As I listened to Tom Staggs, the former COO of the Walt Disney Company, talk about growing up, it felt like he was describing my life. We’re both around the same age, but I grew up in a small town in Manitoba, whereas Tom grew up in Minnesota. But the similarities of time and place are striking.
Tom was a guest on Brody Herrick’s podcast Titans as Teens. I’m a consultant on Brody’s podcast so I get to hear his conversations before anyone else.
In his episode, Tom explains that when he was growing up, it was imperative you had a job during high school, so you would have the money to own a car. Why? Because as he put it, you can’t roll up to pick up your date on a bicycle, or worse, have your mom or dad drive you.
In small town America, is it was in small town Canada, a car meant mobility – and mobility meant freedom.
For me, freedom came in the form of a 1963 Ford Galaxy 500. My friends had much cooler cars. Jerome had a custom Chevy Nova – a classic American muscle car with 454 V-8 engine, Hooker headers and a Hurst shifter. My friend Randy had a nifty new 5 speed Datsun that ran forever on a tank of gas. But my Galaxie 500 had a trunk the size of Saskatchewan, could pull my Ski-Doo trailer, and was never in any danger of getting stolen.
Having that car meant I could go where I wanted, when I wanted. It meant driving the 20 blocks to school instead of walking. And it meant that my girlfriend Karen and I could have our own private space on wheels – to do what you do when you’re 16 and in love. I had a job all through high school so I could pay to keep that car running.
In the podcast, Tom talks about his first jobs – delivering papers and then as a dishwasher. My first job, at 13, was as a busy boy. And like Tom, the interaction with adults that were not my parents or my teachers, had a profound effect on me.
Those early years of working, getting paid, and being told “you’re doing a good job” by someone in authority, validated my existence – not as a son or student – but as a working member of my community. In the podcast, Tom returns to this theme as he discusses the things that influenced him and set him on a path to success. A path included 26 years at Disney, and now as a board member for a number of companies, including Spotify.
Tom Staggs is featured in Episode 11 of Titans as Teens. The website features links to related resources and a full transcript. You can also find it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google podcasts and more.