Boundless Beginnings

A person’s very first job is more than a taste of financial freedom; it’s an arena where lessons are learned, professionalism is developed, and values emerge. Here, area executives talk about their very first jobs and how those early employment opportunities continue to shape their careers today.

pedro cherry

Pedro Cherry

President & CEO 

Chattanooga Gas

At the age of 13, I picked tobacco, which was the cash crop in North Carolina. It was a difficult and manual job performed in sweltering heat. Picking tobacco was a primary source of income for many families in my hometown. I took away several key learnings, one being discipline. Being up early and working late helped me realize that hard work is what it takes to get the job done. I had a newfound appreciation and respect for how hard others worked. In addition, I learned about prioritization and values – my needs versus my wants and that education would provide value for my future. After my first job, I learned to be resourceful and agile by finding other ways to earn money such as mowing lawns and washing cars.

Empire Communities ad

harshad shah

Harshad Shah


Hamilton Plastics Inc.

I came to the United States from India when I was 20 years old. My first job was in a petroleum lab where I worked from 12-8 a.m. During the daytime, I would go to school – which took an hour on public transportation – to get my second degree. My boss was pleased with my hard work and wanted me to succeed. He would let me study at work, he helped me get my green card, and when my dad passed away suddenly, he let me take all the time I needed and sent me advance pay. To have success, you need to help well-deserved people and treat them fairly. I treat my employees the same way my boss treated me, and I’m happy to say that our most senior employee has been with us for 35 years.

Artistic Pools ad

ron jonesRon Jones

City President

SouthEast Bank

In my sophomore year of high school, a close friend and I obtained jobs working for a gentleman who owned a heavy equipment dealership in Birmingham. He asked us to landscape the entire five acres surrounding his recently completed residence, and he gave us two pieces of heavy equipment to help. We had no idea what we were doing, but after 10 weeks of work, we walked away with a valuable lesson: When faced with a challenge, a teachable spirit and an open mind are two of the most important things you can possess.

Alchemy Ad

rebecca ashford

Rebecca Ashford


Chattanooga State Community College

My first job in higher education was as a peer advisor in the College of Education at the University of Central Florida. Even though this job was a student worker position, I learned many things that have informed my career over the years. My biggest lesson was to treat every job as if it is your dream job. I never imagined that a part-time student worker position would lead me to be a college president, and I might not have discovered my passion had I not treated that job seriously.

Yacoubian Tailors ad

ken shaw

Ken Shaw, EdD


Adventist University

All during high school, I worked on a farm. From milking cows to planting and harvesting corn, this practical work taught me a lot about responsibility – after all, you can’t skip a day of milking! I also learned important concepts such as teamwork, taking my work seriously, and looking ahead. The focus I needed in order to plant straight rows of corn with a tractor is demonstrated now in my strategic planning process. When you look ahead and plan for the future, you can more easily measure your successes, better apply resources to what matters, and improve unity among your employees.

Broadleaf Web Ad

jimmy patton

Jimmy Patton

President & CEO

Patton Albertson Miller Group, LLC

My first job was working in a plastics manufacturing plant during the summer of my junior year of high school. I was given the job of “cooking” powder in a metal mold to produce replacement filters for faucets. Another employee was on a production line next to me. Each time we cooked a batch of filters, we made a tick mark to keep up with our production. I thought it was incredibly boring work, and to make a game of it, I kept trying to beat my record. The employee next to me didn’t want to be shown up, so the faster I went, the faster she went. After several weeks, the plant manager paid us a visit and congratulated us on the highest production ever for that department. That summer I learned the benefits of competition and goal setting. And, more importantly, I learned I didn’t want to work in a hot Georgia manufacturing plant in the summer.

Beaty Fabricating Ad

Jim Mckenzie

Jim McKenzie

Market President


My first job was during the summer after I graduated from Baylor School. I was a 17-year-old paid intern working for the largest group of cardiovascular and lung surgeons in Chattanooga. My aspiration at that point was to be a doctor. I scrubbed in and assisted nurses during surgery by holding retractors and helping out with other duties. I did this for three months and witnessed many things that most 17-year-olds don’t get to see … or want to see. In addition to spending time in the operating room, I also went on post-surgery visits with the doctors. I developed a great amount of respect for the group of people for whom I worked – both for their skills and their compassion. I later decided medicine was not the career path for me, but I will always value my time spent with this fine group.

Baylor School web ad

marc cromieMarc Cromie, MD

Medical Doctor

Chattanooga Allergy Clinic

My first job in high school was as a waiter for Po Folk’s Country Restaurant. My opening line was, “Welcome to Po folks, We Po but Proud! Can I get you a belly washer (i.e. drink)?” The most important thing I learned from this job was customer service – how to take care of customers, how to make them happy, and how to serve the public. I believe this job taught me a great work ethic and that the customer is always right. This has shaped my belief at Chattanooga Allergy Clinic in that the patient is always right and customer service comes first.

Chattanooga Airport ad

Amna ShahAmna Shah

Founder & Owner

i-Card & AHS Consulting Inc.

My very first job was at the age of 16. I worked at a silk flower warehouse in Chicago. I was attending college full-time for my associate degree in international business while learning the ropes of managing a warehouse. Even though it was unreal for a 16-year-old to run such an operation, I was confident in my abilities, and it shaped who I am today. The job entailed taking orders, lifting boxes, and managing inventory. I was also to make sure all customers paid their dues. I quickly learned the ropes of the global supply chain world while becoming a good judge of the characters of whoever walked in the door with an order.

First Horizon Bank ad

tom ozburn

Tom Ozburn

President & CEO

Parkridge Health System

My first job was as a teenager working summers as a laborer for T.S. Raulston Mechanical Contractors in Chattanooga. I learned things that have carried me through my professional career like the expectation to arrive and be ready to work each day. I also learned to respect and listen to those who invested in teaching me. I still use the phrase “measure twice, cut once” to this day as CEO of Parkridge Health. Thank you, Jim and Johnny Raulston, for teaching me how to do a job right and with pride.

First Horizon Bank ad

jay dale

Jay Dale

Market President

First Horizon Bank

As a young teen, my dad announced to me one day, “Son, you start tomorrow as a bag boy at Pruett’s.” Like any teen giving up their summer freedom, I thought I’d dread it, but it was just the opposite. I learned the value of hard work, teamwork, and all the different jobs necessary to work in a grocery store. After a few smushed bread loaves and broken eggs, I quickly mastered the art of bagging. I learned that the friendlier you are to the customer in taking groceries to their car, the bigger the tip. I didn’t know at the time, but all those small lessons helped prepare me for a life of customer service and management.

The James Company Ad

Todd Fortner

Todd Fortner

President & CEO

Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union

In high school, I started my very first job selling shoes at Cain-Sloan, a department store chain that later merged with Dillard’s. We worked on commission, and I quickly noticed the difference between successful employees and those who had trouble making sales. The best employees would learn everything they could about the products they were selling, and they would intentionally engage with customers to give them a pleasant, convenient experience. Through this job, I learned the importance of proactively looking for ways to make yourself valuable to the people you work with and the people you serve.

Dillard Construction Web ad

betsy brown

Betsy Brown


Pendleton Square Trust Company

My first job was working at my mother’s gift store on Signal Mountain. From the age of 10, I was running the cash register, wrapping packages, creating displays, unpacking boxes, and pricing inventory. I worked every summer and holidays through my teens. Looking back on my experiences, I developed skills vital to my role today. In that small community store, I learned about building relationships with people of all ages, treating customers with respect, working under pressure, and understanding pricing models and taxes. One of the most important lessons my Mom Boss taught me was to always show up with a positive attitude and a grateful heart.

Dillard Construction Web ad

stacy beaty

Stacy Beaty


Beaty Fabricating, Inc.

Outside working with my dad, my first job was working for WedgeCorp Construction. My dad had, unbeknownst to me, gotten me a job right after graduating from high school. My job was running a jackhammer for 8-12 hours, and when I wasn’t jackhammering I was tying rebar. I worked 80 hours my first week and made $560. This was the most money that I had ever had in my pocket in my life, and it was the biggest pinnacle in my life to date because it gave me something called freedom. I realized that if I worked hard, my efforts would be recognized and rewarded. I carried that lesson through life, and I still demonstrate it here at my company. Working hard, problem solving, having the “whatever it takes” mentality, loyalty, honesty, and integrity will be rewarded.

Real Estate Partners Ad

lynda hood

Lynda Minks Hood

Executive Director

Chattanooga Bar Association

It was the summer going into my ninth-grade year, and I thought I was going to have all the fun with friends, but my parents had a different plan for me. My dad was an optometrist and wanted me to help him in his office. Although this wasn’t originally my idea of a fun summer, it turned out to be some of the best summers of my young adult life. While working for my dad, I was given the opportunity to learn the hands-on skills of the medical profession and help manage an office. I saw how Dad and his receptionist Mrs. McDade treated people and learned the value of customer service and compassion for people. Things I learned from working in his office are: always treat people with respect, your word is your word, confidence in myself, and responsibility!

Broadleaf Web Ad

jim vaughn

Jim Vaughn


Mauldin & Jenkins

My first “real job” was with Mauldin & Jenkins, a regional CPA firm. I was young and immature, but I learned that hard work pays off, to not inflate your sense of worth, work is rewarding but challenging, teammates are important, and that you get out of things what you put into them. I also learned that iron sharpens iron, being the highest bidder is NOT a long-term solution, serving clients is extremely rewarding, and to ALWAYS leave what you found better for the next generation.

5090 South Web Ad

gena weldon

Gena Weldon

President & CEO

Goodwill Industries of Greater Chattanooga

My first job was as an accounting assistant at Signal Mountain Cement Company (now Buzzi Unicem). I took away several important lessons that continue to serve me well: 1) There’s opportunity everywhere, even at the bottom of the totem pole. Recognizing this can lead to amazing things. 2) The only boundaries I have are the boundaries I set for myself. 3) Work for leaders who will support and challenge you. 4) Respect and understand all levels of the business. 5) It pays to be self-aware. Self-awareness gives you power and confidence. I take time every day to reflect on how people reacted to what I said or did and what I could have improved.

CHI Memorial Web Ad

garnett decosimo

Garnett Decosimo


Decosimo Corporate Finance

At 14, when most of my friends were at summer football practice, I worked as a tour guide at Ruby Falls. As first jobs go, I can’t think of a better one that lets you earn tips for telling “dad jokes” (thanks to everyone who contributed, except the guy who gave me “the tip” to look both ways when crossing the street). More valuable than the tips, though, was learning public speaking skills, the importance of sincere customer service, and that you can avoid a lot of frustration if you observe and listen to those with more experience.

First Horizon Bank ad

william jackson

William Jackson Jr., MD

Former President & CEO

Erlanger Health System

I began working when I was 14 years old in a box assembly facility north of Tampa, Florida. When I reminisce on this first job (which paid quite miserably), I am thankful that it taught me the value of hard, labor-intensive work – something that has remained with me throughout my career. In the Army, it gave me an appreciation for the sacrifice our veterans make and helped sustain me during long hours at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. As an intensivist, that same energy spurred me to work hard for my patients and colleagues.

Morning Pointe ad

chris angel

Chris Angel

President & Head of School

Baylor School

The lessons from my first job came from the back of a garbage truck. I collected garbage in the summers while I was at Baylor and throughout college, including vacations. I would start my day at 6:30 a.m., work all day, and then arrive at Baylor in the late afternoon for football workouts. I learned the value of hard work and learned not to take what I had for granted. It really made me appreciate my education and the fact that my parents sacrificed a great deal to send me to Baylor.

The James Company Ad

jeff myers

Jeff Myers

President & CEO

Hamilton Health Care System

My father came from the poor side of the tracks and worked 16-hour days, seven days a week for 20 years to start and run a family pharmacy. The whole family had a part in the business regardless of age, and my first job was at the age of 7. My dad was challenged multiple times with situations where he could have made excuses or dodged responsibilities, but in every circumstance, he believed in doing the right thing. Dad taught me that nothing comes easy. You have to work for it. It comes down to commitment, attitude, and putting other people first. He was consistent, hard-working, and had absolute integrity. If I am ever half the man that he was, then I’d be honored to be able to claim that.

Brody Jewelers Web Ad

john sorrow

John Sorrow

Regional Agency Executive

McGriff Insurance Services

My first paying job was when I was 13 years old, and I was a bat boy for the Chattanooga Lookouts. I got paid $5 cash plus $5 in concessions a game. The big payoff was a free road trip to Savannah and Charlotte with the team at the end of the season. This job taught me how to get myself to Engle Stadium (I paid 25 cents to ride the Carta bus from Signal Mountain to the stadium), how to play a small role (dragging the infield, cleaning up the dugout and locker room, soaking up rain puddles, taking out trash) on a team of mostly professionals in their 20s and 30s. I did not want to be viewed as a kid and realized to be treated like a team member, I had to be punctual and dependable and go the extra mile to gain the players’ and management’s respect.

Southern Adventist University ad

jim vaughn

Jim Vaughn

Market President


My family was very proud to have a white picket fence surrounding our home. Over time, that fence needed painting. So, while my friends were playing, I was painting. When you’re young, a task like this seems to last forever. As I stood, paintbrush in hand, I relearned the importance of focus and discipline to ensure no slats were left unpainted and no paint drips marred the finish. Setting goals throughout the task helped cut through the monotony, and my father’s inspection of my work was always tense until I received recognition for a job well done. This taught me that encouragement and recognition are critical skills of a manager and a leader, and can result in the successful completion of any task.

Yacoubian Tailors ad

craig sarine

Craig Sarine


University Surgical Associates

My very first job was delivering the New York Daily News every morning from sixth grade through 10th. The paper didn’t care if it was raining, snowing, bitter cold, or if I really didn’t feel like getting up – it just needed to get delivered. From this experience, I learned responsibility at an early age, the need for perseverance through adversity, and the weekly financial reward of getting the job done.

The James Company Ad

billy carroll

Billy Carroll

President & CEO


My first job was handling lawn maintenance for the building that housed the bank my father ran in Sevierville, Tennessee. I was 14 years old at the time, and the building had just been completed and had newly sown grass. My responsibility was to make sure that grass took hold and grew strong. I watered it every day and trimmed as needed that summer. By the end of the summer, I’d been successful and left the job feeling very accomplished. The lesson learned – consistency matters. Stick to the process and the results will come.

Patton Albertson & Miller ad

charlie rymer

Charlie Rymer

Executive Vice President


In 1998 I was finished with my short-lived career on the PGA Tour due to bouncing too many tee shots off of houses. Golf had been my only job. I had “worked” on golf since age 4. The late and great ESPN executive producer Chuck Gerber hired me as a golf announcer. We were in Maui for the Tournament of Champions. I had no experience or instruction in television. He came to me right before the show, gave me a nudge, and said, “Rymes, we are live in 168 countries. Don’t mess it up.”

Raymond James downtown ad

steve hunt

R. Steve Hunt

Owner/Principal Broker

Hunt Commercial Real Estate

At 13 years old, I got a job at a long-established “fruit stand” in Hixson. It was such a small business that everyone did every job. Waiting on customers, running the cash drawer, caring for plants, fruits, and vegetables, selling Christmas trees during the holiday season. It was a great small business training ground. The owner could be a bit crotchety at times but always stressed the importance of customer service and insisted that we were always “pleasant and presentable.” I have grown to understand his crotchetiness and continue to strive to be pleasant and presentable.

Patton Albertson & Miller ad

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