In our regular series, industry big wigs take us back to their first jobs
Hi, Dan! Who are you and what do you do?
Dan Ward here. I work as an innovation catalyst at the Mitre Corporation, a not-for-profit just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. We work to solve big, hard problems in the public interest. I’ve also written three books!
What was your first McJob?
I was kind of an entrepreneur as a young kid: cutting grass and doing magic shows. But my first like rubbish job was working for a moving company during the summers when I was in college. So: hot, sweaty, physical work.
How did you get the job?
My dad was in the Air Force, so we moved around a lot as a kid. I was looking for an easy-to-get local job, so I called up and they put me to work loading and unloading trucks in the warehouse.
What did you have to do day-to-day?
I’d show up early, pile into a truck, go off to somebody’s house, carry all their goods out of the house in big cardboard boxes and load them into the truck. The only thing we hated worse than the third floor was a piano. If we had to move a piano on a third floor, that was not a happy day.
How many pianos did you have to move?
Well, you remember all your pianos! I think there were two.
How long did you work there?
For two summers during school.
What did you spent in your first pay cheque on?
Knowing me, it was probably Chinese food, although it might have been a cassette tape as this was the late 80s/early 90s — so probably the Lightning Seeds or They Might Be Giants. But mostly I saved up to cover my expenses during the school year.
Did anything particularly funny happen?
I still vividly remember — and still feel bad about — breaking someone’s large chest of drawers. I accidentally knocked over a big box in the warehouse and it was like something out of a movie, with things falling out in slow motion, crushing their dresser. It’s funny now, but I was not laughing at the time.
What skills did you learn that you still use today?
I am outstanding — world class! — at packing a car for a long trip. I’m also pretty good at Tetris, so I can fit boxes together with no gaps.
Are you still in contact with anyone you used to work with?
Just one. I happen to be related to him. My younger brother worked with me for one of the two summers. So he’s the only colleague I’m still in touch with.
Do you still speak about your summer working together?
It actually comes up as a topic of conversation more often than you might think. When the family gets together, my dad will say: “Remember when you worked at that moving company?” I also did 20 years in the US Air Force myself, so every time we moved, I knew what the procedure was … and I always made sure to buy doughnuts and pizza for the guys.
Why is alumni important to you personally?
Well, in the case of the moving company, I’m related to one of the alumni. I love my brother and I’m happy to still be in touch! But I think the larger concept of alumni matters because that shared experience and connection helps you to work together and get up to speed together more quickly. Although I didn’t stay in touch with a lot of the moving company folks, I’m still in touch with a lot of my ROTC [Reserve Officers’ Training Corps] classmates, and we pass connections back and forth. I’ve just got a speaking invitation that passed to me from somebody from my school days.
Why is alumni important for businesses today?
It really helps broaden your network. A good friend of mine taught me the phrase: networking is working. The time we spend building, maintaining and tapping into these connections is a legitimate business function. An alumni network where you can reach out to somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody makes it easier to solve hard problems more effectively.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself?
Going through experiences means that you’re learning lessons, even if you don’t realise it at the time.
What will happen if you went back to work at your old moving company today?
I would be taking a lot more Advil and pain reliever than I do today! I really appreciate an office job where I’m air-conditioned and not sweaty moving heavy things, and in danger of breaking other people’s stuff.