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. Jeff Bowen, chief administrative officer at Dana Holding, has answered the question: What’s the biggest lesson you learned from your first job?
My first job was a paper carrier when I was 11 years old. For several years as a growing adolescent, I learned innumerable lessons in this role—many of which, believe it or not, I still draw on today.
Having a paper route meant that I was, in fact, a business owner—making deliveries, collecting money for goods delivered, interacting with customers, managing others, and paying the publisher for papers sold. At its peak, my route had more than 90 customers—which was considered a large route—and they were vital to my success. I always did my best to ensure their papers were delivered on time and according to their preferences, especially in inclement weather.
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The experience of interacting with and relating to others and, quite literally, “standing my ground,” came from the paperboy corner—where we waited for the truck to deliver the papers. The corner had very limited space, and us paperboys were forced to gather closely while we waited for our bundle. It was first come, first serve, and the quicker we received our papers, the quicker we could move on with the day’s deliveries. Boys will be boys, and naturally there were some heated debates between the paperboys regarding space and seniority. Learning how to be strong but still personable with my peers helped give me an edge and offered an important lesson in the value of personal relationships.
As I grew older, I learned the value of working smarter, and eventually hired several employees to help me cover my route. It was my first foray into people management.
Some of my helpers were reliable. Some were not. One, in particular, became responsible for half of my route, and handled the booklet we used to collect money from customers. After struggling to meet expenses for an extended period of time, I discovered my helper was embezzling funds. I addressed the issue with him (and his mother). Ultimately, he lost his collection book and delivered those papers with no compensation for one full summer.
Through these examples of cultivating personal relationships and managing conscientiously, I learned much about managing people. It’s an especially delicate balance to allow people to do their jobs while being diligent in paying attention to what’s going on. I’m grateful that I learned at an early age how important people management is and its ability to influence the success of a business.
Read all responses to the Fortune 500 Insider question: What’s the biggest lesson you learned from your first job?
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