Business leaders reveal the life lessons they picked up in their first jobs

PUBLISHED: 12:53 08 December 2018

John Dugmore as a younger chap

John Dugmore as a younger chap


Now they're high-flying business leaders, but there was a time when these guys were scrawny, nervous teens, eager to impress in their first jobs. We asked local business leaders what valuable skills they picked up from their first experiences of the world of work

John Dugmore in his pre Suffolk Chamber daysJohn Dugmore in his pre Suffolk Chamber days

‘Saturday jobs’ were once the go-to for young people looking to earn extra cash whilst studying; with hairdressers, shops and restaurants all being popular choices.

But a recent study by OneFamily states that the amount of teenagers with a part-time job has halved since their parents’ generation and 66% of that pool are now earning money from doing odd jobs or work with no set hours in the gig economy.

It seems we’re starting to witness the end of the humble Saturday job as the only way for the younger generation to earn extra income.

We asked a range of business leaders who are now at the pinnacle of their careers, what life skills they picked up in their first ever job - in those early years before they knew what career they’d end up in.

Charlie Jardine, founder of EO Charging   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNCharlie Jardine, founder of EO Charging Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

John Dugmore, chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce

I had a paper round when I was about 12 years old. I used to deliver papers for Bob the Newsagent in Poynton, which is now closed. I don’t recall doing it for long, mind, because I used to really dislike those doors you knew a big dog was behind when you stuck the paper in the letterbox! I also used to knock on doors with a friend and ask if people wanted their car cleaned on a Sunday - now you see hand car washes everywhere.

My first proper job was when I was 16 and worked at a hotel near Manchester Airport as a silver service waiter for weddings on Saturdays, but also to earn some extra cash I used to work in the Kitchen as the washer upper and did some night porting. It gave me confidence, as I was thrown into a kitchen with ‘vocal chefs’ and long-serving confident waiters. It taught me customer service, how to listen to the customer, how to be polite to a customer, turning up on time and working hard - waiting on and kitchen work is not easy, I can assure you. In return, I made some good friends and had some good laughs.

Charlie Jardine, founder of EO Charging   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNCharlie Jardine, founder of EO Charging Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Between the ages of 18 and 20, when I went onto another college, I used to sell Betterware (household stuff – brushes to toiletries to kitchen ware) door-to-door. I got about £30 a week, which helped with petrol for my battered mini to go to college and also my ‘beer and pub grub’.

The job taught me how to sell, and to talk people on their doorstep into taking a brochure and placing an order – let’s be fair, everyone needs a new brush.

Ken O’Toole, chief executive of Stansted Airport in Essex

Ken O'Toole, chief executive of Stansted Airport. Picture: TONY PICK PHOTOGRAPHYKen O'Toole, chief executive of Stansted Airport. Picture: TONY PICK PHOTOGRAPHY

My first job was picking fruit at a farm in Ireland - strawberries. I was 13, I think, which just shows you have things have changed in terms of employment law! I think it’s really important that people work from a young age and understand the value of a work ethic. They need to understand that they are in control of their own destiny.

The lesson for me was that you learn very quickly that you get out of a job what you put into it.

We are talking to our own college, Harlow College, at the moment about what sort of programme we can put in place for students to work for us in their holiday periods. There is an element of seasonal demand at airports and I think there is an opportunity to give some of the college students employment over the summer.

London Stansted chief exeucitve Ken OToole talking at Primera Airs launch event.London Stansted chief exeucitve Ken OToole talking at Primera Airs launch event.

Charlie Jardine, chief executive of EO Charging, a vehicle charging points manufacturer in Stowmarket

I used to pick litter up off the fields on our family farm in Creeting St Peter as a summer job. The first meaningful job I had came from a moment of inspiration when I was aged 16. Because we had a farm, there was a load of scrap metal lying around and I realised it must be worth something. So I went to see my uncle who runs a business, and asked him for all the right materials, and started cutting it up. I organised with a local logistics firm to borrow a big trailer, and hired my grandpa a digger. Once I’d cut up the metal, he’d load it into the trailer and we got a haulage guy to come pick it up once a week. I then sold it to a scrap metal dealer in Stowmarket - I was 16 and made £2,500 in a month, which was a huge amount of money! I went up to London for the weekend and blew it all. So the lesson I learnt was how to be an idiot! That was the quickest cash I’d ever earned, and the quickest cash I ever spent. It also taught me I liked to turn up to work when I want and leave when I want. I got a telling off from my dad one day because I’d made so much money, I didn’t want to do the work any more!

Ursula Austin, sales director for Ronalds Plastics and Electronic Terminations in Wickham Market, who is German by nationality.

Ursula Austin of Roland PlasticsUrsula Austin of Roland Plastics

When I was about 15, my mother worked in a plastics company, and I went to help her there one summer for work experience. Her bosses were quite impressed I think because they actually paid me for about two weeks. The next year, when I left school, they were my first point of call and my mother introduced me to the HR person. They were just starting apprenticeships and I was one of eight apprentices being appointed that year. So I did three year apprenticeship and eventually ended up with a business degree. In those three years, I had to do reception, I operated the telex machine, I worked in the registry office, in the factory, import export, and sales department. That was the best grounding I ever had, because I got to see the entire make up of a large company. So that’s where I started my career and now I’m 62, so I guess that’s also where I’ll finish my career, in the plastics industry!

Andrew Driver, head of taxation at Beatons Group in Ipswich

I worked in my uncle’s paint warehouse from when I was 13. It was a large site, supplying to both retailers and trade. It was a baptism of fire, from the banter of the adult customers, to a naïve teen who took things at face value and believed tales of being thrown in rubbish dumpsters. It certainly kept me on my toes!

Ursula Austin of Roland PlasticsUrsula Austin of Roland Plastics

But I think the abiding memory was about how to look after people and how appreciative they were when I got it right, from my work colleagues to the customers. When I look back, the recognition was almost as valuable as the monetary rewards - although the money helped me purchase my Puma King Football boots, best boot ever!

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