First Jobs of 'Million Dollar' Sales Gurus

2015 Creative Arts Emmy Awards - Arrivals

By Chris Taylor

Who is the greatest salesperson ever?

Historical legends range from Dale Carnegie to cosmetics queen Mary Kay Ash. But today's TV viewers may be more familiar with stars of the Bravo franchise "Million Dollar Listing."Each of the reality TV realtors sells hundreds of millions of dollars in New York and Los Angeles properties every year. But some of them began their careers with jobs that could literally make you cry.

As part of Reuters' "First Jobs" series, we asked these real estate titans about their humble beginnings and what they learned from them.

Fredrik Eklund

Star, Million Dollar Listing New York; author of "The Sell"

First job: Chopping onions

"I grew up in Sweden, and it was mandatory when you were in school to have a job for two weeks. Around age 12, they just send you out into the workforce, and I was assigned to a famous restaurant in Stockholm called PA & Co.

"My job was to chop onions in the kitchen. I cried a lot at the time, but I actually developed an obsession with onions: Now I can eat them like apples, and I put raw onions on everything.

"Once my grandparents came to visit, and the chef sent me out to serve them 'Wallenbergare,' which is a traditional meat dish with mashed potatoes and lingonberries. They were so proud of me.

"I still go back to that restaurant all the time, and get one of the best tables. I like to sit by the window and reminisce."

Ryan Serhant

Star, Million Dollar Listing New York

First job: Carrying bags of roof shingles

"I was a laborer for Testa Building & Remodeling in Andover, Massachusetts, and my job was to take 80-lb bags of shingles up ladders, where roofers would hammer them in. I did that for three years and made around $8 an hour, which when you're 15 is a significant amount of money.

"But my real goal in life was to be a movie star, and I always said that one day, I would come back and have them build me a $10 million house. I told the owner that all the time.

"It was such an intense experience for me. I liked that once the workday was over, it was over, and you didn't have to think about it anymore. Nowadays, my work never ends.

"There were definitely days that we hated it, but looking back, I can't imagine not having gone through it. When I meet people now who have never done manual labor, I can tell right away. They just don't know what it means to get dirty.

"My kids are so screwed. I'm going to have lots of them, and I'm going to put them all to work."

Josh Altman

Star, Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles; author of "It's Your Move"

First job: Sorting mail

"When I first moved to Los Angeles from Boston, I had no money and no connections. My rollerblades were my car, and my brother's couch was my bed. I literally went around town just trying to find anything, and the only place I could get a job was in the mailroom, at a music agency called The Firm.

"I did everything from getting people's lunch, to answering phones, to delivering mail, to getting dry cleaning. All the horrible stuff. I got paid $7.50 an hour, and I'll tell you exactly what I spent it on: taking out the best agents at the company for drinks or lunch or dinner, to hear their stories of how they became a success. That's actually how I first heard about real estate, because some agents were making extra money selling houses on the side.

"When I flipped my first house and made $200,000, I kept it polite and classy: I went in to my boss' office and just said, 'Thanks for the opportunity.' That's how I quit. But I really hated my boss, and wanted to say something else."
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