Before Fred Cook, current CEO of global PR giant Golin, was president, director, or chief-executive-anything, he worked as a cabin boy on a ship.
An atypical career choice, perhaps, but one that Cook doesn’t regret at all. In fact, Cook credits the time he spent during his youth traveling the globe with helping him gain the global perspective that lead him on the path to where he sits today as CEO of a renowned public relations and marketing firm. And it’s not the only odd-job that Cook took before he ascended to the top of the business food chain. He also spent time as an inner-city teacher in downtown Los Angeles, a doorman, and a failed drunk-taxi service called Sober Chauffeur.
During these experiences–and undoubtedly many others–Cook gained invaluable working experience while learning and experiencing new cultures, people and perspectives.
That, says Cook, is one of the most important experiences that a young person can have today.
“From a company’s perspective, I worry about finding fresh perspectives from people who all are sort of a commodity,” said Cook in an interview with Forbes Magazine. “There are whole worlds of people that are different than we are that you can experience and learn from.
What better a way to gain the perspective that Cook and so many others are seeking out in new employees than travel?
Not everyone is born with the inherent wanderlust that makes for a willingness to drop everything, hop on a plane and disembark in a new state, country or continent. But for those of us who are it can be a life (and career) changing experience.
Having been born in Saudi Arabia, grown up between Jeddah and Cairo, Egypt, and visited most every state in the US, recognizing the importance of global travel is second nature. Where you’re born and where you spend your formative years can shape not only your personal beliefs and culture, but your interests and mental perspective on the world as a whole.
Seeing the unbelievable architecture and culture that has cultivated in Jeddah was the foundation for my interest in global adventure and exploration. As the largest seaports in Saudi Arabia, I experienced so much more than just what Jeddah had to offer. The level of diversity that I experienced while meeting new people in Jeddah allowed me to delve into cultural exploration without even leaving the city in which I was born.
Compared to living in Jeddah, the time I spent in Los Angeles between 1995 and 1999 was mundane. If you’ve ever been to LA, you’ll understand how bold a statement that is. That certainly doesn’t reflect poorly on the City of Angels, however, it’s more of a testiment to the unseen, unheard and untraveled wonders that await each and every one of us. When you’re born in one city and don’t leave, you’re failing to capitalize on the opportunity to explore.
Without the perspective I have experienced during the first 23 years of my life, I can confidently say I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have gained the tools and qualities that have allowed me to work on political campaigns or rise through the management ranks of a jewelry store. And while I can partially credit my global perspective to landing me those jobs, those same positions have acted as learning experiences in themselves.
While I may not have worked as a cabin boy on board a vessel bound for Japan, or a doorman who worked for tips like Fred Cook, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any signs of regret on our faces when it comes to cultivating new experiences. The knowledge and perspective I gave accumulated over the years exploring new places is priceless to me and I wouldn’t give it up for, well, the world.
Cook, F. (2014). Improvise: Unconventional career advice from an unlikely CEO. Agate B2.