Today, Sheldon Yellen is the CEO of a billion-dollar company called Belfor. However, Yellen was not born into the typically affluent family you would most generally associate a CEO as being born into. In an interview with Entrepreneur, Yellen discussed what he learned from his journey from the bottom to the top, “from a little kid living in the rough area of Detroit” to a CEO with “a direct line to a billion-dollar company,” from rags to riches.
Yellen was born into “a rough area of Detroit.” He was “raised by a single mom and the eldest of four boys, [learning] how to work hard from an early age.” This rags to riches story is one that we can all learn a few things from as Yellen’s upbringing taught him “how to work selflessly – with no expectation of handouts or rewards.” Learn from this man’s path from rags to riches where he “used the fierce work ethic [he had] learned as a kid to turn [his] bottom-rung position into CEO of Belfor, a disaster recovery company.”
1) Never spend money without thinking
His first business lesson came from his first tip. Yellen had been given the opportunity to move into the role of a server at his first restaurant job and earned a dollar. “Excited, I cashed it and used a dime on the pay phone to call my mom. As soon as I told her my news, she hung up. Later, when she came to pick me up, I learned she didn’t want me wasting 10 percent of my tip on a phone call; she’d taught me the value of a dollar bill better than that.”
A profound and important lesson for anybody to learn is that a dollar is a dollar no matter where it comes from or what you spend it on. “Don’t take any of it for granted, even when the numbers get really big.” You never want to be wasteful.
2) Keep your ears to the ground
“Scraping and saving through my early life gave me a variety of experiences to draw from in my career.” Yellen spent his youth working various jobs that had, although no actualized trade in common, one major thing in common: they all taught him “the arts of listening and watching.” From working in a restaurant to being “a disc jockey, a vending-machine stocker, a ticket seller and – at an elite athletic club – a shoe shiner.” Yellen would interact with people who were wealthy and had time to kill however they wanted. So, he “tried to listen to their stories to see how” they earned that lifestyle. “I realized I could learn from everybody around me and, as a result, every situation became an opportunity.” When you want to accomplish something with your life that you see other people have accomplished – take note. Listen to their stories and to their paths. Find out what they did to get where they are and you’ll be a lot closer to understanding what you need to do to get to where they are.
3) Keep your field knowledge fresh
Never let your knowledge get rusty or your skills get outdated. “As a leader and supporter of my team today, it’s my responsibility to learn as much as I can about the industry and climate we’re in.” You have to stay on top of your field even once you get to the top. Additionally, make sure you’re the one staying on top. Don’t push the responsibility off onto someone else. “Don’t ask your colleagues to do anything you’ve never done yourself. Employees will give their respect and hard work to a leader who’s getting his hands dirty alongside them.”