Paul Venables (Venables Bell & Partners) in “The Corner Office”

VenablesAdam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Paul Venables, founder and executive creative director of Venables Bell & Partners, an advertising agency in San Francisco. He says he would advise college graduates to volunteer for a task that the boss hates, and to “make it great.”

To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.

Photo credit: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

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Bryant: Were you in leadership roles early on?

Venables: My first job managing people was when I was 16, and I was given the keys to Carvel Store No. 1587 in Stratford, Conn. I was managing people who would come back on college break to work at the ice cream shop. They were older than me, and that was tricky. I learned a lot.

But I’ve always been a guy with a lot of opinions. And with opinions often comes conviction, and you see a better way to do things. So you become vocal and you get comfortable standing up in front of people or talking to people or swaying a room to move in a certain direction.

I should point out that I’m one of seven children, and it was a zoo at my house and therefore you had to work to be heard. Not only did you have to be crafty, smart and loud, but you also had to be on your toes to convince other people to do what you wanted, especially since I was on the younger end. Learning to navigate in that household, I developed some communication skills.

Bryant: I’ve been struck by the number of C.E.O.’s I’ve interviewed who come from large families.

Venables: I’m sixth out of seven, so I had five other teachers in the house. I learned certain things from my parents, but each kid had different interests, different styles, and I would learn and almost pick and choose from them — “That looks effective,” or “That’s smart.”

Bryant: How did you break into the industry?

Venables: I went to Madison Avenue to get a job, any job, in advertising. So I pounded the pavement, and at the time, you had to take typing tests at all the big agencies. I failed them all. Then I took a job at a small agency. They didn’t require typing tests, and the job I took was as the receptionist. Talk about learning people skills. You interact with absolutely everybody in the building — all the clients, all the people, all the vendors. I picked people’s brains about what they did and how they thought, and it was just a really helpful starting point.

The weird thing is right from that first job, I knew that someday I wanted my own agency. Every job I had after that, I gleaned the information I wanted, thinking: “I’m going to do that. I’m not going to do that.”

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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on that he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.

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