Jacki Zehner On Women, Money, and Changing the World  » My First Job: Hockey + Math = Wall Street Trader

October 29, 2013

My First Job: Hockey + Math = Wall Street Trader

Posted on Linkedin Influencers on October 29, 2013

I was born and raised in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. It is a beautiful place nestled along the 90 mile Okanagan Lake in the heart of Canada’s wine region. My parents lived there for most of their lives, with my dad growing up alongside six brothers and one sister. Canada. Boys. You guessed it. Hockey! Even though our television only had two channels while I was growing up, at least one of them seemed to show hockey games 24/7. My dad’s favorite team was the Montreal Canadiens, and we had a local farm team called the Kelowna Buckaroos to support. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to hear that my very first job was working at the concession stand at our local ice arena.

Back in the late 1970s, not only did we not have cash registers (or tills as we call them in Canada), but the only calculators we had to rely on were the ones in our heads. It was during those brief intermissions during hockey periods when everyone would rush up for refreshments, meaning the lines would be long and patience would be short. Thankfully, the prices were usually rounded to the nearest quarter, but you had to do the math on the fly and very quickly. “Two dogs, large Pepsi, a KitKat, and a popcorn” would be blurted out at me, and a sum total would have to be provided nearly instantly. “$6.50 please.” If I was lucky, I made a couple dollars a night in tips.

So what did I learn and how was this connected to what I would do later in life? First, I learned how to deal with pressure. At 14 years old, serving customers is stressful, but this stress was exceedingly magnified when the lines were long and the service was expected to be fast. During those 15 minutes we hustled and the energy was high. I discovered that I loved this feeling, and I would challenge myself to be the fastest server at the concession. A decade later, when I was being interviewed for a job on the trading floor of Goldman Sachs, I realized that the atmosphere felt strangely familiar. The noise, the yelling, the energy, all the men everywhere; it was like coming home.

Second, there was the math. I realize that adding prices in your head is not calculus, but the speed in which I had to make these additions made me really comfortable with numbers. Have you ever gone to a store and tried to give the cashier change after they have punched in what they thought you were going to give them? 99% of the time they cannot do the math. “That will be $9.10 please.” You give them a $10 dollar bill, and then decide as an afterthought to add in a quarter? Most can’t figure it out. This very basic skill seems to have gotten lost, and it is one that I learned at my very first job. Today, I spend the summer with my family at our farm in Canada, and we sell fruit from our orchard roadside. As I watch my kids having to make change, it makes me smile. They also have straight A’s in math!

A first job that involved basic math, dealt with cash, required friendly service, and forced me to be quick on my feet, proved to be an amazing training ground for a career in trading floor finance. From my concession stand job I moved on to flip burgers at Dairy Queen, selling sneakers at Footlocker, being a cashier at my dad’s supermarket, being an attendant in the weight room at my University, and many more. Did I know at the time where any of this would lead? Not at all; I just took one job at a time. I was never without a part-time job for long, working full time during the summers, and I believe these experiences made me a better and more efficient student. Somehow I found time to ride horses and compete in body-building as well. With youth unemployment so high today, many kids cannot find jobs, and are therefore missing out on key experiences that will help them in immeasurable ways later on in life.

Now I know what some of you may be thinking. Most of my jobs seemed to have me working with and around a lot of guys, and jocks in particular. From hockey players at 14, to body-builders at 20, and traders and investment bankers at 24, that would be a correct observation. Anyone who knows me, knows I am a champion for women’s leadership, and I will work to advance gender equity until the day I die, but please don’t ever accuse me of not enjoying working with women and men alike. Was my first boyfriend a hockey player I met at work? You bet. His name was Leon Gabba, and most of those early dates were spent watching him play. Fun, eh?

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