Frank Carni, head of auto claims at Farmers Insurance
Courtesy of Farmers Insurance
By Frank Carni
November 18, 2015

The Fortune 500 Insider Network is an online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. Frank Carni, head of auto claims at Farmers Insurance, has answered the question: What’s the biggest lesson you learned from your first job?

First jobs often lay the foundation for the kinds of employees and managers we ultimately become. I know mine did.

When I was 15 years old, I landed my first real job with a mom-and-pop sub sandwich shop. The job wasn’t difficult—all it really required was being friendly, working the register, and making sandwiches—but I showed up on time every day, did my duties well, and took home some valuable lessons.

Of those first lessons, these three had the greatest impact on me and represent some of the values I try to reinforce in the employees I lead today:

Take the time to connect with your customers
At the sub shop, I would chat with customers while working the counter, and over time, built a certain rapport with them. I didn’t realize it until a coworker told me one day that customers were asking about me on my days off. To have that kind of an impact on someone when you’re just making a sandwich was a surprise to me. Today, I stress the importance of connecting with our customers who are dealing with the impacts and anxieties of an accident or claim. We have the opportunity to make a difference in their lives.

Encourage ownership and accountability
I had only been working at the sub shop for a couple of months when, one afternoon, I was pulled aside and asked to lock up the store that night—a huge responsibility for someone who wasn’t even old enough to drive. I remember having a true sense of ownership. I had been trusted with something important—something larger than my usual job.

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I’ve kept that feeling close at every job since, looking for ways to build trust and responsibility, no matter what position. Now, as a leader at Farmers Insurance, I look for ways to encourage that greater sense of ownership and accountability among the members of my organization. It’s important to empower people and give them the opportunity to have the discussions with customers that solve problems and generate new ideas.

Take the job where you can make the biggest difference
Working at a sub shop wasn’t glamorous, but there was opportunity to grow as an employee. I was able to learn and take on additional responsibilities—like locking up the store some nights—that made the business run better and helped prepare me for future positions. That’s the kind of environment I’ve looked for whenever considering new positions over the years. Regardless of salary level or title, I ask these three questions: “Will I have the ability to improve things at this company?” “How will I add value?” and “What skills will I learn in the process?” If you’re able to make a difference, everything that comes with fulfillment and success will ultimately follow.

I’ve had many different jobs since working for the sub shop, but I’ve never forgotten what it taught me: Connect with customers, take ownership, and look for opportunities where you can make a difference.


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