First Jobs of the Rich and Famous

Kate Lorenz, CareerBuilder.com Editor

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Though your aspirations may be ambitious, chances are your first job(s) will be humble. But just remember: everybody has to start somewhere -- even the rich and famous. Michael Dell, founder and chairman of Dell Computer Corporation was a dishwasher at a Chinese restaurant earning $2.30 an hour; Bill Gates was a Congressional page in the Washington State Capitol; William Watkins, CEO of Seagate Technology, worked the night shift at a mental hospital restraining people who got out of control, while Sidney Kimmel, CEO of Jones New York, worked as a shipping clerk for Morton Manufacturing.

"It was hard work, but I loved the opportunity," Kimmel recalls.

Dell also is grateful for his early experience: "The best part was the wisdom of the restaurant owner, which I could capture if I came to work a little early. He took great pride in his work and cared about every customer who came through his door."

Michael Krasny, chairman emeritus and founder of CDW Computer Centers, says he learned a lot from his first "job" at age 10: clearing scrap wood from the house being built next door to him. "I got a few kids on the block to help me," Krasny recalls. "When we were done, I took them to 31 Flavors for ice cream. I learned you can't do it all yourself. You need to have a team around you."

Many of today's celebrities showed an early entrepreneurial sprit as well. Bill Murray stood outside a grocery store selling chestnuts; Rush Limbaugh shined shoes; Robin Williams performed as a street mime, and when no stores were interested in carrying his jeans, designer Tommy Hilfiger sold them to buyers from the trunk of his car.

Most did whatever it took to pay the bills while pursuing their passion. Early in their careers, Jerry Seinfeld sold light bulbs by phone; Demi Moore worked for a debt collection agency; Van Halen's David Lee Roth fluffed pillows and emptied bedpans as a hospital orderly; Madonna worked behind the counter at Dunkin' Donuts; Jennifer Aniston worked as a waitress; Brad Pitt moved refrigerators, and just months before he set world records in country music, Garth Brooks was still working as a salesman in a boot store.

Several did poorly at their first jobs: Danny Devito only became a hairdresser to meet girls and Mariah Carey was fired as a coat check girl and many times as a waitress for having a poor attitude.

Still others credit their first job with their eventual success: actor Jack Nicholson was "discovered" while working in the mailroom at MGM and author Stephen King, who worked as a janitor, was cleaning a girl's locker room when he became inspired to write the novel Carrie.

What advice do the wildly successful offer to those who are just starting out?

"Do the best you can at any job you have and be willing to work your way up," suggests former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who started out as a secretary at a financial services company after graduating from Stanford University with a degree in medieval history and philosophy.

"You have to be willing to sacrifice in the short term in order to reap long-term benefits," adds B. Grant Yarber, president and CEO of Capital Bank. "The folks who are truly successful are those who have been willing to take jobs that aren't in glamorous places. They make a good show of it and then get offered those plum opportunities."

Bill Johnson, president and chief operating officer of Progress Energy says he told his grown daughters, "If there's something you have a passion for, pursue that, because you're going to be working a long time, and it's better if you're doing something you like."

Or, to quote a proverb Michael Dell learned in his days working at the Chinese restaurant: "Do work you love and you'll never work a day in your life."

Last Updated: 24/09/2007 - 3:50 PM


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