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Bay area leaders' first jobs, lessons learned

What was your first job? And did you learn anything doing it that helped you along the way? Here are eight area business and education leaders who, as panelists at a recent conference on the area workforce, were asked by the editor of the Tampa Bay Business Journal to recall their first — often humbling — work experiences. You may identify with some of them. And laugh at others. — Robert Trigaux, Times business columnist

She was a high school secretary and typist — long before computers and word processors could easily fix typing errors — for a demanding executive. "He wanted a letter done absolutely correctly. It took me all day. Perfection was required. It was a rude awakening to the world of work!"

Judy Genshaft, University of South Florida president

He waited tables and was a busboy at a restaurant. The first time he waited on a couple, they ordered glasses of wine, which he delivered and promptly spilled all over them. After helping to dry them off, he delivered two more glasses to replace those he spilled, and again dumped them on his customers. "They tipped me $50. When I asked why, they said, 'You are a horrible waiter and need to get out of this business.' "

Tony DiBenedetto, CEO of Tampa tech services firm Tribridge

As a rookie salesman for IBM, he was handed a ZIP code and told to persuade small businesses there to spend a lot of money for an IBM computer that did less than today's smartphone. Back then, IBM was strictly a white shirt, dark suit culture. "I only owned four white shirts, so on Friday I wore a blue shirt and thought I looked pretty good. That was when the boss of my boss walked over and told me to go home at once and never again wash a white shirt with blue socks."

Bob Dutkowsky, CEO of Clearwater distributor Tech Data Corp.

After working in the family construction business in southern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, he got a job after college working for Sen. Paula Hawkins, a Republican and, so far, the only woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Florida. "She was known as the housewife from Maitland, and I learned many great traits from her."

Paul Anderson, president of the Tampa Port Authority

He sold shoes on Long Island for W.T. Grant, a national department store chain that met its demise in 1975. His experience taught him all about customer service. "My job was to make people happy."

Bill Law, president of St. Petersburg College

She approached a local radio station in south Georgia and persuaded it to give her a try as a DJ. She got a job anchoring the midnight-to-6 a.m. time slot playing country music. "I learned that you have to be bold and ask for what you want."

Ginger Clark, Hillsborough Community College director of technical programs

He picked tobacco, but his first real job was as a sander in a car repair shop for $1.60 an hour. That was the new minimum wage in 1968, when it was raised from $1.40. That job "taught me to be meticulous."

David Barnes, Pinellas County schools career/adult education director

He first worked for the Florida-based Badcock chain of stores delivering furniture. He learned a different side of the business when he worked in collections for Badcock — taking back the furniture from customers who failed to keep up their payments.

Scott Brooks, Hillsborough County schools career/adult education director

Bay area leaders' first jobs, lessons learned 01/17/14 [Last modified: Thursday, January 23, 2014 4:30pm]
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