Labor Day reflections: First jobs create lasting impressions
JANESVILLE—Karla Krueger's childhood jobs ranged from menial to disgusting.
As a youngster, she earned 50 cents an hour mowing grass, painting boat docks, pumping gas and serving burgers and beer at her parents' supper club, Krueger's Cove, on the Rock River between Janesville and Beloit.
In between, she also found time to pick up discarded cigarette butts and chewing tobacco near the club's front door.
The takeaway from each still fuels Krueger as she celebrates her 30th year as an entrepreneur and owner of Krueger Graphics in Janesville.
“Hard work and long hours is what start-up businesses can expect,” Krueger said. “Being an entrepreneur is rewarding.
“After seeing my grandparents and my parents have success, it gave me the drive, courage, creativity and stamina to try it myself in 1984.”
As the nation prepares to celebrate it's 120th official Labor Day, The Gazette asked Krueger and several other local business and community leaders about their first jobs and the lessons they learned from them.
Krueger's company is a full-service graphic design, marketing and business-consulting agency.
Krueger Graphics has now outlived both Krueger's Cove and Krueger's Sport Shop, the business her grandparents operated in Beloit. Krueger's Cove was open from 1966 to 1984, while the sport shop was open from 1947 to 1970.
From an early age, Krueger's passion was art, particularly pottery, but she eventually recognized that a career in pottery probably wasn't going to pay her bills.
Instead, she combined her artistic passion with her family's entrepreneurial spark to launch her business.
“The reason I get up every day, even after 30 years, is to help people who have the same passion for their business that I had when I started way back when,” Krueger said. “I can see it in their eyes, hear it in their tone and sense it in their attitude toward their business.”
Krueger has been active in Wisconsin Women Entrepreneurs and Business Networking International, an organization that fosters the development and exchange of business referrals.
“I really enjoy meeting young entrepreneurs,” she said. “They need someone to tell them the truth and bounce ideas off.
“If you are thinking about starting a business, go for it. If you have not been happy with your current job and dream of trying to start your own, you should. Whether you fail or succeed as an entrepreneur, at least you will not have any regrets.”
-- Current position: Teacher in the Janesville School District.
-- First job: “Farm hand working for Jim Dewitt near Tiffany.”
-- How did experiences gained on your first job help you with your career? “Working on a farm taught me the satisfaction of a completed task, however temporary.
“We baled hay in a two-week cycle, we would mow, windrow, bale, and mow it in the top of the barn. Two weeks later, we would start the process over in another field.
“In between haying, we would continue to feed the cows, milk the cows, clean the barn and make repairs around the farm. The continual cycle was only interrupted by weather.
“Everyday you felt you accomplished something, and you could look on with pride what you had accomplished.”
-- Current position: Assurance director with McGladrey, Janesville.
-- How did experiences gained on your first job help you with your career? “Growing up in Janesville, I had the unique experience of spending my summers away from home as a counselor at two different Boy Scout summer camps.”
“… It was during these summers away from Janesville that I gained confidence to be independent from my parents and began to develop as a young man. This confidence allowed me to become a leader as I worked in various roles teaching young scouts skills that helped them grow and attain certain achievements.
“… The skills I learned during this time still help me today as I interact with employees and clients as a certified public accountant. Being able to interact with people is just as important as understanding complex tax legislation. The experiences I learned on my first job have allowed me to communicate better as I provide training, encouragement and leadership in my professional career.”
-- Current position: President and CEO, Mercy Health System, Janesville.
-- First job: “I came from a family where I was one of 12 children, so I started working at an early age to pay for anything beyond food and a bed to sleep in. When I was 9, I got my first paper route. Within one year, I had multiple paper routes and other kids working for me delivering papers. It taught me how to collect money from my customers and pay the other kids who delivered papers for me, as well as pay for the newspapers and manage my money.
“As far as my health care career is concerned, I started by working in housekeeping at Rockford Memorial Hospital, where I mopped floors. I was able to get a job as a physical therapy aide then worked my way up to physical therapy tech. I worked during summers, as well as half days during my junior and senior years of high school. I continued working summers at Rockford Memorial while earning my undergraduate degree in physical therapy.”
-- How did experiences gained on your first jobs help you with your career? “Although I didn't realize it at the time delivering papers, I was learning how to manage a small business.
“… In health care, I think these work experiences taught me at an early age how to function in a professional setting with physicians, nurses and other health care professionals. It definitely inspired me to pursue a career in health care.”
-- Current position: President, Forward Janesville.
-- First job: “Starting when I was 14, I played guitar and sang in a four-piece rock band that played high school dances, reunions, weddings and, eventually, bars and nightclubs.”
-- How did experiences gained on your first job help you with your career? “Playing in a band teaches teamwork and how to navigate inevitable friction between band mates. It teaches you how to interact with a crowd and show confidence in front of a group of people. I negotiated performance contracts, developed a marketing kit and dealt with booking agents. Eventually, when we started writing songs, it taught me how to collaborate in a creative process.”
-- Current position: Attorney at Carney Thorpe, Janesville.
-- First job: “My first job was as a paper boy. I delivered the Indianapolis News and the Lebanon Reporter six days a week ... Saturdays, I would collect, which took more time than I wanted to spend. I could deliver the route in about an hour, but going door-to-door to collect each week took most of Saturday morning, which was prime playing time for a boy. I had the route for 4½ years.”
-- How did experiences gained on your first job help you with your career? “I learned, regardless of the conditions, the paper had to be delivered. It had to be on the porch and out of the rain, or behind the door if the customer wanted it there.
"Making sure the customer was satisfied and happy with the service was the priority. It was a business in the sense that the paperboy bought the papers from the news company and then sold them to the customer. I had to collect to pay for the papers. If I didn't collect, then I had no money to buy the papers and made no money for myself.
"Satisfied customers paid their bills and gave tips. Unsatisfied customers quit the paper. The most important thing was to always say 'thank you' when I collected.
“I think those same lessons hold true for my practice today. I have to do good work to insure the client/customer is happy and satisfied. And I always say 'thank you' for being allowed to do a client's work. I think, whatever the business, doing good work for the customer and appreciating the opportunity to do the work has to be a conscious and obvious priority. People deserve that kind of service.”
-- Current position: Executive director of Community Action
-- First job: “Babysitting, informally, and washing dishes at a local restaurant.”
-- How did experiences gained on your first job help you with your career? “I learned perseverance and hard work, doing a job that was physical challenging, dirty and not a lot of fun yet learning how to take directions, work with others and complete the job at hand. Dependability, too.”
-- Current position: Regional president of Johnson Bank, Janesville.
-- First job: “Growing up on a family farm that included pick-your-own strawberries, you did a lot of different jobs early on. The first job I was paid to do was snipping blossoms off newly planted strawberry plants so they would grow stronger, faster.”
-- How did experiences gained on your first job help you with your career? “Every job, every task is important. Always do your best and take pride in the quality of your work.”
-- Current position: President, St. Mary's Janesville Hospital.
-- First Job: “My first job was working afternoon shifts as a nurse aide in a nursing home in Ohio. I worked part time during my junior and senior years in high school.”
-- How did the experiences gained on your first job help you with your career? “It was a small inner voice, a whisper really, that spoke to me; I knew early on that I wanted to work in health care. The job at the nursing home was my first exposure in the field.
"As a nurse aide, I provided care to the residents who relied upon me to help them with daily tasks like bathing, grooming, dressing, meals and some basic medical necessities. I know those first experiences of caring for the physical and often emotional well-being of my patients, with dignity and respect, is what truly solidified in my mind that I belonged in health care and that it was the right career choice for me.
“I also learned the value of teamwork in this role. Every member of the care team was important in order to deliver the high level of care that we provided. This concept has been foundational throughout my career. Every member of the staff at St. Mary's Janesville Hospital is vital in providing exceptional care to our patients. As a health care leader, I used teamwork as a basis in developing the culture of care when we opened a brand new hospital here in Janesville.
“…So what began as a whisper has become a strong and passionate voice as the president of St. Mary's Janesville Hospital. I am so proud of our hospital and its compassionate team of health care professionals who serve the people of our community and all of Rock County.”
-- Current position: President/co-owner Webco General Contractors, Janesville.
-- First job: “Working for my dad in a family-owned business in Jefferson.”
-- How did experiences gained on your first job help you with your career? “I have 12 siblings, and my dad knew the importance of hard work but also the dedication and persistence necessary in owning your own business. He taught us that your family will always come first and never give up. Be open minded and diligent and you will always find a way to accomplish your goals. With 13 children, he obviously felt a great responsibility to support and keep his family together. He passed that significant value down to all of his children.
“I started our first company Webco General Contractors, along with my wife Marcy, in 1988. I had a very strong construction background through my work in our family business, and from my time at JP Cullen, and Marcy had a strong financial background. Together we have owned Webco for over 25 years. We also own Webco Properties, Newport Plaza, Newport Plaza Laundry, and previously owned and developed Huntington Place here in Janesville.
“My dad taught me that you have to take some risk in life to gain reward. Marcy likes to say that 'I had my foot on the gas, and she had her foot on the brakes' in starting and developing our companies from the ground up. It was a good balance. We have been fortunate to assemble our businesses, here, and live in a community where we are proud to have raised our children.
“We also recognize the importance of giving back to your community in whatever way you can, whether it is financially, personally or professionally. My dad reminded us all many times growing up about giving back and paying it forward. Marcy and I have embraced his beliefs and hope we are helping Janesville become an even better place to live.”
-- Current position: Dean and campus executive officer at UW-Rock County.
-- First job: “Babysitting and occasional piano lessons, and then as a certified nursing assistant in a nursing home during the spring semester of my senior year and that summer.”
-- How did experiences gained on your first job help you with your career? “When I was 16, I was teaching piano lessons, and I was at the house of a girl about 8 or 9. She was trying to sight read music that wasn't very complicated and doing it miserably. The notes were going up and she was playing down. Later, her Dad told me that she had dyslexia. That stuck with me in terms of assuming things about people or situations. Not everyone is coming from same place.”
“As a certified nursing assistant, I learned how to deal with the unexpected events, which is so common in my job as dean. I'll come to work thinking I have a light day, and wham, it's full.”