10 Workplace Lessons from my first job, 21 years ago!

March 2, 2020

I started my corporate career at AT&T in Atlanta, Georgia in 1998 as an Account Representative in the Consumer Markets Division, also known as Telemarketing Distribution Services (TDS). I was fresh out of university, having completed a B.A, from Clark University, in Worcester, Massachusetts. When I first joined AT&T, I viewed my job as a “job” and not the career I envisioned for myself. You see, I had dreams of becoming an environmental lawyer, hence, my choice of study in university was a double major in Environmental Science and Geography. I figured I would work at this job for a short time as I figured out how to get into law school. Six years later, I found myself still at AT&T, having risen up the corporate ladder to eventually manage my own sales team in the consumer markets division. I credit my long unintended stay to the great work culture and amazing leadership from my line managers, Beverlee Browning, Gwen Mason and Renee Beamount. Whilst these three women had different management styles, they had one thing in common, their leadership influenced my work ethic and molded me to the leader that I am today.

At the start of every financial year, like most corporates, we had a sales kick off where the senior leadership (“the suits”) came from HQ (New Jersey) to share the ambition for the financial year and to motivate us into action. One particular year, in 1999, Mike Kzirian who was then the VP of Consumer Marketing, North America, was our keynote speaker at the annual sales kick off. For one reason or the other I diligently took notes that particular year and strangely I kept the actual notes I wrote on that day at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on 4355 Ashford Dunwoody Road in Atlanta, Georgia.

I must have been very impressionable back then as after this sales kick off, I remember getting promoted literally every 6 months. From an Account Representative (on the phone doing sales calls), to a Subject Matter Expert, providing product knowledge to the Account Reps, to an Assistant Sales Team Leaders, then to an Assistant Pay for Performance Manager, and finally a Sales Team Leader of a successful team in 2001-2003. I even managed to clinch the prestigious AT&T True Achiever’s Award twice, in 1999 and 2000, an award reserved for only the top 3% performers in the division.

AT&T True Achiever's Awards

The AT&T True Achiever’s Awards I received in 1999 and 2000 from Mike Kzirian

Here are the 10 lessons I learnt from Mike Kzirian, former VP, Telemarketing Distribution Services, AT&T (USA), first shared in 1999 in Atlanta, Georgia.

  1. Have fun at work. Don’t always run at a breakneck pace. Take vacation when you have earned it. Spend time with your families.
  2. Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.
  3. Don’t be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own backyard.
  4. Never neglect details. When everyone’s mind is dulled or distracted the leader must be doubly vigilant.
  5. Don’t be buffaloed by experts. Experts often possess more data than judgment.
  6. Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand.
  7. The managers are always right and the associates are wrong. The associates are always right and the managers are wrong… To decide which statement is true is the challenge!
  8. The day employees stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care.
  9. You don’t know what you can get away with until you try.
  10. Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.

Thank-you Mike for these lessons that you shared 21 years ago that helped shaped my career and are still relevant today





  1. Tobias - March 18, 2020 at 3:12 pm - Reply

    Great piece, very insightful, informative …..

  2. Njoki - July 4, 2020 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    Great read Waithera and wisdom to live by even today

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.