When I arrived in Los Angeles in December 1983, I got a job in the mailroom at Charles Schwab. My duties were to fold, stuff and mail what seemed like a billion letters a day. By the end of each shift, I had so many papercuts you’d think I’d lost a fight with Edward Scissorhands. Ugh. It was horrible.
Here’s some free career advice; If your job is just a job, quit
Driving my little white MGB sports car to work meant taking Western to the 10, the 10 to the 405 and the 405 to Santa Monica Boulevard. It took forty-five minutes on a good day, ninety on a bad. To avoid traffic on my return commute, I joined the Playboy Club in Century City to hang out after work. I remember thinking maybe I’d meet my future wife there, I’d rescue her and return her to the Midwest, her virtues still intact. The Playboy Club also had a free toasted ravioli appetizer that served as my dinner every night.
Around 50 people worked in our branch in jobs ranging from mine in the mailroom to the Vice President and Branch Manager. Most of us were young, single and enjoyed working for a company that was skyrocketing.
About a month after I started, we moved from the top floor of the Century City twin towers to street level at 1901 Avenue of the Stars. The night before the move, our manager asked if people could come after hours and help. Never in a hurry to drive home, I thought helping with the move sounded fun. Besides, my company needed my help.
I didn’t mean to stand out, but I did. More advice; Stand out for the right reasons
Instead of heading to the Playboy Club, I figured I’d start moving desks. My manager, her husband and I got to work. As we were moving things, my manager discussed with her husband a likely time to expect everyone to show up. They both agreed it would probably be after dinner. Well, dinner-time came and went and nobody showed. As midnight approached, the three of us were tiring. It was clear no one else was coming to help.
While I was only 20, I was smart enough to know my manager was pretty upset. Her husband, who worked at a competing brokerage, tried to keep the mood light. Nothing worked. Of her 50 employees, only the kid from the mailroom had shown up and it hurt. It hurt her a lot.
That night, driving with the top down, Santa Monica Boulevard, the 405, the 10 and Western were free of cars and I skated home in no time flat. It felt great, yet surreal as I reflected on being the only person who showed up
The next morning in the break-room I asked several people why they hadn’t shown up to help. “Not my job,” I heard a lot. “Our department isn’t responsible for moving,” one person said. Maybe it was because I had the lowest job at Schwab, but “Not my job” just didn’t make sense. I mean we all worked for Schwab, didn’t we? We did. So, what gives?
In the years since I became an entrepreneur, I’ve thought about that night in Century City many times. You see, when you first start a company, you are alone. You wear every hat. You do everything. Everything is your job. When you start hiring people, you look for people who can and will do everything, too. There is no room for people who say “Not my job,” because a not-my-job-mentality kills companies. I loathe “Not my job.” If it rears its ugly head, I take action to fix that problem and I do it swiftly.
Just a little more career advice; If you stand out for the right reasons, good things might happen
After about 4 months on the job, I graduated to running the switchboard over the noon hour. “Charles Schwab Century City” was a mouthful, but I got the hang of it. I kind of enjoyed being a receptionist. It was a break from folding, stuffing, licking, spitting, sorting and metering the mail.
One day, while answering the phones and reading the company newsletter, I noticed a job posting at the St. Louis branch that sounded interesting. Though I was nowhere near qualified, and it was 2,000 miles away, I applied for it. My manager, the same manager I’d helped with the furniture, said “Jack, you aren’t qualified for that job.” But, as I was walking out of her office, she said “However, if we work together, we can get you qualified.”
A month later I got the job
On my final day at the Century City branch, my manager, Carol took $250 cash from her purse and handed it to me. She had rightly assumed I needed gas money. Then, with a sparkle in her eye that only Hemingway could adequately describe, she gave me a big hug and said, “Go conquer the world, Jack Perry.”