Donald Trump, who turns 62 this month, also started out in the family business. He would go to construction sites with his father and watch how he negotiated with contractors. "He was on the sites at 6 a.m. every day," Trump says. "He was a relentless worker, and I was expected to keep up with him."
Loews Hotels CEO Jonathan Tisch, 54, started behind the front desk of the Americana Hotel in New York, where he substituted his middle name for his last name so that customers and co-workers wouldn't know his family owned the hotel. Andrew Cosslett, 53, the British CEO of InterContinental Hotel Group, went to the South of France in 1975 to clean rooms and change beds at a resort in Cap d'Agde. The work was hard and repetitive, but Cosslett says he learned French, and the job was more enjoyable than those he worked later back in England: forklift driver, barman and accounts clerk in a soft-drinks business.
"Looking back, all of them have given me invaluable experience that I have drawn on," says Cosslett, who runs a company in charge of 585,094 guest rooms in 100 countries.
Philadelphia University President Stephen Spinelli, 53, co-founder of Jiffy Lube International, was fired as a bus boy when his boss learned he was underage, but he was given a letter of reference and went on to work several more jobs as a teen, often putting in 80-hour weeks. By the time he was 21, he was a summer police officer in Ocean City, Md., where confiscated beer found its way to the police barracks at night.
"Maybe the most fun I've ever had in a summer job," Spinelli says.
Jim McNerney, 58, CEO of Boeing, may have him beat. McNerney recalls working the usual teen jobs around the Chicago suburbs when, one summer, he called up a Colorado rancher on a whim.
"I'm 6-foot-2, strong, and I like to work," he told the rancher.
"Can you ride?" the rancher asked.
"Not yet," McNerney responded, enthusiastically enough to be hired. He baled hay, cleared land, branded cattle and slept in the bunk house.
He learned to ride at night, and by the end of the summer, entered a local rodeo.