President & CEO, Royal Bank of Canada
From 10 years old, I was working, trying to make extra money. My dad was a super-strict Navy guy. When I wanted a 10-speed bike, he said, "You better make some money." So I delivered the Montreal Gazette at six in the morning for six years. That was my life, six days a week. I bought my first bike for $110 from a local manufacturer, had it right through college.
My second job, at 15, was at the YMCA as a life guard on the West Island during the summer. Ten weeks for $800. But it was working with kids, teaching them how to swim, playing sports – and baking up on the chair. Taught me the value of hard work.
When I went to the University of Waterloo in '82, my first co-op job was as a COBOL programmer for RBC. It was my first real office job, working in the international banking unit group on computer systems for offices in London and the Bahamas. You had to put on a suit and tie back then; you couldn't dress like you do today. But I was exposed to all the opportunities in the bank. For me, I enjoyed programming. What the job taught me is that I didn't really want to be a technologist. I didn't want to be a programmer. I would rather work with people and with clients. So for my third work term, they transferred me into the branches training program.
Looking back, I could have gone five years in a non-co-op program, finished my computer-science degree, looked for a job and then realized two years out this not what I wanted to do. Seven years would have gone by. That was the huge benefit. In real time, I said, "I like this, but it's not my career."
–As told to Tim Kiladze
Author of Man Booker Prize-winning novel Life of Pi
I had only four jobs ever before becoming a writer. Two were summer jobs – one was working at an underground parking lot, the guy in the exit booth; and then I was a tree planter. The jobs I liked because they're jobs of the body, not of the mind. I could use my body but they didn't exhaust me mentally. My mind was fresh.
In my little booth at the parking lot I had time to read. I don't think I wrote, but I could read.
But when I was planting trees, I could actually write. I was a tree planter in Northern Ontario – north of Armstrong, the summer after I finished my B.A. – and quickly became the camp dishwasher, and that was the best job. We had this big converted bus and that's where the kitchen was and they attached a tent to it, which was the dining room. That's where I'd go and write. After I'd done my duties, I would dig the hole for the outhouses, I would do the dishes, I would clean up the camp and then I'd sit and I would write.
A couple of years later, I worked as a security guard at the Canadian embassy in Paris. When I was on the night shift there was nothing to do; nobody wanted to attack Canadians. So I basically just sat there at the Canadian embassy and that's where I wrote my first short stories.
So my recommendation to people who want to write is if you take a job in the publishing industry, that's going to exercise your mind all day long and you'll have no energy at the end of it. Whereas when you do something that's purely manual, you can be doing your job and dreaming away. And at the end of the day, you can write down what you dreamed.
–As told to Marsha Lederman
President of hockey operations, Vancouver Canucks
I was an industrious kid. I'd always go to the Scotiabank with my bank book, if I made some money working for my grandpa or my uncle on the farm. I started at the Connaught Golf Course [in Medicine Hat, Alta.] when I was 10. I picked range balls with a shag bag.
I'd ride my bike to the golf course. The range would close at seven. Depending on how nice a day it was, there were 2,500, 3,000, 4,000 golf balls out there. I'd have to go around with two shag bags in each hand, about 100 balls in each shag, and I got 25 cents a shag. Thirty-two shags was $8. It would take me a few hours. I worked there every night during the summer except for the nights I played baseball and my brother filled in for me.
I started as a range picker and then I was a club cleaner and then I worked in the pro shop, right up until I got drafted.
I think back: It didn't matter if it rained, or if it was cold. I had to get the job done. I was tough kid but it toughened me up. Knowing you can do it for yourself. It was responsibility. It was independence.
And that's how I bought my first car, just before I turned 16. I bought a 1972 Datsun 240Z. I was so in love with that car. I had every Auto Trader. It was March of 1986. I drove to Calgary. I had three I was going to look at. We bought the first one on the spot. I remember handing the guy my money; it was like $4,700. I almost died. It was basically all the money I had. I was so proud of that car.
–As told to David Ebner
Premier of Alberta
One summer, I worked on a STEP (Summer Temporary Employment) program for Historic Dunvegan. It's really cool. There's an old Hudson's Bay factor's house and an old Catholic settlement. I was a tour guide and I got to travel all around northern Alberta, and talk to classes about Dunvegan. I started to learn how to do public speaking, and I learned more about the history of our province, and I learned that I liked being on the road – so it was fun.
I also learned that the STEP program is really awesome and should I ever become premier, and someone was silly enough to get rid of it, I would bring it back. I would have been 19, and it was a very good job. I mean, I have loads of stories of less fun jobs, as do many students, I'm sure. But you know what, you always show up, and you always do the best that you can.
–As told to Kelly Cryderman
Four-time Grammy Award-winning singer
I was a maid at the Keltic Lodge, in Cape Breton in 1963. They would hire university students, and this was after my first year at Mount Saint Vincent in Halifax. I would have turned 18 at the lodge. They had us scrubbing floors immediately. There was a common room and a huge dining room, and we were down on our hands and knees until we got it done. It was the old way of doing it. But I've always been really particular anyway, and I was a good worker.
I was a staff maid, the lowliest of the lows. We looked after the staff quarters, not the guest rooms. But we got more time off and we were paid $20 a week. We were taught how to make beds by a Mrs. Weaver. And I've never forgotten. On the road over the years, I had to remake so many beds in the hotels, often at 4 o'clock in the morning, when we checked in. The people in hotels don't know how to do it.
So I learned how to clean toilets, scrub floors and make beds. I still do that stuff, and I do it really well.
–As told to Brad Wheeler
President and CEO, CIBC
My most interesting summer job was hanging pig bellies on a midnight shift at Canada Packers in Toronto. I did it after my first year of university for half the summer.
I was thinking, "Should I carry on with my studies or not?" The job really focused the mind. It really forced me to think about the importance of education and going back to school. It also made me appreciate what people do for a living.
You get these hooks and you hang the pig belly. It hangs on a line and goes through a smokehouse and then a freezer. You take it off at the other end and then someone else does the slicing. It was really hard work. I am able to eat pork now, but for a while I couldn't.
It paid $9 an hour in 1984 or '85. Heavy labour is good. It's very good experience. I was fortunate to have these these great experiences in my life. Now, the key is, can you give your kids those experiences? You can give them a heavy labour job at home but it's not the same sort of thing. They have to go somewhere else and treat it differently.
–As told to David Berman
Co-president of boutique-hotel chain Groupe Germain Hotels
My first job, I was very young and I wanted to work. I was only 14. I was having fun but I was more interested in going to work than just having fun. A neighbour had opened a cheese boutique. I went and knocked on her door. I told her I wanted to work and did she have a position for me? She hired me on a part-time basis. So I went to work in this cheese store. Of course, today, there are cheese stores everywhere but at the time, there weren't many. I'm 60 years old, so we're going back 45 years.
You had to have a passing knowledge of cheeses. I didn't know anything at all about that. But I read up on cheeses to learn something about the topic. For the rest of my life, [the job] paid off because serving customers was another way to learn about the service industry and providing top service. It was kind of like the first step in a better understanding of food. It was a lovely discovery.
It was a store in a little shopping centre [in the Quebec City suburb of Sainte-Foy]. The person who hired me, it was her first venture. She was very kind, very gentle. I had worked a little bit for my father in one of his restaurants and the person who managed the restaurant was very, very strict, and harsh with me. It's like [working at the cheese boutique] allowed me to realize it wasn't necessary to be very, very hard on employees for things to go smoothly.
I went back the next year. I didn't like going to summer camp. I didn't want to be away from home. I had this entrepreneurial side, I wanted to earn some pocket money. Actually, I was very young and in search of my freedom. It was very important for me to earn some money and have a degree of independence.
–As told to Bertrand Marotte
Author of I'm Thinking of Ending Things and winner of the RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Award in 2015
I worked a variety of jobs, almost a different one every year, but the one that was the most memorable and that I apply to my current-day work was my work at a horse farm. They held horse-jumping shows on weekends. I was 16. We'd be sitting in undershirts in lawn chairs and if a horse knocked over a rail, we had to run out at the stop and put it back up. People didn't want to see us or talk to us; we just tried to blend in to the shrubs, basically.
But during the week is when we did a lot of the work. Haying was by far the hardest work. For us, it would start by driving a large tractor and trailer. One of us would be driving and two of us would be jumping off and stacking the hay bales on the trailer.
There was a conveyer belt from the ground to the second storey of a barn where the hay is stored for winter. One person would be responsible for loading the conveyer from the trailer and two guys would be at the top of the barn unloading and it's coming up pretty quick. It's very hot up there. It's summer, there are flies and the bales start to cut your forearms. You're often stacking above your head so the dust is falling in your face and you end up doing this for hours.
On days when we would hay, we would do it early. That's the thing I keep in mind – to get the most taxing, difficult work done in the morning when I'm most energetic and alert. If I'm doing any new writing, that's always what I try to do first. Revising and rewriting is the kind of stuff I'll do later in the day. Every now and then the glimmer of haying comes into my head – okay, get that hard stuff done, I have the energy now. It also makes me feel pleased that I'm not still having to lift hay above my head for hours in a hot barn. I think I'm more suited to doing what I'm doing now, at my desk, in my slippers.
–As told to Hannah Sung
Minister of Finance
Like many teens in Canada, my first summer job was as a camp counsellor. I had a great time coaching kids on their baseball and tennis skills but, by the time I finished Grade 12, I was ready for a new challenge. A buddy and I borrowed from our families to start a very small pool maintenance business. We opened and closed pools, maintained them and sold pool chemicals and supplies to families in our neighbourhood.
It wasn't glamorous, but all that outdoor work did give me a great tan. Our first summer was a big success and by the next summer I had bought out my friend and hired my first employees to deal with a growing client base and increasing demand. I kept up the business during my first few years at the University of Western Ontario, determined to keep growing and expanding.
The biggest lesson I learned from the experience was the value of hard work. It also gave me a deep appreciation for small-business owners and young entrepreneurs – determination, work ethic and business savvy are what make them the backbone of our economy. I put in many, many hours to make that little pool business a success – and those hours paid off. The business skills and the work ethic I developed served me well years later as I worked to grow my family business, Morneau Shepell, into a leading Canadian organization. And they continue to serve me well today as Minister of Finance.
– As told to Robert Fife
Founder and executive chairman of global convenience-store chain Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.
My father got a job near Baie-Comeau working for Hydro-Québec on the Manicouagan construction site. We went to live in a village called Micoua, which consisted of mobile homes. The people in this village were for the most part key people for Hydro-Québec and had to be quickly available to keep the work going on the site. So, they were either supervisors or tradespeople such as my father, who was a specialist in hydraulics.
At 16, I had my first full-time summer job. It was working in the kitchens at the construction site. The site was located maybe five kilometres from the village and I lived on the site, in a dormitory. It was too far to commute. There was no public transit. We would rise very early each morning. I had a few different positions in the kitchen. Towards the end of summer, I was mostly loading the dishwasher.
I worked quickly to sort the dishes because the faster you loaded the machine the faster it could be emptied and the faster your shift ended. We would get off after supper, around 7:30 or 8 p.m. We were all fairly young. At one point, one of my co-workers showed up with some oranges. He started a game of kicking [an orange] around and trying to score goals in the corridor. We played with our feet, scoring goals on each other, until a supervisor put an end to the game. The next day, I get called into the office by M. Hubert [the son of the owner of the kitchen-services contractor]. He was the one who had hired me. He calls me into his office, says, "Listen, Alain: I heard that you were playing with oranges in the corridor, that you started it, that you were the leader. That's food. We pay for that food. You can't do that." And so he fired me.
I didn't protest. It taught me a lesson. To be fired like that, it had an impact. Not to mention the idea of using food in a game. I think M. Hubert's rationale was correct even if I found [the outcome] hard.
But kitchen work wasn't in my career plans. So I took [the firing] rather well. It was the end of the summer so it didn't ruin my summer.
–As told to Bertrand Marotte
These interviews have been edited and condensed.