How The 10 Most Influential Women In Business Started Their Careers

We all have to start somewhere. Everyone has to take that important first step in their working life, no matter which industry you choose. Even the 10 most influential women in business today started their careers by working temp or part-time jobs around high school or college to support their wider ambitions. First Jobs is a brand new interactive list of the world’s most successful people in music, business, and film, highlighting the surprising and often embarrassing jobs they had before making it big.

Today, they’ve put together a killer list of the 10 most influential women and how they got their start.

Indra Nooyi (CEO of PepsiCo) [pictured above]

First Job: Receptionist

Quote: Nooyi worked as a receptionist to buy a suit for her first job interview. Being uncomfortable with the outfit, she was rejected. For her next interview, her professor advised her to stick to what she was comfortable with. She wore a sari and got the job. This philosophy of ‘be yourself’ was one she followed for the rest of her career.

Marissa Mayer (Ex-President of Yahoo)

First Job: Grocery Store Clerk

Quote: “I was a checkout clerk in the County Market in Wausau, WI — a summer job when I first turned 16. Many of the cashiers had years of experience and were very committed to their jobs, so I saw first-hand the importance of a great work ethic. I learned that speed mattered. I also learned a lot about family economics, how people make trade-offs, and how people make decisions on something fundamental, like how to eat.”

Kate Cole (CEO of Cinnabon)

First Job: Waitress at Hooters

Quote: “I was lucky that Hooters wasn’t a more sophisticated company, because there’s no way someone my age would have had those chances. It wasn’t like people graduating from Ivy League schools were dying to get a corporate job at Hooters.”

Beth Comstock (Business Executive at General Electric)

First Job: Factory Worker

Quote: “I thought working as summer relief at the Rubbermaid factory in Winchester, VA, would be a nice break from school and a chance to earn some money. I worked the evening shift from 4 p.m. to midnight. I was a fish out of water. Not only was I not particularly tough, I was regularly assigned to jobs I wasn’t prepared to do. The work was physical, demanding and required a great deal of focus.”

Photograph by Krista Kennell/Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit

Alexa von Tobel (CEO of Learnvest)

First Job: Doctor’s Office Assistant – her father’s pediatrician office in Jacksonville

Quote: “So I would go to my dad’s office, and I would file. I would clean up all the toys. And actually, I think it was – in its own way, it was kind of brilliant. My dad wanted me to, like, observe other families going through challenges. Some days, I kind of pull on that more than I even realize, now that I have my own family.”

Karen Kaplan (CEO of Hill Holliday)

First Job: Receptionist at Hill Holiday

Quote: “I was going to be the best damned receptionist in history and that’s how I approached the job. I took it really seriously. I didn’t just bide my time out there. I took it very seriously and I paid attention. It was the perfect perch to study people and get to know everybody and figure things out”.

Sara Blakely (CEO and Founder of Spanx)

First Job: Ride attendant at Disney World

Quote: Blakely drove from Clearwater to Orlando to audition for a job at Disney World. Two inches too short to fill the 5-foot-8 Goofy costume, she instead spent eight hours a day on a moving walkway buckling visitors into their seats at Epcot’s closed World of Motion ride.

Jacki Zehner (President of Women Moving Millions)

First Job: Hot dog seller during hockey games

Quote: “Back in the late 1970s, not only did we not have cash registers, but the only calculators we had to rely on were the ones in our heads. It was during those brief intermissions during hockey periods when everyone would rush up for refreshments, meaning the lines would be long and patience would be short.”

Oprah Winfrey (TV producer/entrepreneur)

First Job: Grocery Store Clerk

Quote: “I wasn’t allowed to talk to the customers, and can you imagine for me? That was very, very, very hard.”


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