Business Monday

Ahh, the first job. CEOs learned valuable lessons on the bottom rung

Stock boy browsing throught a shelf in a clothes-wholesaling warehouse.
Stock boy browsing throught a shelf in a clothes-wholesaling warehouse. Getty Images/iStockphoto

This week’s question to the Miami Herald CEO Roundtable: What was your first job and what did you learn from it?


My first job was as a cashier at Bakers Shoe Store. I was a junior in high school and only worked weekday evenings, but I clearly remember the feeling of independence and responsibility when I began that job. I mostly learned accountability. If an error occurred, I had to speak up quickly to resolve it so that it didn’t snowball into a larger problem at night when closing out the cash register. Unfortunately, my mother made me quit the job three months into it because she was nervous that it was making me feel too independent! As for my profession in commercial real estate, my first job was with the Green Companies, the developer of the Datran Center and many other office projects in the Kendall market. I received my initial training on how to market office space and how to negotiate business terms. From this job, I learned that I had a passion for commercial real estate, and I will be forever grateful to Green Companies for providing me with the opportunity to discover this career.

Donna Abood, principal and managing director, Avison Young


I worked through high school and college, but my first post-college position was in the executive training program at Burdines (now Macy’s). The biggest lessons I learned are: always bring value to what you do, even if that means working a double, dusting fixtures, or folding clothes; a strong work ethic goes a long way, and a can-do attitude — no matter the obstacles that may stand in your way — will get recognized.

Laurie Kaye Davis, executive director, The Commonwealth Institute South Florida


I had several different jobs as a teenager. However, upon graduating from Dartmouth, I worked for the Xerox Corporation. The training that I received in the early 80’s at the Xerox International Center for Training and Management Development in Leesburg Virginia was extremely valuable. Xerox invested significant resources in active listening, advocacy and management principles training. I use many of those skills as an attorney, counselor and a member of our firm’s Executive Committee.

Albert E. Dotson Jr., partner, Bilzin Sumberg


My first job was as an accountant at Palmetto General Hospital. I learned that healthcare is a very complex industry. It was a different time when I started more than 40 years ago. Today, healthcare is a highly regulated industry, and it is financially challenged. In healthcare, one deals with complex situations not only on a human level, but also from an operational level.

Aurelio M. Fernandez, III, president and CEO, Memorial Healthcare System


During my college years, I worked in the X-ray department of a large community hospital. I learned the expectations and significant responsibilities of being a paid employee. I learned the importance of listening and focusing on completing assigned tasks. Each patient was as an individual with unique challenges, and I quickly learned that solutions/procedures had to be customized to successfully meet their needs. This is directly applicable to the work we do at the Council. We customize programs to meet the unique needs of the school principals and their students. Following directions, working collaboratively as a part of a team, and working within specified parameters and procedures were essential to ensuring the well-being of the patients. I learned how important it was to really listen to the physicians and the patients, and then process their information accurately, so that the outcomes were positive. The most significant thing I learned is that people are more important than things. This philosophy and the skills I learned during my first job have, in fact, helped to shape my career in education. Identifying and acting upon the needs of our constituents, can lead to creative and meaningful solutions.

Elaine Liftin, president and executive director, Council for Educational Change


When you are part of a family business, like I am, you get put to work early on. I can remember as far back as when I was 7 years old, heading to the properties with my father, and sneaking behind the check-in desk to nicely grill the staff. I also remember frying french fries during my summer work at one of my father’s fast-food restaurants when I was just becoming a teen. I was always very curious about hospitality, and my father and grandfather were excellent teachers. They taught me many aspects of the business from the ground up, but, most importantly, they taught me the value of hard work and integrity. I modeled this with my own children, exposing them early to our business and taking them for weeks at a time on business trips. Another significant lesson that came from working at an early age was that patience and perseverance are the key to growth and long-term success. This is what our family business is pillared on.

Diego Lowenstein, CEO, Lionstone Development


My first job was at H.E.B. Supermarket in San Antonio, Texas. I was a cashier. I learned four things: 1. I hate math; 2. I can pack any box, trunk or brown paper bag in perfect proportions because I packed groceries for hours and hours; 3. I’m really great with people and can strike up a conversation with anybody; 4. My mom was a helicopter mom before the term was invented, and used to tap on the window at 11:01 p.m. saying “my daughter has class in the morning” Very embarrassing, but now as a helicopter mommy, I too, appreciate how much she protected me.

Suzan McDowell, president and CEO, Circle of One Marketing


My first “job” was working on my grandfather’s farm and from that I learned to have an appreciation for working indoors with air conditioning. One of my first paying jobs was working as a sky cap in the Nashville, Tennessee airport, checking luggage curbside for American Airlines. This was during the 1980s before all of our current security measures had been implemented and I made $2 an hour plus tips. From this job, I learned several things. Certainly, I gained an appreciation for all professions in which someone earns a living mostly from receiving tips. I also learned to appreciate and respect all clients regardless of their appearance or perceived status. In many cases, it was the family in the old station wagon checking igloo coolers and tattered luggage that tipped better than the guy in the Mercedes with the golf bag. Most important, I learned from watching some of my co-workers back then that it’s a good idea to take care of the person who decides which city your luggage will be sent to.

Jay Pelham, president, Total Bank


My first job was at Quincy’s Family Steakhouse as a dishwasher. I worked in that position for 8 weeks before I was promoted to line cook and, finally, head cook responsible for supervising the entire kitchen staff while I was only 16 years old. I always took pride in my work and would continually watch and learn from the chefs, as well as often communicate to the manager that I was ready to take on additional responsibility at any time. I got my first chance as a line cook when the cook on duty did not show up for work. The manager gave me the opportunity and, because I had watched the other chefs so closely while I was dishwasher, I did very well when I had the chance to prove myself. I learned that you must be willing, able and ready at all times.

Dr. Larry Rice, president, Johnson & Wales University North Miami Campus


My first job was with Burger King Corporation as I was going through college. It taught me how the business world operates, and I learned how to run a small business because a single restaurant unit is nothing more than a small business, just selling food rather than a product. I couldn’t pay for the education Burger King gave me and it put me where I am today.

Eddie Rodriguez, CEO, JAE Restaurant Group


My first job was cutting grass with my brother for folks around the neighborhood. We learned that if you are honest and on time, people will hire you again and again. Eventually, we hired other kids in the neighborhood to work for us. In life, it is about making good on your promise — it eventually pays off.

Alex Rodriguez-Roig, president, Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade


My first job was a United States Army officer. I learned to motivate people without having the benefit of paying them more money. I also learned to train people and modify behavior without scolding.

Vincent Signorello, president and chief executive officer, Florida East Coast Industries


My first job was in high school at Orange Julius in the local mall. I think they were ahead of their time, looking back, as smoothie/juice shops are quite in fashion now. The most important value I learned from my boss while working there was that the customer is always correct, and you do what needs to be done to satisfy them and ensure they continue coming to you. This idea still applies to my work today at IGLTA.

John Tanzella, president and CEO, International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association


My first position was in a securities firm, assisting the firm’s lawyer in the evaluation of tax shelters. We summarized private placement memorandums and decided if the “deals” made sense for further investment. I learned to be extremely detail-oriented and wary of false claims. This experience helped pave the way for my career in wealth management, which puts a premium on trust, details, and service.

Faith Read Xenos, co-founding partner, Singer Xenos


The Miami Herald CEO Roundtable is a weekly feature that appears in Business Monday of the Miami Herald. Recent questions have included:

▪ CEOs embrace tech, but human touch is best

▪ It’s getting harder for employees and CEOs to disconnect while on vacation

▪ Florida’s legislators must act on economy and education, CEOs say

▪ Most CEOs provide paid internships, and everyone benefits

▪ Local firms rich in generational immigrants, CEO say, but deportation efforts worry some

▪ Long hours at the office? CEOs say how they avoid burnout

▪ CEOs prefer balance when dealing with a defiant employee

▪ The most important issue facing South Florida this year? CEOs say it’s traffic

▪ Have you been to Cuba? CEOs discuss business and travel opportunities on the island

▪ CEOs discuss their resolutions for the New Year

▪ CEOs: Trump, ugly politics among the biggest surprises of 2016

▪ CEOs’ top request for Trump’s first 100 days: ‘Unity’

▪ CEOs won’t tolerate ugly comments in the workplace

▪ CEOs assess South Florida’s economy for 2017

▪ Did Obamacare hurt your business? South Florida CEOs respond