Outlook 2012: Important lessons there to be learned on first job
Prominent local business people share their experiences from Woolworth’s to shoveling coal
Even jobs that might seem menial are a valuable part of the big picture. John Buhrmaster, president of First National Bank of Scotia, learned that from his fi rst job.
Back in 1979, when he was 15, Buhrmaster shoveled coal at the J.H. Buhrmaster Co., a fuel oil distributor and heating contractor founded by his great-grandfather.
“I would bag 50-pound bags of coal — shovel it into the bag, weigh them and tie them and stack them up and get them ready for sale,” he explained.
It was hard work, but he liked it.
“It involved getting something right. You had to get an exact measurement, and there was always a sense of accomplishment. I was always trying to get that pile down,” he said.
Although he now spends his days in meetings and doing paperwork, a lesson he learned from the physical labor he did as a teen sticks with him to this day.
“In order to run a business, you really need to understand all the jobs, and there is no job that’s beneath anybody,” he said. “Everybody from entry level to management should be willing to do what’s necessary to make the business succeed.”
Andrea Crisafulli Russo, owner and president of Crisafulli Brothers Plumbing and Heating Contractors Inc., learned the value of a dollar and of hard work at her fi rst job as a cashier and customer service rep for Woolworth’s Department Store in Delmar. She started working there in 1983, when she was 16.
“I remember I hated having to get the fish out of the tank. I remember the snack bar made great grilled cheese sandwiches. It was my first experience with customer service, and I really did like it. And I still do,” she said.
Crisafulli Russo worked as many hours as she could at Woolworth’s, after school and on Saturdays.
“It wasn’t a bad job at all. It defi - nitely started the work ethic,” she said. “My father was big on savings accounts, so half my money went to a savings account and half my money was play money, so it defi - nitely helped me with money and learning about saving and spending.”
Jeff Haraden, president of Mohawk Honda, earned just a little more than minimum wage at his first job. Along with the pocket money, he also earned an appreciation for the hard work hourly employees do.
In 1971, when he was 15, he cleaned out used cars at his dad’s car dealership, Mohawk Chevrolet, in Schenectady.
“Back then, people used to smoke with the windows up, and a couple of the cars had about a quarter-inch of nicotine on the whole inside of the car that I had to scrape off with razor blades and whatever else I could find to try and get it off the interior. It was disgusting,” he recalled. “The employees that I worked with always made sure that I always got the worst of the worst [cars to clean] because I was the boss’s son.”
That less-than-glamorous job taught Haraden that hard work pays off.
“It also helped me, I think, understand other jobs that are done by hourly people at the dealership and how hard the job is and how good they do the job,” he said.
CAP COM Federal Credit Union’s president, Paula Stopera, got a healthy dose of reality at her first job. At age 14, she worked as a park attendant for the city of Cohoes. While helping to supervise and entertain the children who came to the park for day camp in the summer of 1973, she was surprised to learn not every employee had the same strict work ethic she did.
“Dealing with that, to try to create the most pleasant work environment and to stay civil with each other and make sure that we were friends at the end of the summer was an important part of the lesson,” she said.
That first job also helped her hone her working-world likes and dislikes. “I learned that I love people and I needed that interaction. I learned that I didn’t want to work outside in the summer, because it really got hot at times and there was no escaping it. I like air conditioning. My hair likes air conditioning,” she joked.
Billy Fuccillo, CEO of the Fuccillo Automotive Group, learned the value of play from his early jobs. Fuccillo landed his very fi rst paid gig as a young teen, washing dishes for minimum wage at a nursing home.
“There wasn’t much exciting stuff about sticking dishes in a dishwasher. The best thing about it was I got to look at the pretty nurses or something,” he said.
The real learning started at his second job, as a bouncer at a nightclub in Westhampton Beach. He recalled good times with his fellow employees.
“That was living back then. That wasn’t washing dishes at the nursing home,” he assured. “We’d hang out at the beach clubs all day and then work the Pavilion [nightclub] at night. It was great.”
That fondly remembered summer stint taught him the value of both work and play.
“You’ve got to know how to have a good time and also know how to work,” he said. “Someday you’re going to be on the other side of the pavement, so you might as well enjoy today for what it is.”
An on-the-books job is also an introduction to the world of paying taxes. That concept was a surprise to Linda LaRue, co-owner of LaRue Farms in Ballston Spa, when she started her first job.
Back in the mid-60s, when she was a young teen, LaRue packed eggs at Thomas Poultry Farm in Bacon Hill, just north of Schuylerville.
“We used to do 25,000 eggs on a Saturday, and now that’s just peanuts for what they do,” she said.
The eggs would come down a conveyor belt, and after they were checked for blood spots and weighed, LaRue would pack them into boxes. She enjoyed the income and the sense of independence the job provided.
“One of the eye-opening experiences was Social Security,” she recalled. “I had never been introduced to that, so to speak, and the realization the government was going to take part of my paycheck, that was a very different way of looking at life.”
First jobs often provide lessons in teamwork. James Connolly, president and CEO of Ellis Medicine, found that to be true back in 1969 when at age 17 he started working as a stock boy in the women’s shoe department at Lord and Taylor in Manhasset.
“That evolved into my selling women’s shoes, which I did off and on throughout all my college vacations and summer vacations. I actually wasn’t bad at it,” he noted.
The best part about his job was his co-workers, he said.
“They were like a family, and so they kind of adopted me, and I loved them to death,” he said.
When fellow employees were having a slow sales day, he learned to pitch in.
“If somebody was having a good day and somebody was having an off day, they used to give the sale to the person having the off day,” he recounted. “They taught me that. I watched them do it, by example, and said, ‘Oh, this is a nice thing to do. This is an appropriate thing to do.’ And that was good.”
That first experience with working often brings with it more cash than a kid has ever laid hands on. At his first job, Angelo Mazzone, owner of Mazzone Hospitality, learned that hard work usually equals a respectable paycheck.
He started working at age 11 at a takeout pizza parlor run by his grandfather in the Long Island hamlet of Roosevelt.
“I think [I made] $1 an hour, when he felt like paying me,” Mazzone recalled.
Mazzone put together pies there and at various pizza parlors and Italian restaurants throughout Long Island until he graduated from high school.
Working in a family-owned business taught him family values and how to meet the expectations of the family members he worked for, he said.
“You were taught the value of money, and you knew if you worked you would get paid, and it had value,” he said. “It wasn’t just handed over to you.”
Susan Dake, president of the Stewart’s Foundation, learned a lot from her fi rst paying position as a counselor at a New Jersey summer day camp, where she worked when she was in her early teens.
“We were in charge of entertaining the little darlings, and we did crafts with them and played games,” she recalled.
Although she got paid next to nothing, she left the job with valuable teaching experience that served her well later in life, when she taught nursery school and elementary school, as well as in her work with Stewart’s Shops.
“Teaching prepares you for everything,” she said. “I think to teach is really all about communication and motivating people and controlling a group of people and bringing out the best in them. It’s really management, when you think about it.”
Starting at the bottom of the ladder in the grocery business taught Neil Golub that every job is important. Until recently, Golub was CEO and chairman of the board of the Golub Corp. and its Price Chopper Supermarkets chain. Now executive chairman of the board, Golub has been in the grocery business since 1947. That year, when he was 10, he got his first paying job at the Central Market on Broadway in Schenectady, a grocery store run by his father and uncle.
His first paycheck was 55 cents, which he earned for stocking a shelf with shoe polish.
When Golub was in eighth or ninth grade, he began working summers at his family’s grocery store on Eastern Parkway in Schenectady. Over the years, he did just about every job in the business, from cutting meat to pasting labels on tin cans of peas and carrots.
“As you went through the organization, you learned that what everybody did was important,” he said. “If you work in a warehouse, that’s an important job because if you don’t ship what’s ordered, then a customer is disappointed. If you’re a driver and you don’t get the order to a store in time, you can disappoint a customer, and that’s important. If you sweep the floor in a store, that’s important because customers want a clean store. If you cut the meat right or you cut it wrong, it matters, and so everyone counts and everything matters.”