Starting at the bottom: Chattanooga area business leaders remember their first jobs

Starting at the bottom: Chattanooga area business leaders remember their first jobs

June 24th, 2012 in Business Around the Region

Ted Alling, Roger Layne and Carolyn Jones, from left

First jobs rarely are glamorous.

Whether standing next to the deep-fry machine at a fast-food restaurant, running like crazy to serve customers at the mall or doing time in the family business, most everyone has had a job that gave him an idea of what he does and, more often than not, does not want to do in life.

Several of Chattanooga's business leaders remember those starting positions. Though they may have dreaded them at the time, many say they learned a lot from the experience and were better for it.

"If you're looking for your first job, don't look for the ultimate job. You're not going to find it," said Dan Frierson, chief executive officer of Dixie Group. "Nobody starts doing what they're going to do for life. You've got to work yourself by performing and showing interest."

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., is touting his experience as a $2.10-an-hour worker at McDonald's as a teenager in his re-election commercials.

Fleischmann says he "learned the value of hard work" and how to support himself after living on his own from age 16. Fleisch-mann, a Chattanooga attorney, is running for a second term in the U.S. House this year and claims his early experiences help him better understand most Tennesseans.

Most people don't have a firm idea of what they want to do for their whole lives when they're looking for that first job, experts say. Those who do often find their ideas have changed by the time they're older.

"Over time, you find your way to what you want to be," Frierson said. "Find something you love to do. If you love to do it, it's not work."

Here's what company heads in the Scenic City had to say about their first job experiences:

Ted Alling, CEO of Access America Transport

* First job: Busboy at The Silvertron Cafe in Alabama, at 15.

* Responsibilities: Wash tables and dishes, wait on customers and help out around the restaurant.

* What did you make?: Minimum wage, between $4 and $5 an hour.

* What did you learn from that job? How to work on a team and serve customers. "Working in a restaurant, you obviously have a lot of teamwork," he said. "I think if you have a kid today, working in the restaurant industry is very important because you have to learn customer service. I think that's a really good lesson for kids to learn at an early age."

* Lifelong lessons: Since Alling started Access America Transport, the kind of customer service he learned waiting tables has been a top priority. His dishwashing skills have helped him in his personal life, too. "It may have even helped me get my wife, because I still enjoy doing the dishes," he said. "I'm really good at it, actually. I'm really good at cleaning a table, too."

Roger Layne, chief executive of East Tech Co.

* First job: Lawn maintenance.

* Responsibilities: Cut grass, sweep sidewalks.

* What did you make? About 25 cents a yard in the 1960s.

* What did you learn from that job? He said his brother was his boss and he didn't want to disappoint him. He said he worked hard to prove himself and be the best employee.

* Lifelong lessons: He said that despite being only 12 and the job requiring a lot of physical labor, he refused to quit.

Carolyn Jones, chief executive of C.J. Enterprises Inc.

* First job: Baby sitting and housecleaning.

* Responsibilities: Watching children and cleaning for people who lived nearby.

* What did you make? About $5 per day in the 1960s.

* What did you learn from that job? She said she learned that she didn't have to continue to do that work if she got an education and set goals.

* Lifelong lessons: She said she learned how to save money for a rainy day.

Dan Frierson, CEO, Dixie Group

* First job: Plant worker for Dixie Yarns.

* Responsibilities: Cleaning up facilities in the basement of a dye house. Frierson said he soon moved up in the company. "After I graduated from business school, I did every job in the cotton mill."

* What did you make? Just over a dollar an hour.

* What did you learn from that job? Frierson said he learned job basics such as showing up on time, but also how to relate to and work with other people in the plant.

* Lifelong lessons: The importance of remembering there are good people at every level of a company.

Ron Beaver, chief operating officer for Terenine

* First job: Helping out on his uncle's farm at age 12.

* Responsibilities: Whatever his uncle needed him to do.

* What did you make? $25 a week in 1972.

* What did you learn from the job? The value of hard work

* Lifelong lessons: Beaver's aunt and uncle served as good examples of how to live and work. They taught him to appreciate the value of a hard day's work.

What was your first job and what did you learn from it? Please let us know in this article's comments section.