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In Praise of First Jobs

Even mindless first jobs can prove to be invaluable experiences. How else would some of us know how to carry six plates at a time or fold sweaters so neatly? On a more serious note, starter stints can teach useful lessons about people and the nature of work as well as our chosen fields. Check out what initiated some of our 2016 speakers into the world of gainful employment—and what they learned.

Diane von Furstenberg

Diane von Furstenberg“My first job in fashion was as an assistant to a photographer and filmmaker’s agent in Paris. It was all very exciting and I began to understand what the fashion world was all about—the value of image and how it flows through the fashion industry.” 

Fashion designer and icon von Furstenberg will be speaking during the Luncheon Keynote Session.

Terri Gruca

Gruca, Terrism“As soon as I turned 16, I worked the opening shift on the weekends at McDonald’s, which meant being there at 5 a.m. I remember dreading waking up so early on the weekends, but I also remember learning how to treat people and save money. I also realized that I wanted to find a job I loved so that I didn’t have to work at a job I hated. I’m grateful for the experience—and to my dad, who made all of us kids in the family open the store on the weekends to teach us the value of hard work.”

KVUE-TV anchor and journalist Gruca will be kicking things off as emcee of the Opening Keynote Session.

Mallika Chopra

Mallika Chopra“There was a lot of grunt work to being an assistant, but I think you need to work hard when you’re young. I learned a lot of practical things during my time at MTV International—how to be organized, be prompt, communicate—that I am still building on and refining today.”

Chopra, founder and CEO of, will be speaking during Sessions I and III and signing her book “Living with Intent” from 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Lisa Nichols

Nichols, Lisasm“My first paid job was a one-time gig speaking at an alcohol and recovery drug center. The participants were people who were fighting for hope. They were not running and leaping; they were crawling and walking. The lesson I learned was that you have to meet people where they are and then take them where you think they can go. Don’t meet them where you think they should be.”

Nichols, founder and CEO of Motivating the Masses, will be speaking during Sessions II and III and signing her book “Abundance Now” from 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Kemal Harris

Harris, Kemal“I sold art in a gallery when I was in school. It was just for the summer, but I learned how to talk to strangers and about building relationships. It was also where I first learned the subtle art of persuasion. I had to convince people they needed this piece of art, and now I use those same skills to convince people to trust me that they look great in this dress.”

Harris, top stylist for such stars as Robin Wright and Zooey Deschanel, will be speaking during Session I.

Trudy Bourgeois

Trudy Bourgeois“My first real job was at McDonald’s. I learned that customer service is a competitive advantage. People shop where they feel welcomed and valued no matter their background, education or socioeconomic status. People want to feel special. That’s the secret sauce to winning, even more so in today’s hyper-competitive and ever-changing marketplace.”

The Center for Workforce Excellence CEO Bourgeois will be speaking during Session I and signing her books “The Hybrid Leader and “Her Corner Office” from 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Carla Birnberg

birnberg-carla“Babysitting was something I could do when I was 13, and it seemed as though it could be fun. It was not fun. It was hard work! I remember telling my mother how I exhausted I was and her responding, ‘I know, that’s why it’s not called play.’ I often think of what she said when a project starts to be a bit challenging and less fun. I think: that’s why it’s called work and not called play.”

Birnberg, a social media consultant, will leading a Social Media Roundtable in the Technology Pavilion and signing her book “What You Can When You Can: Healthy Living on Your Terms” from 4:40 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

▶ Read more from the November 2016 newsletter.

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