My First Job: As a Detroit News Carrier


I wrote a piece for Linkedin Influencers as a part of their series about people's first jobs.

Read my story about my paper route that I had in Livonia, Michigan.

You can comment on LinkedIn or on this blog post. I don't think I was, by any means, a “Lean paper carrier” or anything. This was, basically, my first business – as an independent contractor to the newspaper. Lots of great lessons learned.

I wish I had a little bit more process around what I did and that I had kept better records (I had a plastic box that I kept my money and records in). Still, it was great experience and I think I did a few “Kaizen” improvements along the way that made my work easier. How about you?

The article:

My first job was as a paper carrier for the Detroit News, delivering papers in my hometown of Livonia, Michigan. Even as a young boy, I loved reading the newspaper (and not just the sports section), so I think that's what motivated me to sign up for a small neighborhood route of about 40 houses when I was 12 years old, at the lower limit of the labor laws in Michigan (at least at the time). My mom reminds me that I was interested in making a little money, mainly for buying baseball cards.

I wonder how many of those 40 houses on those two streets still get the paper today? And I wonder how many routes are still delivered by teenagers carrying the papers instead of adults driving cars along larger routes?

Anyway, I am pretty sure I started the route in early 1986. I definitely remember delivering papers with huge headlines about the Chernobyl disaster and its aftermath in April of that year. I had the route until my freshman or sophomore year in high school. At that point, after-school activities interfered with me being able to provide good, consistent delivery and customer service for the weekday afternoon deliveries.

The illustration below is my humble route – the two sides of Oakview St. and Jacquelyn Dr., including the house where my parents still live (although they were subscribers of the competing Detroit Free Press and its morning delivery):

I learned many lessons in the years I had that route as my first job (it was my first business, really).

For one, it taught me the importance of regular, consistent performance. Those papers had to be delivered every single weekday afternoon and every weekend morning. True, one of my parents might help me if the weather was really bad or if I was sick, but the paper route wasn't really a job you could only do when you wanted to.

Secondly, it taught me how to handle money responsibly. About 20% of my customers paid by mail, which meant I had to go ring doorbells and collect from the rest each week (about $1.65 a week, if I remember correctly). I was a relatively shy kid, so it took a bit of bravery to ring the doorbell and ask for the money that was owed to me, especially when I remember a few customers being difficult or outright weird.

Since I was a contractor to the Detroit News, I was responsible for managing my cash – collecting enough (and not spending it on baseball cards) to pay the guy who ran the paper delivery station each week. I guess, even though I wasn't thinking about it at the time, to focus on and manage cash flow in a business.

Thirdly, I remember being at least a bit innovative. The bag I was given to carry the papers in was designed to go over the seat or the back of a bicycle. I started off simply pulling the stacks of newspapers in a red wagon that was still sitting in the garage. As I grew older, I realized that I could carry that saddle bag over my head – with the papers in front of me and on my back. I guess that's not incredibly exciting innovation (nor was it very good ergonomics), but I'm not sure how much more innovative I could have been in that job.

In my later teenage years, I left the paper route behind for more traditional hourly employment. the part-time job I loved the most, through both high school and college, was a job at the now-defunct software chain Babbage's, where we sold products including Nintendo games (the original system), Apple II software, and something called Microsoft Windows 386.

Thankfully, these jobs taught me some good life lessons and I earned a few bucks, while not proving to be too much of a distraction from the most important thing – my studies.

I'm curious to hear if you also had a paper route as a first job or a first time entrepreneurial experience and how it helped you.

What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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