In an exclusive Q&A with Renée Ward, Maker's Mark Chairman Emeritus Bill Samuels, Jr, shares his first job experiences and what he learned along the way that still help him today. This is the 11th in a series of articles about the “first jobs” of successful people, their advice for today’s teens, and the value of work early in life.
Renée: How old were you when you landed your first paying job?
Bill: I was 16 and had just gotten my driver license. My dad was the founder of Maker’s Mark, and a friend of his was at the house and asked me to work for him. That friend was Harland Sanders. You might know him best as KFC’s Colonel Sanders.
Renée: What work did you do?
Bill: Basically anything he asked me to do. I was his part-time chauffeur and accompanied him on his rounds. I was happy to practice my driving skills. What a vote of confidence in me that was. You might say that I was his first employee. I drove him around and stood by him while Colonel Sanders did "his business" selling his chicken making process; traveling throughout Kentucky with a pressure cooker and a bag of secret spices.
Renée: What qualities did you bring to the job? That is, why do you think you “earned” the job?
Bill: Willingness. No qualities other than a recently earned driver license. Colonel Sanders was at our home, when I arrived back from taking the driver exam in the summer of ‘56. He asked if I wanted to drive him around Kentucky. No salary. Lots of driving practice. I drove him around in a pick-up truck that doubled as his office.
Renée: Did anything go wrong on the job? If so, how did you overcome the challenges?
Bill: Well, I learned early on not to mess with The Colonel. We had one fuss and it never happened again. But it was a challenge for me to remain mum. So, most everything went right. The Colonel was a marvelous salesman with a sterling reputation from his restaurant days in Cording, Kentucky. He rarely failed to make a sale to the one restaurant of his choice per town that would showcase his "finger licking good" pressure cooked chicken.
Only once did things not go well on the job. On a second visit back to a partnered restaurant, on kitchen inspection, The Colonel learned that the frying oil had not been changed in a long time. I saw him pitch a major fit and removed the pressure cooker from their kitchen. High standards, his way or the highway.
Renée: What did you learn from this job that has prepared you for what you are doing now?
Bill: Working with Colonel Sanders taught me a great deal about business. To me he was the greatest salesman that ever lived, a salesman with a purpose. My experience with him taught me the importance of product quality above all else. And if you fuss loud enough (even before Facebook) the word will get out and it did.
The Colonel was serious about doing things right and my exposure to this way of doing things guided my approach at Maker’s Mark. The company continues to handcraft Maker’s Mark Bourbon exactly the same way as when it was founded, in small batches by passionate individuals who are committed to craft, heritage and tradition – just like the Colonel was.
Renée: What advice do you have for teens and young adults today seeking their first jobs?
Bill: Be willing to take orders, listen, learn and don’t fuss with your boss.
Monday, August 25th is National Whisky Sour Day. If you’re of age and so inclined, be sure to make yourself one in its honor. A whiskey sour is a mixed drink containing bourbon, lemon juice, sugar, shaken, then served straight or over ice and traditionally garnished with half an orange and a maraschino cherry.
Not sure what you want to do or what kind of job to pursue? Take a look at the Association for Career and Technical Education’s (ACTE) career clusters and take a Career Clusters Interest Survey. This may help give you focus and direction in your job hunting. The Career Clusters Interest Survey
For more resources for teens visit Teens4Hire.org
For folks 50 and older visit Seniors4Hire.org