First Job, Lasting Impressions

Marketing leaders all need to start somewhere. DMN‘s 2015 40 Under 40 Award winners are no exception. These marketing all-stars have career histories as diverse as their current roles and industries. And each has a unique tale of a first job that made a lasting impression on them and an impact on their future career.

It’s all about the customer experience

Danielle Avalone, VP, Account Services, Lanmark360 Inc.
I worked at a bagel shop, serving bagels. It helped me learn how to cater to people and give the best service.

Kirsten Bjork-Jones, Director, Global Marketing Communications, Edmund Optics
I worked at a custard stand, a typical summer job for a teenager growing up in Wisconsin. It might sound peculiar, but this job was all about personalization and customer satisfaction. 

Courtney Caldwell, Founder, The Write One
My first job, at Eckerd Pharmacy as a pharmacy clerk, taught me that details matter. There were no silly questions when handling someone’s medicine, and a smile provided a pick-me-up for customers fighting an illness. It was at Eckerd that I learned how to understand customers at their most basic level.

Kyle Christensen, VP, Marketing, Invoca
In high school I was a lifeguard at the Mirage hotel in Las Vegas, where I grew up. At the time it was a Wynn property, and the best place to stay in Vegas. Steve Wynn placed a huge value on delivering an amazing customer experience. Every detail at the property was tailored for an impressive experience, down to the spotless parking garages and polished ashtrays. These details, while small, really mattered and they were noticeably missing from other hotels around town. We were completely indoctrinated on ensuring the guest experience came first.

Yasmeen Coning, VP, Head of Marketing, Genesis Media LLC
I worked for a boutique PR firm out of Boston called Sterling Hager (now Shift Communications), where I learned the art of impeccable client service and attention to detail. Great service has transcended to my internal marketing positions, as well. Each department within an organization is a valuable client of the marketing team, and I treat them as such.

Judge Graham, President, Sq1
I was a barbecue meat cutter, of all things. I’m from Texas, and I worked at a barbecue restaurant. What that taught me was the value and impact of understanding customer service and always focusing on the customer first.

Elizabeth Holub, Marketing Manager; Interim Manager, Performance Promotion, Carl Fischer Music & Theodore Presser Company
My first paying job was doing sales at a music store. It really got me working with customers, seeing how they respond to things; it was a mom-and-pop store in Tucson, AZ.

Alia Kemet, U.S. Media Director, IKEA
I started working at 14. My first job I was working at a women’s clothing store called Sassafras. They’re all closed now. I was a stock girl; the boxes of clothing would come in and I would have to unpack them—lonely and sad in the stock room. After doing that, at 15 the store manager allowed me to start dressing the window. So, I was a visual merchandiser even though I didn’t have that title, I was just the stock girl who dressed the windows. I would do all the window displays. From there I became a salesgirl at that same store; I was actually the youngest person to ever reach the highest level of sales…. I’m a marketer, but I’m a retailer, I love retail. I think it’s important that you understand the whole process from the time the person walks into the store or goes on your website, and the journey that brought them there, to their whole entire customer experience. To really do good marketing you’ve got to understand that. Being a retailer since I’m 14, it just has stuck with me. I try to remember that every day: It’s not just about the marketing; it’s about the whole customer experience.

Dhanusha Sivajee, EVP of Marketing, XO Group Inc.
My parents are self-employed immigrants from Sri Lanka and they’ve pretty much owned every small business out there from gas stations and laundromats to convenience stores and post office outlets. Growing up, I spent most every weekend working one front desk or cash register or another, so I learned quickly how making authentic and personal connections with people could help propel sales. We also had a lot of repeat customers come through our businesses, and so I learned early on about the power of a loyal consumer base and the impact of word-of-mouth advertising.

Amanda Todorovich, Director of Content Marketing, Cleveland Clinic
I started working when I was 16 at a grocery store as a cashier. I learned very quickly that customer service is crucial to any business, and when you deliver great service, you feel the reward instantly.

Creating a drive for more

Dan Barcus, Executive Director of Acquisition Marketing, Comcast
Washing dishes in a seafood restaurant. I was 14, and it taught me the value of hard work, humility, and the desire to aspire to go to college.

Adam Bravo, Executive Director of Loyalty Marketing, MGM Resorts International
Growing up in Houston my family owned a dog boarding kennel, and as long as I can remember I grew up taking care of dogs and scooping up dog waste. It gives you a lot of time to think about what you

Bhumika Dadbhawala, Senior Director of Business Development and Partnerships, Drawbridge
My first job—try not to laugh here—was pet sitting. I used to do that with a friend and we eventually expanded our little hobby throughout the apartment complex that we lived in. We actually marketed ourselves as “Your best friends when you need time off.”

Jerry Jao, CEO and Founder, Retention Science
was as a Subway sandwich artist, when I was 17 or 18. I wanted to learn, I wanted to get a real job; I’ve always been someone who works hard to learn, and the best way to learn is on the job.

Pedro L. Rodriguez, Director of Integrated Marketing, People en Español
Working at a law firm. It absolutely influenced me, because it countered my personality. I looked to be at a place where I could be myself, but where my ideas and creativity would be appreciated, and I just didn’t think that was law.

Charlotte Tsou, SVP, Regional Head of Analytics and CRM, HSBC
I was a technology venture capitalist for a New Jersey technology company at the time of a market boom. It broadened my mind as a banker to do more cross-border business.

Justin Yoshimura, SVP, Loyalty Services Group, Merkle Inc.
I have a different way of looking at things, so I don’t view this as a job; I don’t even have a resume. Being an entrepreneur is more of a calling for me…. My first paycheck was from a start-up I launched when I was 15 years old. It influenced me by making me thirsty for more—more knowledge, more relationships with clients, and a greater capacity for solving problems and seizing the opportunities of disruptive e-commerce.


Being adaptable

Ben Roberts, VP of Marketing Operations, Acumen Brands
My first job was teaching scuba diving. It helped me learn to think on my feet and learn how to deal and work with different personalities.

Cecile Thirion, Marketing Director – Government and Transportation, Xerox Transportation
I worked as a marketing director for Air France KLM. I had to learn to be adaptable to a different culture.

Quality counts

Adam Padilla, President and Chief Creative Officer, Brandfire
Art director for a T-shirt-printing company. I learned to compete on quality instead of lowering the cost. When you try to be the cheapest option, it’s a losing game.

Inspired to be bold

Brad Bedoe, Director, Lead Generation Marketing, Fleetmatics
In high school I worked at a bike shop. I watched the owner, who was a lawyer, leave his practice, do what he loved, and open that bike shop. It inspired me to be courageous.

Cristina Bozas, Creative Chief Officer, Pólvora Advertising
My very first job was in Venezuela as a gift wrapper at a clothing store where my mom used to work.  At that moment, I knew I wasn’t afraid to work; I liked the independence.

Patricia Korth-McDonnell, Partner and Managing Director, West Coast, Huge
My first job was as an editorial assistant at DWR. My job was working for a very young, very ambitious editor named Elaine Romero. There was no internship program at DWR, she put her own ad up, hired me, and I worked for free. I learned a lot from her and her initiative; I haven’t been exposed to her in 15 years, but as a young woman entering the workforce it was inspiring to see her getting stuff done.

Jessica Nielsen, VP, Communications and Marketing, Information Systems and Global Solutions Division, Lockheed Martin
I was a lifeguard. I learned to always scan the horizon and be willing to jump in and save drowning people when necessary.

Marketing from the get-go

Jennifer Capistran, Senior Director, Merkle Analytics, Merkle Inc.
My first job was at a start-up credit card company, Partners First, back in the late 1990s doing marketing analytics. The fact that the company was so small and nimble meant that you had a lot of responsibility and business exposure right from day one. I loved the first role I had as an information gatekeeper–I enjoyed the logical process of working with data and the fact that I was in position to help others figure out what they needed to know. It was a relatively straight line path for me from there to where I am now. Today I’m doing it on a larger scale, supporting a team of people working with the data and getting the chance to help multiple clients solve very diverse types of marketing challenges.

Coltrane Curtis, Founder and Managing Partner, Team Epiphany
My first unpaid job was as my dad’s muse and working with him as part of a lifelong apprenticeship. That was the most major influence. My father, John Curtis, worked as a marketing executive for over 25 years and toted me to various celebrity events across the country, exposing me to the intensive labor and extensive networking and relationship-building necessary to create a successful marketing initiative. My first paid job was an internship with Bristol Myers Squibb in college. I took aerial photographs of construction sites while hanging out of helicopters.

Donald J. Gallant, Director of Analytics, Marketsmith Inc.
Before I was at Marketsmith I worked for Rutgers Office of Continuing Professional Education. I was there as a marketing assistant for about five months after graduating. What I really took out of that is when you’re given a chance, make the most of it. I had worked at Rutgers’ OCPE as a student at Rutgers. I was just a student assistant, and there are a lot of mind-numbing tasks and a lot of B.S. work that nobody wants to do, [so] they just pass it off to the student assistant to do. I just took it and made the most of it…. Right after graduation I wasn’t able to find a job. So, they kept me on as that marketing assistant to keep me employed as I found my footing.

Jamie LaRose, VP, Digital Marketing, Home Lending, Wells Fargo
My first career job in marketing was while I was still in school. I managed the Charlotte market for Draft Worldwide. It was a good stepping stone for my career, and exposed me to grassroots marketing and guerilla marketing.

Betsy Miller Daitch, Senior Marketing Manager, Investment Management, S&P Capital
My first job working in marketing was for a tech company that created software to help nonprofits manage their fundraising efforts. I took the job because in college I wanted to do something that combined both positions.

Joel Moore, Director, Strategic Leadership, Force 3
My first job after college was with Insight. I was brought on as a product manager, which is a marketing position in that [vertical]. It was my first exposure to marketing; I was a PoliSci major in college.

Jessica Nable, Vice President, Strategic Communications, Epsilon
I was 14 years old at a day camp. I was a runner, meaning I walked and ran around the camp to deliver messages. Now I’m responsible for delivering a lot of messages.

Getting a view from soup to nuts

Amrit Kirpalani, Founder and CEO, NectarOM
My first job was stocking shelves in a dollar store. A lot of the work we do is in retail, in a consumer-driven industry. In my world, I can say that I know what that stock boy or girl is doing in that aisle all the way through what the executive suite is accomplishing.

Donald Patrick Lim, Chief Digital Officer, ABS-CBN Corp.
My first job was with Burger King here in the Philippines. I started as a crew member and a cashier, and eventually became its head of marketing. It influenced how I think today because I realized that for a person to be good in marketing, he has to be adept and know the ins and outs of operations. That’s why in every job I go into, I always make sure I immerse myself in operations first and know what’s happening on ground, rather than create strategies and policies from an ivory tower.


All about results

Rachel Carpenter, Global Marketing and Sales Leader, Mercer
I worked as a retail sales associate at the flagship store of Express in Columbus, Ohio. The store had an intense, numbers-driven sales culture and made me appreciate the effort required to close a sale, as well as the importance of achieving results, both paramount to marketing. 

Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, CEO, Chairman, and Owner, Hawthorne Direct
I have a past life, per se, in that I used to be a television literary agent in Hollywood with an agency that is now called William Morris Endeavor (WME). It’s famously depicted on the show Entourage. It was a high-intensity, competitive work environment. You learn the speed and the agility of business, but also the client management side of the business.

Coming over to the advertising side was exciting for me because you have your individual clients in terms of the people on the account, but really we’re in the brand management and building business…. That was very translatable. It was exciting for me to move from individual talent in Hollywood—whether that be writers, directors, or producers—over to the brand side and the lessons are really still the same. It’s all about client business service strategy and growth.

Learning the value of hard work

Aaron Ginn, Growth Product Manager, Everlane
I worked at a Christian [summer] camp…. I had to work for minimum wage, outside, managing kids; I had to clean up and build things. It taught me the value [and] importance of what my parents were: hard working. [It’s the idea] that everyone has a place in the system; everyone has a purpose. The important thing is to realize that we have all come from that same place. We have all come from being a waiter, being an intern, and you’re no better than any of those other people. You are just as important to the organization if you field the ground, run the cash register, [or] started the thing…. It taught me humility and work culture and environment.

Chad Hallert, Strategy Director, Noble Studios
My first job was when I was 14, and I was a busboy at a little restaurant. It just taught me hard work. We definitely have jobs where we get to think and be strategic and creative. There’s value in that, and that’s what clients pay us for. But at the same time, there’s value in working hard, putting in the time, putting in the hours, and getting the volume of work done. It definitely taught me the value of effort—whether it’s physical or mental—in the day-to-day job. It also taught me what I don’t want to do…. It was such a physically demanding job and [I wanted] one where I could be more at a desk or interacting with people.

Tania Yuki, Founder and CEO, Shareablee
I was a host and singer/dancer for a Warner Bros. children’s show that aired during the holidays.  It taught me about public speaking and the importance of maintaining my energy. It also taught me about putting in hard work to get results.

Building relationships that matter

Greg Mazen, Director of Creative Services, Boy Scouts of America
I was bartender at a seafood restaurant. The networking opportunities there opened a lot of doors for me, and showed me that it’s about who you know, not just what you know.

Natasha Raja, VP of Marketing and Customer Service, Dice Holdings
While at Berkley, I worked in shipping and receiving for the College of Chemistry, pulling and pushing heavy carts filled with chemicals. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life: I learned the power of networking, and that no job is a small job. Before I knew it I was working four jobs, building databases for Nobel-winning professors at Berkeley…. I learned to work hard, to multitask, and what it is like to work your way up.

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