Five distinguished Americans explain why

it’s not what you earn----it’s what you learn


Compiled by: Daniel R. Levine

Joe Paterno          HAULING HEAVY SUITCASES all day in the summer is hard work, especially when you’re a skinny 14-year-old. That was me in 1940—the youngest and smallest baggage handler at New York City’s Pennsylvania Railroad Station. After just a few days on the lob, I began noticing that the other handlers were over-charg-ing passengers. I was tempted to join them, rationalizing, “Everyone else is doing it.”

When I got home that night, I told my dad about my temptation. “You give an honest day’s work,” he said, looking me straight in the eye. “They’re paying you. If they want to do that, you let them do that.”  I followed my dad’s advice for the rest of that summer and have lived by his words ever since. Of all the jobs I’ve had, it was my experience at Penn Station that has stuck with me. Now I teach my players to have respect for other people and their property. Being a member of a team is a totally shared experience. If one person steals, it erodes trust and hurts everyone. I can put up with many things, but I have no tolerance for people who steal. If one of my players were caught stealing, he’d be gone.

Whether you’re on a sports team, in an office or a member of a family, if you can’t trust one another, there’s going to be trouble.

          Joe Paterno is in his 28th season

          as head football coach of Pennsyl-

          vania State University. He ranks                    See photo above.

          first among active coaches in total



Scott GlennI was 16 when I hitchhiked from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. Glamorous L.A. was going to be the perfect spot to spend the summer. Even though I was 3000 miles from home, didn’t know anyone and was flat broke, I was excited. I finally found a job sanding and painting rusted water tanks on top of buildings. These buildings were as high as 30 stories, and it was sometimes another 50 feet to the rust spot. On my first day, the wind was blowing, and my legs were trembling as I climbed the ladder. I was so nervous I wasn’t able to do a thorough job.

Determined to overcome my fear, I forced myself to focus completely on the rust. I fixed my attention on sanding it down to the metal surface and painting the entire area so that it blended perfectly. I concentrated harder than at any time in my life —and the results amazed me. Not only did my legs stop wobbling, but I did a truly professional job; you couldn’t tell where the rust spots had been.

I’ve tried to approach every job since—from the Marine Corps to newspaper reporter —with the same level of concentration and discipline. But it’s made the biggest difference in helping me become a better actor. In preparation for a role, I focus all my attention on that character: I try to think like him and take on his personality at all times, not just when the camera is on.

A job as basic as sanding and painting rust spots taught me that to do your best, it’s necessary to concentrate fully and avoid distraction. If you do, it’s amazing what you can accomplish.

          Actor Scott Glenn has appeared in

          “The Silence of the Lambs,” “The Hunt          (See photo above.)

          for Red October” and “Backdraft.”


Elaine ChaoI WAS EIGHT YEARS OLD when my mother, two sisters and I arrived in America to join my father, who had left Taiwan three years earlier to seek more opport-unities for us. In New York I entered Public School 117. Because I did not speak English, I copied everything on the blackboard.

Then late in the evening, when my father came home from one of his three jobs, we’d sit down and go over the day’s lessons. By the time I was 16, my English was proficient and I was doing well in school. As the school year was ending, the other kids began talking about their summer jobs. Although my father wanted his children to study, I begged him to let me look for a job. He finally agreed, and I became an assistant to the librarian in a Manhattan law firm. My father walked me to the office my first day. Before leaving, he smiled and said, “Do your best and learn as much as you can.” Despite his reassuring words, I was very nervous. I didn’t want to make a mistake because I never thought I’d be given a second chance. The job turned out to be wonderful, and I made the most of my opportunity.

Whether answering phones or helping research cases, I was thorough, detailed and did as much as possible on my own before asking for help. I learned the import-ance of working hard, displaying initiative, anticipating what people wanted and always being alert and observant. I was asked back the following summer and gladly accepted. When I came to America more than 30 years ago, I knew nothing about my new country—but I went on to finish near the top of my high-school class and to graduate from Mount Holyoke College and Harvard Business School.

I now realize how right my father was when he told me: “You have a responsibility to develop your God-given talents. America is a wonderful country where, if you work hard, anything is possible.”

          Elaine L. Chao is president and

          CEO of the United Way of America.

          Previously, she was director of the Peace                (See photo above.)

          ~o;-ps and Deputy US. Secretary of



Frank PerdueI STARTED WORKING when I was ten years old. My father gave me 50 chickens from his poultry farm in Salisbury, Md., and told me to run my own egg busin-ess. It was a seven-day-a-week responsibility, which meant feeding the chickens every morning and collecting and grading their eggs. I also had to monitor the feed supply so I’d know when to buy another 100-pound bag.

The chickens my father had given me were culls, or rejects, but they thrived under my care. Before long, they were laying more eggs than his chickens. I averaged $12 to $15 a month—a lot of money during the Depression. Part of my success was due to watching the chickens and how they behaved. For instance, I noticed that when you kept fewer birds in a pen, they had an opportunity to develop. I kept 50 birds in my pen, and they did better than those in the crowded pen.

That first job taught me the importance of saving, budgeting my costs and keeping detailed financial records. I also discovered how much can be learned by hands-on management and being involved in all parts of a business. I never stopped giving my best effort even though there were times I wished I was doing something else. I discovered that hard work is vital to success and that no one ever com-plained his way to the top.

When my father turned the chicken farm over to me in 1948, it continued growing into a large operation. Yet I still apply many of the lessons I learned managing 50 chickens.

          Frank Perdue is chairman of the

          executive committee of the board

          of directors of Perdue Farms, Inc., (See photo above)

          the country’s fourth-largest poultry

          production company, with annual

          sales of over $1 billion.


Montel WilliamsI GREW UP in a tiny Baltimore row house near the city dump. My parents provided the necessities of life but couldn’t give much more. If I asked my father for a pair of jeans, he’d say, “If you want them, make the money and buy them your-self.” He wasn’t being mean; he just couldn’t afford them. From age 12 on, I worked odd jobs after school.

When I graduated from high school, I enlisted in the Marines. Soon I was in boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., where I learned that life in the military revolved around accomplishing daily missions. These could be anything from cleaning the barracks to conducting mock batties. Completing these missions successfully required discipline, team-work and commitment. It didn’t matter if you were black, white, Hispanic or Asian; everyone worked together for the good of the company. I went on to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy and by 1988 was a lieutenant commander. The part of my job I enjoyed most was the counseling sessions I held with family members of the men and women in my command, trying to help them cope with the long periods of separation. These proved popular, and word of them spread. Before long, I was being asked to give leadership and motivational speeches to business groups, educators and kids across the country.

But I consider boot camp my first I real job, and my life is still guided by the important lessons I learned there. It taught me discipline, camaraderie and the pride associated with setting a mission every day and working hard to accomplish it.

          Montel Williams is the host of his

          own syndicated television talk show,              (See photo above)

          which is currently seen in 117 cities

          across the country.



August, 1995, (pgs.27-29)

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