Stepping Stones to Marketing Success

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DMN's 2014 40 Under 40 Award winners discuss how their very first job make an impact on their marketing career.

From waiting tables and writing code, and from dishwashing to door-to-door sales, the Direct Marketing News 2014 40 Under 40 Award winners launched into their work life with jobs as diverse as the industries they now serve. Each of these roles serve as influencers in myriad ways: setting a course for their career paths, providing an understanding of the importance of customer service, gaining an appreciation for the sense of accomplishment that comes with hard work, discovering possibilities.

Here, the winners reveal their first job and the affect it's had on their marketing career.

Focusing on the customer

James Kugler
Director, Global Digital Marketing at Sigma-Aldrich
“I handed out towels at a pool in Cape Cod; there's a lot of tourism there. It had a huge influence on me because there was so much focus on the lifetime value of a customer—in this case the tourist who you wanted to keep coming back.”

Mike Santoro, President
Walker Sands Communications
I was a busboy at the Classic Corner Café at age 14. I learned that you should work hard, always have a smile, and be proactive.... That was my introduction to the services business, and I still use a lot of those lessons today as I talk to clients.”

Amanda Levy
SVP & Managing Director, Critical Mass
Working for her father at his lawn and garden distribution company. “I learned a lot about integrity, customer service, and hard work. I also learned to smile no matter how tired you are or how tough your day has been.” 

Josh Blacksmith
SVP, Management Director, FCB Global
“My first job out of college was in direct mail sales. It taught me the importance of client service, as well as the importance of measuring return on investment. I still use a lot of those skills today in the agency.”

Darr Gerscovich
VP Marketing, Ensighten
“As a tour guide at the University of California, San Diego. The college applicants hid in the back while their parents bombarded me with questions in the front. It taught me about communicating with different audiences that had disparate interests. It also taught me to walk backwards, which hasn't served me as well.”

Carina Pologruto
GM & EVP of Client Services,  Marketsmith Inc.
During high school, as a file clerk in a doctor's office. “The environment was so fast-paced. I was enlisted to answer phones, deal with patients, even process accounts receivable. It was my first exposure to customer service. You were dealing with people who are nervous or scared and had to find the right way to communicate clearly and respectfully.”

Ron Selvey
VP of Marketing WebDAM, a Shutterstock Company
“At 14 years old I landed my first job as a server at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant called California Burger. I was a server, but I also was a cashier and a busboy. [I was] working the whole front of the restaurant. It taught me how to focus on the customer experience first and foremost. We had a lot of people that would return on the same day just to say hello again and chat it up. It also taught me how to make a mean milkshake and some of the best cheese sticks.”

Michelle Killebrew
Program Director of Strategy and Solutions, IBM Social Business
“My very first job was babysitting. My first official pay-check job was in a shop in a retail environment. Both of those really teach you to be patient and think about others' people's needs first. In the first instance, it's the child. In the second instance, it's the customer. It's really putting that end-user hat on when you think about how you approach different problems.”

Julia Smith
VP, Technology, Epsilon
“Diary Queen. I served up soft serve. I can honestly say that's where I first learned about good customer service.”

Kristen Kaefer
Senior Director, Digital Marketing, NetApp Inc.
“I sold shoes at Koplin Sports. I quickly learned to speak to my audience in a way that resonates with them. If they were interested in running shoes, I made sure to cross-sell and upsell clothes and accessories for running.”

Melissa Burdon
Director of Marketing Operations, Extra Space Storage 
“I worked at a clothing store when I was 14. I was always interested in getting to know people.”

Learning the value of hard work

Cari Bucci
EVP/General Manager, MARC USA Chicago
“I was a triple threat—cleaning lady, cashier, and cook at a local deli—all for $1.50 an hour. I worked for an older couple who had put their lives into the business. I really respected them, and I saw firsthand the need to work hard for something that matters to you—especially if it's your own.”

Jenne Barbour
Solutions Strategist, Marketing Applications, Teradata
“Cleaning my dad's office. It taught me the value of hard work and to appreciate even the small things.”

Sean Lyons
Global Chief Digital Officer, Havas Worldwide
“I was a dishwasher at a pizza restaurant when I was 13. Just grit and determination—that's definitely what I learned from that.”

Amy Hoopes
CMO and EVP, Global Sales, Wente Family Estates
“I can't remember my first job. I've always been motivated to work, from extra chores at home to cleaning out the neighbors' closets, mowing lawns, and babysitting. But my first official paycheck came from my role as an expeditor at a white tablecloth restaurant. My sister Dawn begged me to take the job because it was the only way she could get promoted to full waitress. I simply don't view working hard as hard work.”

Leerom Segal
Cofounder and CEO, Klick Health
“I started my first company when I was 12, but I also did a lot of stuff like lawn mowing and shoveling before that. My first ‘real' job was with [Klick Health cofounder] Peter [Cordy].”

Michael D'Adamo
Founder and CEO, T.O.P. Marketing Group
"Door-to-door sales." Enough said.

Kane Russell
VP of Marketing, Waterfall
“I was a dishwasher at a resort that had 2,000 to 5,000 people eating dinner every night. I cleaned floors and developed the best calluses you could ever possibly develop.”

Kim Land
Marketing Director, Herald-Journal
“I started working in my senior year of high school. I worked a commission-based position at JCPenny. Before that, I once got paid $50 to be a model at a Belk's fashion show.

Lauren Tetuan
EVP, Director of Digital Media, Deutsch LA
“I taught arts and craft to young children at parks. My next job was a bank teller.”

Matthew Greitzer
Cofounder and COO, Accordant Media
“I washed pots and pans at a ski resort. I got to ski for free!”

Matthew Mierzejewski
EVP of Client Service and Delivery, RKG
“I waited tables when I was 16.”

Building a business foundation

Uwe Gutschow
VP, Digital Strategy and Engagement, INNOCEAN USA
“It was probably when I was 11 years old. All of the kids back then were into marbles and marble games. They'd take a shoebox, put it against the wall, and cut out different holes. Each little hole would have a different number on top of it, and you would stand a certain number of feet away. If you had a marble, you were trying to get it into the shoebox [and] into one of the holes. If you got it into the hole with a two written above it, you would get two marbles back.

I didn't have a lot of marbles because I was poor, so I spent some time thinking about it on my way home. I got the Styrofoam packing that you get from TVs and shaped it into a castle and painted it. I had a giant thing. I took that to school and I put that next to everyone else's little shoebox and everyone fought for mine. I didn't have a lot of marbles, so I couldn't give back, so people were actually paying a premium to play something that was far harder than the other kids', but they liked to play it.

I think about that often because that's guided how I approach things in business. I always look at how we're doing and think about and challenge myself [to consider] how we can do things differently. How can we do things better? And I try to do that for clients.”

Ryan Bonifacino
VP of Digital, Alex and Ani
“My first job was with a think-tank that focused on artificial intelligence and predictive analytics. That was called Quantum Leap Innovations and gave me a foundation for the heavy tech side.”

Nataly Kelly
VP of Marketing, Smartling
“A lifeguard. Being a lifeguard actually gives you a lot of good experience because you have to keep a careful eye on the big picture while looking at the details. There's a lot of activity going on, and it's also quite a big responsibility.... People's lives are in their hands. That did teach me to look out for others and to take responsibility seriously.

“A lot of it is about preparedness. That's another good lesson that it taught me. It's really about being prepared for when crises do happen and emergencies do happen. It's all about the preparedness leading up to that point, and I think that it's definitely true in business. All of that little stuff that you do to prepare for that big, big event or that big, big moment is critical even if it's not glamorous.”

Adriel Sanchez
Head of Marketing, Americas, CommVault
Cold calling high-net-worth individuals for a large investment bank. “It taught me an incredible amount about direct marketing before I knew what direct marketing was, like the importance of a good quality list and a good, concise hook. It also taught me that, even if only three percent of the people you contact buy something, you can make a lot of money.”

Amber Olson Rourke
Cofounder and CMO, Nerium International
“I was an account executive for Raymond James Financial's in-house marketing agency. The major influence it had on where I am today is that I found a true mentor in my boss. She was a successful woman who balanced her career and family, was a respected expert in a heavily male finance world, and was passionate about giving back to the community. We still keep in contact today and she still serves as on ongoing mentor in my career. I believe mentors are hugely important in developing your career.”

Mitch Wainer
Cofounder and CMO, DigitalOcean
“I was selling things when I was five years old; I used to collect four leaf clovers, laminate them, and sell them to kids at school [for $5 a piece].

“My first summer job [was at 13] working as a Web designer/developer for a baseball software program. I built and designed its website. That's when I really started to learn about website development and design…. That was the foundation I needed [in terms of] designing and building the first DigitalOcean website. Not only did I do the marketing for digital ocean, but I also designed the website.”

Lee Goldstein
President, DiMassimo Goldstein
“I sold vacuums door-to-door, which definitely prepared me for the job of selling, and marketing is selling; it's just more sophisticated. That [door-to-door] job taught me to stay off a high horse.”

Erik Severinghaus
Founder & CEO, SimpleRelevance
“My first real software job was helping a couple of friends build an email service provider called iContact. It gave me capital, a network, and knowledge that I continue to use daily.”

Zak Garner
Director of Customer Success, 6Sense
“I was a media associate at Starcom in Chicago. I was working on the Blackberry account. That was my first job out of college. That actually had a really big impact. It taught me from scratch everything about digital media, given this was 2007. Digital media has changed a ton since then, but I was fortunate enough to just get placed in a digital role on a really rigorous team.... Working at a huge company like Starcom was actually great because it gave me a perfect foundation and process. I can use my creativities better because I have a foundation to build it on.

“[As for] my very first job, I used to sweep hair at a barbershop in Lake Forest, Illinois—which is a suburb of Chicago. I don't know what that taught me—maybe a little bit of bookkeeping and how to work well with a bunch of different personalities…. I don't think [it] had a tremendous impact on my professional career.”

Finding your passion

Jeannie Green
VP, Fundraising and Nonprofit, Epsilon
“Right out of college I worked for a company called MatchLogic. It grew so rapidly that I moved into a management role very quickly. That exposed me to all aspects of the business and helped me understand product strategy and how to develop the next generation of talent. That's where I found my passion, and every position I took after that was in a management role.”

Greg Alvo
CEO & Founder, OrderGroove
“At 13 I started Voteq and build and sold computers for more than 100 clients in South Florida. I learned that I didn't like computer hardware and I loved entrepreneurship. I also learned the importance of keeping customers happy.”

Iryna Newman
Director of Mobile Marketing, OpenTable
“My first job was as a waitress at a small bistro. It pushed me to find what I was good at. I was awful, and after that job, I was determined to land a position that I was gifted at.”

Sally Mundell
Senior Director of Direct to Consumer Marketing and CRM, Spanx Inc.
“I have a history in startup companies. One of my first jobs [out of college] was a startup that had a technology that allowed people to filter out their direct mail. That really fueled my entrepreneurial spirit; Spanx is very entrepreneurial and an empowerment-oriented company. It was a great fit for fueling that spirit of mine. Also having been on the direct marketing side of things and understanding the consumer was actually [a good] fit to start the catalog program, as well.

“[In terms of my first job], my parents own a pediatric health center—my dad is a pediatrician—so I would work the front desk. That taught me a lot about how to work with people.”

Discovering the possbilities

Jared Belsky
President, 360i
“My first company was iballs in the late 1990s. That was our Woodstock. It gave me a pioneering spirit and the sense that everything was possible if you fight for it—and years later I still believe that experience was formative. More important, I met my wife there, who's had the biggest influence of all.”

Bryan Brown
VP Product Strategy, Silverpop
As a kid, Brown worked on his dad's construction site, progressing from clean-up chores to demolition to work as a builder. “I would see business opportunity that went beyond the work and the paychecks. While I enjoyed earning money, it was the ideation and completion that hooked me.”

Duane Raupp
Executive Creative Director, Organic Inc.
“It was as a petroleum transfer agent or, I guess you could say, a gas pumper. It was a job about reading people and having micro-relationships with them. If you made a great impression, a tip was often awarded. My relentless attention to detail propelled me to be the best petroleum transfer agent around.”

Click or tap here to read the full stories behind the successes of the other Direct Marketing News 2014 40 Under 40 winners--to be posted at noon ET today, September 30.

This is a 40 Under 40 Profile. Click here to see all profiles as well as previous year's winners.

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