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The first jobs of world leaders

Which prime ministers used to sell onions and chicken feed?

They started from the bottom now the whole team's here.


In our monthly "First Jobs" series we have talked to members of some exclusive clubs such as Nobel Prize winners and Super Bowl champions. This time we talked to those in perhaps the most exclusive club of all: former heads of state.

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Lofty beginnings? Hardly.

Kim Campbell, Former Prime Minister, Canada


Now: Founding Principal, Peter Lougheed Leadership College at the University of Alberta

First job: Fish processor

“The summer after my first year of university, in 1965, I traveled a thousand miles north of my hometown of Vancouver to work at the Royal Fish Plant in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, a job I got through a friend of my sister. I primarily worked on the ‘fish stick line,' which processed the smaller pieces of halibut.

"I remember how big the fish were - sometimes weighing more than 300 pounds - and how strong the person who made the initial cuts had to be. An incredibly strong Scandinavian woman named Helga did that job at our plant, which was unusual, as normally a man did this. Nonetheless, she was paid less than a man would have been, and even less than the man who assisted her by moving the cut fish.

“As a student, I was ecstatic to be making the incredible rate of $1.82 an hour. What a great education for a city girl like me, whose fellow workers accepted me with warmth notwithstanding my 'southern' ways. It was a wonderful community, and the stunning view of Prince Rupert Harbor while I was scrubbing the freezer racks (in my gumboots, overalls and turban) is a memory that stays with me still.”

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Laura Chinchilla, Former President, Costa Rica

Now: Fellow, Georgetown University's Institute of Politics and Public Service

First job: Bookseller

"I worked at the most important bookstore in San Jose, called Universal. This was around Christmas time, and I sold and packed Christmas books. I became a real expert in packing things.

"I will always remember that job because it allowed me to travel by myself through Central America. At the time many nations were at war, so my parents didn't really agree with the idea.

"But I told my parents, 'I'm 18, and you're not going to stop me.' I didn't tell them about all my adventures, though - I was interrogated by the Honduran military, and was sexually harassed in Nicaragua. And when eventually I ran out of money, I came back home."

Fredrik Reinfeldt, former Prime Minister, Sweden

Now: Chair, Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative

First job: Onion seller

“I had all sorts of jobs from a young age. At 15, I had two part-time jobs: One selling books in my neighborhood during the Christmas holidays, and the other packaging sticky tape in a factory.

"Later on I worked selling seeds and onions. Besides earning some pocket money, these early jobs gave me a real appreciation of all the hard work that underpin our modern societies. I actually had the pleasure visiting that same seed-and-onion company some 30 years later, while traveling through Sweden as Prime Minister.”

Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister, Australia

Now: President, Asia Society Policy Institute

First job: Raising chickens

"When I was about 9 years old, my mum bought me a dozen chickens and some feed, and told me to raise them into egg layers. We lived on a farm near a little town called Eumundi (population 200) in rural Australia. I endured a major fox attack which took out three of my best egg-layers. But with the remaining ones, I got to sell about 4 dozen eggs each week, at 4 shillings a dozen, with loyal customers in town.

"What did I learn? Keep your customers happy. And be alert to external shocks, like foxes. A bit like the Global Financial Crisis after I became Prime Minister.

"A couple of years later, mum got me a summer holiday job packing groceries in Nambour (population 8,000). What I hated most was carrying boxes and bags to customers cars. They were bloody heavy for a 12-year-old.

"One old lady in her eighties was a regular customer each month. But she bought in bulk. Ten pounds of sugar, ten pounds of flour, ten pounds of rice, several bunches of bananas. Result: Taking all that half a mile down the road, at pace, to make sure the old dear didn't miss her train. For which I was rewarded with - a free banana! I hated bananas."

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