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Augusta-area leaders share memories from first jobs

Successful business leaders talk about their first jobs

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VERA STEWART

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Jim Stiff, who had a variety of jobs growing up in Michigan, at the construction site for a new campus for Goodwill Industries.   JACKIE RICCIARDI/STAFF
JACKIE RICCIARDI/STAFF
Jim Stiff, who had a variety of jobs growing up in Michigan, at the construction site for a new campus for Goodwill Industries.

PRESIDENT AND CEO OF VERYVERA

My first job was working the switchboard at Belk Matthews in Macon, Ga. I worked directly beside the office of the president, vice president and secretary of the company, which happened to be the dad and his two sons.

I remember how important I felt to have a job at 15 and how especially proud I was to be working in the executive suite. I watched every move those three men made, and to this day I recognize Bill Matthews as a huge influence in my life. He loved his job, his family business (his middle name was Belk), and he was loved by every member of his staff for this show of enthusiasm for the business. I am still in touch with him today.

I have taken the mentorship with me to VeryVera. I have been an employer of young people throughout my 28-year history and, as we speak, have a college student in the building right now and two high school students that will arrive when school is out. During the holidays, I may have as many as 20 young people in the building.

I take their presence very seriously as I feel I, too, have a mentorship role in their life. I am very thankful for the opportunity to work for the Matthews’ family and Belk’s all the way through high school.


REMER BRINSON III

PRESIDENT AND CEO OF FIRST BANK OF GEORGIA

I had a bunch of jobs growing up, and I was always working in high school and college. My first one that I had for a pretty good while was delivering flowers for Gibson’s Flowers and Gifts. I’d work after school, drive around and work on weekends. I’d work around the shop and do whatever needed to be done. Gene (Gibson) was a great guy, and was really instrumental in starting the Summerville Neighborhood Association and a lot of that kind of stuff. I probably worked there 2 1/2 years in high school.

I did a lot of stuff. I pumped gas at a gas station, worked at a record store, worked at some men’s clothing stores.

Those jobs all taught me that you have to be present to win, and you have to be there. Work can be fun; it’s nice to make some of your own money. It’s a job; you have to be there when you’re supposed to be there and do what you’re supposed to do. All of my jobs were out in the public, around other people, which I enjoyed.


DR. ANTHONY ROBINSON

PROFESSOR AT AUGUSTA STATE UNIVERSITY’S HULL COLLEGE OF BUSINESS

My first job was actually a pretty simple job. I cut grass, but it was really, really cool because it allowed me to apply skills that I had learned as a young man. My father was in the military, and he was a big disciplinarian, so I remember the things he taught my brothers and me. One of the things he taught us was to be detail-oriented. We had to clean our rooms and clean the house, et cetera, but I was able to apply that skill set in cutting grass.

What I realized was that by doing that, it gave me a competitive advantage in a field that is relatively not that distinct. I mean, how many ways can you cut the grass? The way that you separate yourself is by being detail oriented. In addition to being detail oriented, that taught me how to have a competitive advantage, and how to separate myself from other people. People always talk about what you do, but understanding how you do it is something completely different.

The other thing it taught me was understanding the customer. When you went to cut the grass, some people really, really wanted it well-manicured. They wanted it edged; they wanted the bushes hedged; they wanted it done magnificently. Other people just wanted the grass cut. To be efficient and effective, I learned that the most important thing for me to do was to understand the customer. What does the customer want? What does the customer prefer, and when do they want it? That helped me to develop some customer-satisfaction skills.

I worked for myself. So I pushed a lawn mower around and I did those kinds of things and that developed this entrepreneurial spirit that I have and that I’m very passionate about as it relates to the Augusta community. I realized that the harder I worked, the more successful I was, or as successful as you can be as a young man. So I was able to develop this sense of entrepreneurialism as a young man, this entrepreneurial spirit, going to get it for myself.


JAMES K. STIFF

PRESIDENT AND CEO OF GOODWILL INDUSTRIES OF MIDDLE GEORGIA AND THE CSRA

I grew up out in the country in Michigan, and when I was 17 I found out that if I moved to the big city of Flint, Mich., I could graduate a half year early. I moved to Flint and got two jobs and got an apartment with a former teacher of mine. One place was called The Farm Restaurant, where I was a dishwasher. That job helped me be motivated to go to college, and it also helped me keep my hands real clean.

I also worked at the YMCA. I was a youth specialist and I worked with all the young people that came in on the lower level of the Flint, Mich., Y and oversaw the recreation areas and was involved with helping out with some recreation classes.

The youth recreation job was very much different from the job at the restaurant, and I was intrigued by the hospitality industry and went on to become a waiter for four years through undergraduate and graduate school. That kind of fits into us going into the hospitality industry. Working with the youth, that really got me interested in human services. Both those jobs had something to do with helping my career path.

It was an opportunity to apply the things I had learned from working around my home. My grandfather had a farm, and I had worked on it ever since I was old enough to dig a hole. My grandpa used to always tell these stories about work ethic, and he would say things like, “Put your signature in the corner of everything you do, Jimmy.” I got to apply those things I had heard around the dinner table. It was a good opportunity to implement the work ethic that my family tradition had passed on to me.


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