I know a secret. It’s about an opportunity - not for you, but for your kids. How do I know this? Because someone told me the secret when I was 15 years old, and it has changed my life. There I was, a bit overweight, not very popular, and probably too smart for my peers to consider cool. I was sitting in computer class, hidden nicely in the middle so as not to draw too much attention, when a man came in to speak. He talked about a program I’d never heard of, where once a week kids from across the city would come together and form a company. You’d make a product, sell it and market it. Local business people would help you along the way. My interest was piqued. Before the speaker left, I quietly walked over and got a sign-up sheet. I didn’t do it for my parents, and I didn’t do it for special credits. I did it for myself.
The first time I went, I’ll admit I was terrified. I prayed to god this was not another popularity contest. And it wasn’t. Still, I held back and let others vie for leadership positions in the company I was assigned to. I figured I’d be quiet and just do the work. Weeks went by and I learned a lot. I found out that I was really good at sales and I made a bunch of great friends, which was enough to convince me to go again the next year. And that’s when things started to change. I found myself standing at the front of the room, with my hand up when it came time to vie for management positions – and I got one. I threw myself into the program with great energy and determination. Seeing my growth, I was invited to a regional conference with kids from other cities. We brainstormed. We talked business. I was vocal and confident. By my third year, I was president of my company and had won a scholarship to a Dale Carnegie adult program to hone my public speaking. I began to shine. I excelled in school, taking home the top awards in multiple subjects. I chatted with my teachers in the hall, who at first seemed confused, then seemed to enjoy themselves. I made plans to take a science degree at university. I spoke at the local business Hall of Fame dinner, and I started to enjoy reading the newspaper.
Then life moved on, and I never really thought about it all until my first big interview after graduating with my degree. I’d heard about a job opportunity at a little company called Nortel, who flew me up to Montreal, at age 21, to meet with the Director of Product Line Management. I saw equations on the blackboard that were beyond intimidating. But I remembered what I was capable of and had a frank business conversation with my future boss. As the meeting concluded, he said to me: “You’re unlike any other university graduate I’ve ever met. Can you explain why?” My answer was simple: “Junior Achievement”. I was hired, and I excelled. I made VP by 30, and now help run a growing software company. I’ve kept my “JA” spirit alive by passing my learning forward, which includes the career and technology articles I write for this site. So there you have it. The “secret” to my success.
Learn more about Junior Achievement
Junior Achievement runs to this day, providing not only the exact same program I went through, but many more opportunities. They provide business, workforce readiness, entrepreneurial and financial literacy skills to kids in big cities and small. It’s still run by business volunteers and local entrepreneurs. The students who go through JA programs save more money as adults than most. They tend to become successful in the areas they focus on, resulting in being three times more likely to rise within management roles. They are more self-reliant, therefore putting a lower burden on the social safety net (Boston Consulting Group did some wonderful research in this area). They make friends and build confidence.
If you are a parent of a child still in grade school, I would highly suggest you look around for any JA programs in your area. The advantage they will gain is tangible and significant. And finally, if you believe in JA, as I do, please see how you can help. We need volunteers, mentors, sponsors and support from businesses. If you want to know more, please feel free to contact me directly.