(The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed
are his own.)
By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK, June 1Thanks to TV shows like "Mad
Men," the advertising world seems to many to be impossibly
stylish and full of intrigue.
The real-life starts of the nation's ad giants? Not so
glamorous. For the latest in Reuters' "First Jobs" series, we
talked to a few top ad execs about the gigs that got them
Chairman and CEO, Interpublic
First job: Hat seller
This was back in college, and the family of one of my
fraternity brothers owned a hat company. At the time, the New
York World's Fair was taking place, so I worked at the fair
selling hats. This would have been in 1964 - my God I'm old.
In essence I was a barker, standing out there trying to get
people's attention. My favorite phrases were 'Lids for the
Kids!' and 'Hats for the Brats!' I was pretty good at it. I
remember once it was pouring, and a guy came up to me dripping
wet and offered to buy my raincoat and shoes. I sold him the
raincoat - not the shoes.
I learned a lot from that job. It taught me how to deal with
people from all over the world, and the professional barkers
taught me how to really work a crowd. I was also able to wander
around the World's Fair when no one else was there, which was
pretty cool. My dates were always very impressed.
CEO, DDB North America
First job: McDonald's
I worked for two years at the McDonald's on Bee Ridge Road
in Sarasota, Florida. It was right at the end of my
neighborhood, and I used to ride by little bike there.
My entire goal was to save enough money to buy a car,
because I didn't come from a family that could afford that kind
of thing. I started as a front-line cashier, but eventually I
knew how to do every single job in the restaurant. I worked my
way up to become shift manager, which gave me a whole lot of
ambition and confidence.
In the end, I did save enough to buy that car, a
six-year-old white Chevy Cavalier. Just recently, my agency
pitched and won the U.S. business of McDonald's. So that was a
lovely turn of events. And I still have an old picture of me in
my blue nylon uniform.
Global President, Wieden + Kennedy
First job: Oil tank cleaner
I worked for a summer cleaning oil tanks on a tank farm in
Fontana, California. The job paid well - about $15 an hour - but
it was so difficult. When you emptied the tanks, the floating
roofs they had ended up about five feet above the floor. So you
can’t stand up straight. You are sitting in five inches of
You have to put on a rain suit, and you are using a hot
steam pressure-washer to loosen the tar. It's about 100 degrees
outside, and about 140 inside. It's dark. The fumes are
I’d come home and take a shower and, you know how when oil
meets water on the road you see rainbows? I’d get out of the
shower and there would be rainbows of oil skim coming off me.
I knew that I wanted to work in a different environment, but
the job taught me about the importance of a team - the people
who worked there depended on each other. And that’s something
that has stuck with me.
Chairman and CEO, Deutsch North America
First job: Zamboni driver
Back in high school in Michigan I worked at an ice rink for
a year, and I desperately wanted to move from cleaning the
locker rooms to driving the Zamboni. So I made friends with the
manager, and he taught me how to drive it. The only problem was
that I was 14 years old at the time. Nobody knew, and nobody
I couldn't tell them I didn't actually have a license. But I
learned pretty fast, because in Michigan, you learn to drive on
ice or you don't survive. Once the rink closed, around 1 or 2
am, I used to invite my buddies in, put a rope behind the
Zamboni and then drag them around the ice.
What I learned from that job is, if somebody ever asks if
you can do something, say yes and then figure the details out
(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Dan Grebler)