A janitor working for his no-nonsense mother, a paperboy trying to manage his own payroll, and an aerobics instructor trying to sell gym memberships over the phone.
Before they became the head coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder, the president and CEO of the Oklahoma State Fair, and a Tony Award-winning singer/actress, they were working their first jobs and learning the lifelong lessons they continue to practice on this Labor Day.
Scott Brooks, the janitor
Growing up as the youngest of seven children in northern California, Scott Brooks was 15 years old when his mother told him it was time for him to get a job.
“I had just finished my sophomore (year) basketball season, and I remember on that same weekend my mom says, ‘Son, it’s time for you to get a job,’” Brooks said. “I said, ‘Can I get a couple of weeks?’ but she said, ‘No, as long as you live in my house, you play by my rules, and you’re getting a job. And you’re starting Monday.’”
Brooks’ mom was the plant manager for an automotive parts factory and she hired him as a janitor. Without a car, Brooks rode a bike about three and a half miles from school to work, leaving him with 12 minutes to get there.
About three or four weeks into the job, he came in late and his mom gave him a written warning. Brooks signed the warning and said he would do better.
About three or four weeks later, Brooks was late again.
“She gave me the second and final warning, and she said, ‘If you are late again, you will be terminated,’” Brooks said with a laugh. “So, I kind of shrug it off and I laugh it off and I think, ‘OK. It’s my mom. Is she really going to terminate me?’”
About a month later, Brooks was late by three to four minutes to work and his mom told him to clean the back area with the greasy drive shafts.
“It’s the worst job you can get. You have to do it once a month, and it takes about 30 minutes. There is no air conditioning and it’s a tin building,” Brooks said. “So she gives me this job to do, and I’m sweaty, I’m greasy, I’m hot. And after I’m done, she says, ‘Here’s your release. You are fired.’ ... So she fired me on the spot after she made me do 30 minutes’ work of the worst job you could possibly do in the plant.”
Though his mom fired him from his first job, Brooks was expected to find another one. He became a milkman during the summer months.
Reminiscing about his first job, Brooks said he learned at least three things: There are no excuses for not doing your job and you need to find the best ways to do your job right the first time; to be punctual and know that everyone’s time is just as important as your own time; and to get your priorities straight.
The Thunder coach said his mom passed away about a year and a half ago, “but all of her life lessons are still with me every day.”
Timothy O’Toole, the paperboy
Tim O’Toole was in between his sixth- and seventh-grade years when he decided to get a summer job to earn a little extra spending money. He became a paperboy for the The Daily Oklahoman in the summer and started delivering The Daily Oklahoman and The Oklahoma City Times in the fall.
“I thought it would be wonderful to have a bigger paper route and to make more money but it actually took up too much of my time and I wound up having to hire my brothers and sisters to help me,” he said. “I think one month, I had to borrow money from my dad to make my payroll. I didn’t have enough money to succeed so we had to cut that back.”
One of the perks of the job was the free “mistakes” from the local doughnut shop. Another was meeting his delivery customers face-to-face when he came to collect payment for the papers.
“You got to have the opportunity see your customers, and if you were throwing the paper and getting it right where they want it, that was fine,” O’Toole said. “If you weren’t, they would let you know about it, and in those days they had a lot of things on their front porches. Sometimes we would get aggressive and throw the papers a bit too hard and break a milk bottle or something on somebody’s front porch. And if you did you had to hear about it.”
In the spring, O’Toole became a page for the state House of Representatives. There, he saw the practice of civics and government, and banged on legislators’ doors to get them to come out of their offices to vote at the insistence of then-state Speaker of the House J.D. McCarthy.
“No matter who you are you always had a boss. He (McCarthy) couldn’t get anything done unless the members of the Legislature were in there to vote on the bills and the people elected as the representatives couldn’t get their bills done unless they showed up when the speaker wanted them to show up,” he said.
Today, O’Toole is working with his team on the finishing touches for this year’s Oklahoma State Fair.
“You have to treat your customers well and your co-workers, too. It goes hand-in-hand,” O’Toole said. “It is equally important that you have that same amount of respect and courtesy for your co-workers (as you do with your customers) regardless of whether or not you agree or disagree on all points. There is nothing wrong with having healthy discussions, and then you move forward to accomplish the goal you want to. You have to learn to get along with people.”
Kristin Chenoweth, the aerobics instructor
Kristin Chenoweth was 16 years old when she earned her aerobics instructor’s license. She soon got a job working with her cousin and taught four aerobics classes a day at a Broken Arrow area gym.
As well as teaching classes, Chenoweth was responsible for cleaning equipment and for trying to sell gym memberships on the phone.
“I was really decent at teaching the aerobics part. I was not good on the phone and I was not good at cleaning the equipment,” she said.
Chenoweth stayed with her job throughout that summer despite working with a man who would “probably be up for sexual harassment.”
“What it taught me was to stand up for who you are and for what you believe in. I think I ultimately said, ‘Back off, dude,’” she said. “I was there all summer, which was a big deal for me when I was 16, and I saved my money. I hung in there. It wasn’t the best job in the world but I hung in there.”
Through that experience, Chenoweth said she learned that if you want to be good at something, you have to keep working at it, and that you might have to work with people that you don’t like and you need to figure out how to make it work.
“I had to learn the value of a dollar and I had to work for it,” the singer/actress said. “My father was a self-made man, he came from nothing, and he showed me that if you work hard, and you stick with it, and you persevere, you can figure out a way to make things happen. I have that work ethic to this day.”
So, I kind of shrug it off and I laugh it off and I think, ‘OK. It’s my mom. Is she really going to terminate me?’”