Working since I am 14 years old sometimes is just a hilarious footnote to an otherwise exciting, fun, sad, dramatic, healing, spiritual and amazing life. Fourteen was a good age for Dad to send me out to work. His words shortly before summer recess: "You're not sitting around here all summer; I got you a job with your cousin." Great! My cousin's business was a bus and train ride away. But nevertheless, I was going out into the world, heck I was commuting. The work was no big deal, it was an auto glass and mirror shop, I was the clean up and go-fer guy. I did learn one really important thing, and that was that broken glass can cut you, frequently.
The beginning of a work ethic that started way back then taught me the value of showing up every day, especially since I would have had to deal with my Father if I ever even thought about not going to work. Responsibility to someone other than myself followed very closely, right about when I brought my first pay envelope home. The magnificent sum of $50.00 was divided, $30 to Mom for the household and $20 for me. It was okay with me until I figured out the commuting and lunch cost me just about the $20. Oh well, Mom could use it, so I didn't mind all that much, at least I was out in the world.
That's the way it was. School and work, work and school, until I graduated. Mistakenly I didn't think I was college material back then, hell nobody in my family even thought about going to college. So to work I went. Dad must have seen a dim future for me indeed and suggested I take the civil service test for the NYCPD Trainee program. Maybe he thought that at the very least the department would take care of me. Dad was thrilled when I was appointed a few weeks short of my eighteenth birthday. I had a great career there, rose to the rank of Detective, which sadly he didn't get to see, was hurt in a line of duty incident and retired after receiving the department's Medal of Honor.
So at the ripe old age of 31 I was retired. Seriously, retired at 31! So, to college I go. 31 and in classes with the 17-year-olds, my professors were my age, what a trip.
Several years later I had the opportunity to work with my brother in his fledgling company. I was given the responsibility of building and running the production operations providing proxy mail services to the now defunct stock brokerage, PaineWebber. Starting with an empty warehouse I built a 132 person staff and equipped it with all the necessary machinery to produce over 20 million pieces. Not a small accomplishment if I say so myself. The very next year fate stepped in when my brother suddenly passed away. His partners dissolved the company and I was out of a job.
No job, no money, a pending divorce, a new relationship and who wants to hire a 41-year-old with really disjointed skills anyway. Picture this, a decorated NYCPD Detective working as a night watchman in the high rise apartment building to make rent money. Talk about depressing. But the thought of Dad working two and three jobs to provide for us made the humble pie go down easier.
One day scouring the classifieds I came across an ad that read "Mailing Company for Sale." I made the call. I made the deal with what little money we could scrounge up. A small company, barely more than me buying a job. At least, at first.
Fast forward 21 years later. Not only has the business survived, it has grown exponentially to employee 34, occupy 17,500 square feet and provide marketing services to over 1,200 customers. I kept showing up each and everyday.
It must be a product of longevity but it seems that we are now on the map. Reporters call for comments on this that or the other thing. Speaking engagements are requested. Nominations are made and awards are received. A whole new level of recognition has presented itself of late. I look forward to the coming years with great anticipation, excitement and desire.
The legacy that I leave has become important. The opportunities and blessings I've had stem from the simple truths taught to me by a man with an eighth grade education. Perseverance in the face of adversity, responsibility to others, initiative and confidence.
To my Dad I say, "I'm not going to hang around this summer."
This blogger graduated from Goldman Sach's 10,000 Small Businesses program. The Goldman Sachs Foundation is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.