake coming out of Harvard undergrad in 2001. I did a six week 'investment banking boot camp' in the company's New York office before they sent me to Palo Alto.

Here I learnt how to value companies, business modelling in excel, P&L analysis and comparable company analysis. I also spent more hours than I care to remember making PowerPoint slides for pitch deck. The hours were long and there was no such thing as a weekend so I got used to working long hours. Fortunately no job I have had since has been as gruelling in terms of hours.

The job provided an incredible foundation for me and I've used these skills throughout my career as a manager, founder and entrepreneur and today as CEO CarsGuide. It taught me a lot about the role of the investor and also the importance of being diligent running a business by the numbers and to its budget, but a the same time, remain agile and creative in thinking to navigate around pivots and speed bumps that arise.

Cyndi O'Meara, Founder of Changing Habits, was a waitress when she was 19.

My first job when I finished school was working at Falls Creek as a waitress at Pretty Valley Lodge during the 1979 ski season. I was paid enough to pay for my ski pass for the season, my accommodation and food and I was left with some spending money for the night life. I was the waitress for all the guests that stayed at the lodge, I served them breakfast and dinner.

My boss was into health, so I decided after finishing with the ski season to make enough money to continue to ski but also go to university and do pre medicine at the University of Colorado. I started selling flowers in the Dandenongs to different restaurants to make the money – it was my own business which I sold and left for university at CU mid 1980.

Every day was a great day. I would work, 6.00am to 9.00am and then 4.30pm to 9.30pm. I was free to ski all day, and that season I didn’t miss one day. Rain, snow, wind or sun, I was out there loving the season. I learnt to live with people, look after myself and met many people from all walks of life from all over the world.

The fact that my first boss, Jean Steven, was so into health and health foods, sent me on a path to nutrition and health. Every day of my life since then has been about food, nutrition and health.

Alexandra Tselios, Founder of The Big Smoke, was a checkout chick when she was 14.

My first jobs was as a checkout chick at the now-defunct Franklin Supermarkets as soon as I was legally allowed to work at 14 and 9 months.The job, which involved processing customer purchases at the cash register, taught me the methodology of flexibility and the fact that there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to creating the most linear experience for the customer or the operations strategy. What works for one market, may not work for another. Although it was almost 20 years ago, the same thought-process stays with me and just because a competitor does it one way, it doesn't necessarily mean we should duplicate this. This particular way of thinking has served me well in a number of areas but particularly when approaching my business.

Gina Lednyak, Founder & Director of L&A Social Media, was a barrista when she was 13.

I worked in coffee shop called The Grind. I made coffee, chatted to strangers, played chess, read books and debated about the meaning of life. The owners Tony and Kathy opened the cafe to create a place for people to go for art, music and coffee and it became the creative hub of the neighbourhood in New York.

This job taught me it was okay to go your own way and be yourself and do what you love. The debates I had with the patrons and the owners about life, love and the universe helped me explore my own beliefs and made me who I am today. During my time working there I decided that I wanted to live life my way and do what makes me happy. This ended up being leaving NYC, moving to Sydney and starting my business.

Marcus Lim, Co-founder of, was a consultant at Deloitte when he was 24.

My his first job was as a strategy and operations consultant at Deloitte Consulting.

As a strategy consultant my role was working in a team to uplift the performance of a company. This entailed a variety of projects ranging from process improvement, product expansion to pricing strategies. As one of the more junior staff members I was involved in the data analysis and interviewing business functions. I believe my involvement with many facets of businesses had helped me start Oneflare.

(It) taught me invaluable lessons that I apply on a daily basis. When solving problems I always take a logical and structured approach. Some concepts I apply on a daily basis such as breaking down problems into four parts 'Situation', 'Complication', 'Questions', and 'Answers' and the 'MECE priniciple' - mutually exclusive collectively exhaustive.

Working at a client facing professional services also taught me the importance of attention to detail. Any mistake in a model or slide can ruin the trust you had built with the client so I reviewed my work frequently with a fine tooth comb.

Matthew Dyer, Founder of, stacked shelves when he was 15.

My first job was at a Bi-Lo supermarket stacking shelves when I was 15. Responsibilities were to make sure shelves in my isle were full. This job taught me very quickly that I didn't want a career in a supermarket and manual labour was probably not for me. I was much happier a year later when I got a job in a BP service station and was serving customers.

Lauren Hall, CEO of iVvy, was a paper girl when she was only 9!

When I was 9 years old and we were living in Chicago, I asked my father for $10. He read me the riot act and asked me what I wanted it for. He told me about the value money and of earning it myself in order to pay for the things I wanted. I decided then to start working so that I never had to ask him again for money. It started with a morning paper route delivering newspapers to our neighborhood. But my first official job was at the age of 17 as the stock admin controller for Edgars – a big retail chain in South Africa (my home country). I was tasked with looking after the multi-million dollar inventory for the outlet. I was the youngest appointed stock admin controller at that time.

I learnt the importance of efficiencies and streamlining business processes. I proactively implemented processes that reduced store stock loss from a 26% to an almost negligible 0.01%. This was a massive accomplishment that gave me confidence to question existing systems and processes and try to create new, more efficient ways of achieving similar, if not better results. (It also taught) me to never give up no matter how hard the role may be, everything in life takes passion, perseverance and determination to achieve success, and the importance of not being afraid to put forward new ideas and bring them to life through well researched and supported evidence.

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