By Nancy Duarte

[This is the fifth article in a series on first jobs. You can read the previous four articles here, here, here, and here. Nancy previously posted these reflections on LinkedIn.]

Nothing exciting happened at my first job as a cashier at Long’s Drugs until Pete came through my line. He said, “You seem too smart to be working here,” and offered me a job at his typewriter repair and office supply store. I was 19, with no college degree, and someone thought I was smart!

What I didn’t know is that I was about to get an on-the-job MBA. Pete had me do all the purchasing, file state sales tax, report payroll tax, inventory products, pay the bills, vacuum the floors and pushed me out the door to cold call on companies while driving his decade-old persimmon-colored Toyota Corolla.

Nancy Duarte

Nancy Duarte

Within three years I had quintupled his business. Pete gave me an amazing gift: he stripped the mystery out of being an entrepreneur and I had tasted blood!

There are some fundamental values I picked up while working for Pete that have carried into my own firm:

Hire for passion, skills can be taught: When you see someone with great potential, believe in their potential and teach them the skills. The first handful of employees we hired at Duarte only had high school or associate degrees, but we loved their passion and built a solid firm from their contributions.

Excellent service makes the phone ring: Follow-up, follow-through and cheerfulness seem like basic skills. It seems simple, but with technology solving everything, creating a human connection helps get you repeat business. We launched Duarte on great service because none of us were qualified to do what we were doing (see item#1).

Sell every day: Push yourself out the door and pick up the phone even on days you would rather not sell. Tenacity, persistence and moxie pay off (plus I’ve sent out hundreds of hand-written notes over the years).

Feedback is important: I worked for Pete and 3 other companies before starting Duarte. Not one of my managers gave me an employee review. I always knew my employee anniversary date and would anxiously await feedback and none ever came. I really would have loved feedback (and even a little encouragement). At Duarte, we buy balloons for each employee on their anniversary to say “thanks.”

I left Pete’s store after three years to work for one of my clients—the only high-tech company in Chico, CA at the time, which made transitioning to the Silicon Valley easy for me. Having caught the entrepreneurial bug from Pete, I knew I would be happiest when I could control my own destiny by starting my own firm.

(Photo credits: Nancy Duarte.)

Nancy Duarte is CEO of Duarte, Inc. and the author of Resonate, Slide:ology, and the HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations. She has a passion for teaching others about the power of persuasive presentations that drive change in the world. Join her conversation at @nancyduarte.

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.


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