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5 CEOs that did interesting things before becoming CEOs

Everybody loves CEOs, right? Right?

Image credit: 20th Century Fox


Let’s assume that they do.

Here at Phrasee, we have a doozy. His name is Parry Malm.

What a dreamboat, amirite?

Parry has made it his goal to revolutionise the language of marketing using machine learning technology, something he and the Phrasee team have been doing for huge brands across the world.

Yes, Parry has dedicated the last 2+ years of his life to finding new and exciting ways to get people to open marketing emails. Also, he’s great at parties.

But before he became world-renowned for posing for photos that could be mistaken for a bargain bin 2003 pop-punk album cover, it might surprise many to learn that Parry’s first foray into the marketing world was as an intern working for one of its most vocal detractors: the anti-corporate, anti-advertising, Vancouver-based magazine “Adbusters“.

Yes, THAT Adbusters. The same guys who started #OccupyWallStreet, #BuyNothingDay, and other mass boycotts and movements that have shaken the world’s status quo to their core.

Did this experience affect him in deep and meaningful ways, and steer him toward an anti-corporate and anarchic mind set?

Who knows? But, it did get us thinking: are there other CEOs out there who experienced strange and interesting things before starting their companies?

We thought there just might be.

As it turns out, we were right.

5 CEOs that did interesting things before becoming CEOs

Steve Jobs goes on quest for enlightenment

In 1973, a then 18-year-old Steve Jobs, like so many 18 year olds before him, was a precocious, pretentious youth working at Atari, hitchhiking to work every day, and dipping his toes into the world’s spiritual waters.

Disappointed to learn that listening to south Indian music, reading “Be Here Now” and meditating with his Japanese meditation pillow failed to slake his spiritual thirst, Jobs set off on a 7-month, shoestring-budget quest to the ashrams of India.

Did he find enlightenment there? Possibly. He did, however, shave his head and begin wearing traditional Indian clothing on the regular when he returned to the US. What a dude.

Walt Disney fired for not being “creative enough”

In 1919, aspiring cartoonist Walt Disney was fired from his job at the Kansas City Star newspaper after failing to meet the expectations of his manager, who told him he was being fired because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

But before going on to found the most dominant entertainment empire the world has ever seen, Mr Disney had one more fail in store for the world; acquiring animation studio “Laugh-O-Gram”, which he promptly drove into bankruptcy.

Kat Cole kills it at hooters

We know what you’re thinking: “One woman featured, and you had to make it a Hooters girl. tut-tut-tut”, but Kat Cole, now CEO of baked goods concern Cinnabon (the same Cinnabon responsible for that weird, sickly-sweet smell prevalent in every single North American Mall), deserves your bearing with us for a second.

Kat Cole, who began her Hooters career as a hostess at age 17 to pay for college, took less than a year as a Hooters waitress before the Hooters corporation was sending her across the globe as a representative of their brand. By age 23, Cole was in charge of global training for all hooters employees and managers, and used this role as a springboard to launch her extremely successful career and eventually seize the big chair at Cinnabon.

Jeff Bezos: camp counsellor

Who’s that sitting around the campfire, singing sons and strumming his guitar with a bunch of 4th, 5th and 6th grade children?

Why it’s Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, of course!

Yes, pleasant billionaire Jeff Bezos’s first ever job was running a summer camp he founded with his girlfriend (at the time) called “The Dream Institute”, where in between marshmallows and games of capture the flag, he educated young minds on topics ranging from how electric currents work to the finer points of “Gulliver’s Travels”.

Will any of those supple young minds one day go on to become billionaires themselves, and credit Bezos’s unique camp counsellor styles with their success? Time will tell.

Mark Cuban dances his way to the top

Quintessential entrepreneur Mark Cuban tried out many things over the course of his career. From running his own pub to promoting parties, Cuban always had a knack for turning one buck into three.

But it was as a disco dancing instructor in high school and through his early college years that made him the happiest of all (at least, we assume it did).

This may explain why, at the age of 49, an already extremely famous and wealthy man, he decided to participate in Dancing With The Stars, a decision that baffles many to this day.

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