Everyone has to start somewhere. And somewhere usually is an underwhelming first job. This piece is the second in a series on the first jobs that top executives today held and the surprising lessons they took from those experiences. (Read the first piece in the series: “FINRA chief remembers first job mowing, napping on golf course”)
Lynn Tyson’s love for horses began at 13 years old when she found the stable around the corner from her home in the Bronx. In exchange for cleaning the stalls, she got riding lessons. Skills from that job didn’t exactly transfer to her current gig as senior vice president of investor relations for AECOM Technology, a technical service company based in California. But she says her next job with horses paid dividends in her career.
In her sophomore year at Cornell University, Tyson was at a loss for professional ambitions. She decided to take a year off to soul search, which her parents agreed to if she found work during that time. She returned to a summer gig as a horse-mounted urban park ranger in New York City, which oftentimes required working with a tough crowd.
“New Yorkers are very direct and have short attention spans,” Tyson recalled. “When you’re sitting on a horse and you’re towering over them, the temptation is to intimidate them. But if you’re there to be supportive and educational, you really have to bend over backwards to be inviting and friendly.”
Part of the job was to be a walking information booth; another part was to help with crowd control for special events, like the New York City Marathon, and to give tours of Central Park.
“I had to really refine my communication skills,” Tyson said, especially of the times she spent guiding tours. “You have to be very clear and make something come to life for people and engage them.”
The native New Yorkers she encountered tended to be very proprietary about the park and city space, not unlike the investors she would come to work with in her professional career are about their claims and votes within a company.
“Corporate America is an aggressive place, a place where people don’t have a lot of time to assimilate information and you have to make your point quickly,” she said. “If you want to be an effective leader, you need to be able to move people along and to motivate people.”
Tyson eventually settled on business administration and returned to complete her undergraduate degree at the City College of New York. She later received her MBA from the Stern School of Business at New York University.
Tyson went on to serve as vice president of investor relations for Dell, Pepsico and Tricon Global Restaurants, which she dubbed YUM for their ticker symbol when the company went public. Some years later, Tricon followed suit to change the company name to YUM! Brands.
With all her stints at big corporations, she still maintains one thing about her park ranger job: “It will always be the most interesting job I’ve ever had.”
Also from the ‘First Jobs’ series:
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