Stefan is one of the top level Sales Managers at ECLAT Textile Company, a near billion dollar, vertically integrated manufacturer specializing in kitting, dying, finishing and full garment production.
I met with Stefan this weekend in Salt Lake City, Utah, at the annual Outdoor Retailers trade show to talk fabrics and production for a product line of a client of mine.
His job allows him to fly all over the world, with regular trips to Taiwan and meetings with executives of Nike, LuluLemon, Bebe, New Balance — basically, if you can think of a major brand, ECLAT has had their hands in a product of theirs.
So, Stefan has a great job that he loves.
And here’s the thing: he doesn’t have a college degree.
See, instead of going to college, Stefan offered his services as a low level assistant at ECLAT, which was not quite the multinational corporation it is today.
Stefan quickly proved his value and the CEO of the company asked him to become his personal assistant. While Stefan’s friends were in college, Stefan was learning the ins and outs of the textile business, meeting with business owners and watching the CEO make deals, run and grow a company, and acquire skills and knowledge like sales, marketing, negotiating, design, production and manufacturing.
Stefan got an education on the job and was well on his way to a successful career by the time his friends graduated college 4 years later.
15 years later, Stefan is one of the top level sales managers at ECLAT and has the successful, fulfilling career that most people consider is only achievable by spending four-eight years in college.
If I had gone to college, I wouldn’t have had that same opportunity to shadow the CEO in the way that I did.
I asked Stefan if he regrets not going to college.
He told me, “Absolutely not. College can be a valuable educational experience for some, but nothing beats real world experience. I got to learn on the job from successful businessmen and women, AND I got paid to do it. I don’t think I could have had the same opportunity if I had followed the traditional path in college.”
So, what can a young person learn from Stefan’s story?
1. If you take an alternate route, you don’t need to be Steve Jobs to be successful.
Stefan is not a billionaire. Not even close. But would anyone look at him today and call him an unsuccessful man? Here’s the thing: if you take an alternative educational or career path, you don’t need to become the next Steve Jobs to justify it. All you need is to be more successful and happier than you would have been if you hadn’t.
2. Create value outside of your individual job.
Stefan didn’t start as a sales manager, nor did he begin as the assistant to CEO. He made up for his lack of a degree by going above and beyond at his job and got noticed by the CEO because of that. And when he became the executive assistant, he did the same. He made himself so valuable that they needed to promote him. His lack of a degree because increasingly irrelevant in proportion to amount of value he added to the company.
We started Praxis for people like Stefan — if you want to learn by doing, apply today.
3. Start building your career capital early.
Stefan didn’t wait until he was 22 or 23 to start building a serious career. He didn’t accept the idea that life was a conveyor belt and that you have to wait until a certain point on that belt before you can begin living the life you wan to live. Stefan started 3-4 years early, which allowed him to leverage the fact that he was young and had few responsibilities, and it gave him a head start on his career that put him way ahead of where he would have been if he had spent 4 years in school.
A Final Thought:
The commonsense rules of today are often little more than a grab-bag of socially reinforced illusions. If you are a young person, whether you have a degree or not, one of the worst things you can do is to accept the narrative that life is a conveyor belt and that you can’t begin your career before you do X, Y and Z. If you want to begin your career now, do it. Take Stefan’s life, or the lives of Praxis participants, as lessons, and consider taking a different path that aligns with your goals.