Dawn Johnson’s First Job

Dawn Johnson learned the value of teamwork and a positive attitude in a most unusual place: a chicken hatchery! In this post, she reflects on the what she discovered at her first job.

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Most of us remember our first car, or our first kiss, or our first date. The “first” I remember most vividly is my first job, at the Central Kansas Hatchery.

I started working at the Hatchery at age 14, and maybe one of the reasons I remember it so well is the improbability of my love for the place. I still cringe when I think of the smell of rotten eggs, or the stench of baked-on feces, or the sight and smell of decaying dead baby birds piled high by the dumpsters. But I kept coming back every summer through my first year of college, and today I look back on those experiences with the fondest of memories.

I was paid minimum wage—a whopping $2.35 per hour. Along with a few other high-school students, I was there to take on whatever assignment came our way. We worked alongside many full-time adults who had been there every day for years. They were lovely, hard-working, trustworthy folks.

While the tasks and assignments were not glamorous, and the pay was not going to make anyone wealthy, the combination of the type of people, the type of work, and the collective teamwork and sense of togetherness was unbeatable. De-toeing chicks and washing dirty plastic hatch-boxes, I learned at a very early age that happiness doesn’t come from the type of work you do, or the assignment you are given, or how much or how little you get paid. What really drives results and personal satisfaction in a work environment is the people, the pride in being part of a team.

I credit those experiences with my business success. My time at the Hatchery taught me the value of hard work. It helped mold my people, management, and leadership skills by showing me how a job of drudgery can be transformed into something worthwhile.


Author: Dawn Johnson of San Antonio

A well-regarded entrepreneur and corporate consultant, Dawn Johnson leverages more than 20 years of experience as a high-level executive toward her role in helping CEOs and senior managers to implement business strategies for reorganization and growth. As the founder and CEO of DMJ Consulting in San Antonio, Texas, Ms. Johnson previously served as Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of the United States Automobile Association (USAA). She led the Fortune 200 company to achieve a nearly 95 percent customer satisfaction rating while simultaneously encouraging growth and development across all divisions. Dawn Johnson utilizes a wide range of abilities that extend across several different elements of business. Earning her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Kansas State University in 1984, Dawn Johnson joined USAA’s marketing team soon afterward. She spent nearly 15 years with the company’s marketing division, where she oversaw development and integration of marketing plans for the USAA Real Estate Company and the La Cantera Development Company. Working in several managerial roles within the department, Ms. Johnson advanced to President and CEO of USAA’s Financial Planning Services (FPS) unit in 2001. During her two-year tenure, she focused on implementing strategic development and rebranding initiatives aimed at better positioning FPS in the market and changing the company’s public appearance from that of strictly an insurance agency to a comprehensive financial services and products firm. With her turnaround strategies at FPS considered a success, Dawn Johnson advanced to President and CEO of USAA’s Alliance Services division in 2003. Ms. Johnson spearheaded negotiations with USAA’s Alliance partners, ultimately leading to the creation of more product and service discount opportunities for customers and a growth in client satisfaction levels. In 2004, Dawn Johnson was appointed Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of USAA. As the primary marketing executive at USAA, Ms. Johnson expanded her skill set even further by developing and growing the company’s retention programs and creating stronger collaboration between the marketing and operations teams. Residing in San Antonio, Texas, Dawn Johnson maintains an active lifestyle by reading, hiking, scuba diving, and working out in her leisure time. A travel and wine enthusiast, Ms. Johnson enjoys combining both interests during her vacations.

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