Construction Workers, Celebrities and CFOs

construction, celebrities, cfos-buttonLife wasn’t always about bright lights, red carpets, glitz and glamour for many of our favorite actors, actresses and music stars. Before making it big ( believe it or not ) many of them were just regular people holding down normal jobs. The celebrities discussed below all started out in construction. During their stints as construction workers, they all (with the possible exception of Sean Connery) demonstrated certain characteristics and skills that CFOs need to possess in order to become superb CFOs:

Clark Gable


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In the Golden Era of Hollywood, Clark Gable was known as “The King“. Men wanted to be him and women wanted to be his. Gable is probably best known for uttering one of the most memorable lines in movie history, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” But first, Gable had to work “damn” hard as a construction worker on various construction sites before he could conquer Hollywood as his realm. He soon became the official and apparently very popular supervisor of a small crew of workers. He also acted as a go-between for his workers and the top brass before becoming a leading man in motion pictures.

As Gable was popular as the supervisor of a work crew, it is pretty safe to say that he most probably lead from the front. He and his men knew exactly what the construction company wanted to achieve and he supported his workers as they worked together in order to achieve it.

An outstanding CFO must be able to lead by supporting. Along with the CEO, the CFO defines the overall vision of the company – the “what” – and supports employees as they work through the “how”.

Gable’s popularity amongst the men was also due to the fact that he got along famously with all types of people.

A CFO must be emotionally stable and willing as well as able to work constructively with all types of people. The CFO should never let personalities influence behavior or performance.

As a go-between, Gable had to have been a good listener and communicator.

Listening is a very important skill for a CFO to have. A CFO should be an attentive listener and should always listen without prejudice. CFOs should be aware that not everyone expresses themselves clearly and should therefore really take the time to listen and ask questions before racing ahead to whatever conclusion they think everyone else should hear.

The ability to communicate clearly is another skill of major importance a CFO sorely needs. A CFO must ensure everybody understands the message in exactly the same way and in the way it is intended to be understood.

Clark Gable died 58 years ago, but unbeknownst to himself, Gable is still a leading man: not as an actor, maybe, but his humble beginnings, and what can be learned from them, can still lead CFOs to success.

Arnold Schwarzenegger


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While chasing his ambition of becoming a world-class bodybuilder, Schwarzenegger and a friend built up their own construction business from scratch and called it “Specialty European Bricklayers“. While working here, Schwarzenegger also used whatever time he had available to build up his body and he eventually achieved his goal in bodybuilding circles. He decided only much later to try his hand at acting. After years of struggling, he finally became famous for his leading roles in the Terminator franchise despite an Austrian accent as heavy as a block of cement.

Schwarzenegger’s story also reveals a skill that is of extreme value to any leading CFO and that is the focus. Starting his own construction business and working as a bricklayer were the only ways to pay the bills while Schwarzenegger remained focused on and worked towards his main goal: becoming a world-class bodybuilder.

Leading CFOs must have an unflinching focus on results. They must consider how short-term activities are in concert with long-term objectives.

Arnie, your unflinching focus caused you to realize your biggest dream as winning several consecutive Mr. Olympia and Mr. Universe titles undoubtedly proves. So, congratulations are certainly in order!

Ozzy Osbourne


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Ozzy has been the lead singer of Black Sabbath  for so long that it’s easy to disregard his life before heavy metal. Ozzy left school at the tender age of 15 and then started working on a construction site. Whilst Ozzy is known for heavy rock, he is also quite familiar with heavy rock in a far more literal sense as he used to operate a rock breaker on site.

It is incredible but true that top-notch CFOs can actually learn something extremely important from Ozzy Osbourne using a rock breaker to move heavy rocks. Bearing in mind that the man is a megalomaniac with a bit of a God complex, he might very well have tried to move those rocks by hand…or nose…or tongue. NOT kidding!! Remember that memorable and much talked about episode of The Ozzy Osbourne Showwhere Ozzy firmly believes that he can chase the incoming tide back with a stick and by kicking the water because it is threatening to extinguish the little fire it has taken him ages to build for meditation purposes…and, of course, using the most colourful language in the process? See, NOT kidding.

But as a construction worker, Ozzie has actually proven to be resourceful by thinking of other possible ways to move that rock instead of using his own body parts. It is also evident that Ozzie used to have a practical side to him (who knew!) as he could, here, still distinguish between what is possible (moving the heavy rock mechanically) and what is not (moving the heavy rock by hand…or nose…or tongue).

Top-notch CFOs need to be resourceful. They must think of all the possible ways to address a challenge. They must employ creative problem solving and know to whom to turn for advice or input.

Being practical is another beneficial characteristic of a CFO. CFOs must possess the common sense and the good intuition to differentiate between what is achievable and what is not. They must think about “how we can do this” instead of “why we cannot”.

But let’s give the devil his due (no pun intended)! Ozzie still seems to have some vestiges of resourcefulness left as it takes a really weird and warped kind of resourcefulness to write songs, adored by thousands of people, called War Pigs, Master of Insanity, Megalomania (I rest my case), God is Dead and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath to name but a few.

Whoopi Goldberg


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You might not have expected a woman on this list, but before her big break, Whoopi also worked as a bricklayer. She was so perfectionistic when it came to her work, that she was actually invited to join the bricklayer’s union because of her high-quality work. In fact, Whoopi helped to build the wall around the San Diego Zoo! Her perfectionism obviously spilled over into her acting career as her Emmy, People’s Choice, Golden Globe, Tony, Grammy, and Academy Awards can attest to. If all of her nominations and awards were bricks, she could most probably build a second wall around the San Diego Zoo.

Whoopi’s perfectionism in whatever career she chooses to follow is another important characteristic an expert CFO should have, but here a caveat comes into play. A CFO should champion continuous improvement in everything, yes, but they must not allow “perfect” to get in the way of progress.

If Whoopi allowed perfection to stem progress, the wall around the San Diego Zoo might never have been built as she would have constantly held up the project. Holding up filming in Hollywood gets an actress nowhere but fired and definitely not nominated for the most sought-after awards. A valuable lesson, Whoopi, thank you!

Ashton Kutcher

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We probably know him best as Walden Schmidt in Two And A Half Men as the billionaire internet entrepreneur who had recently been divorced and is now suicidal. He is a grown man with the emotional maturity of a 12-year-old. He does not believe in lending money, as it is never repaid and leads to resentment of the person to whom the money is lent – instead, he prefers just to give the money away. But before Kutcher made his debut on our television screens in Two And A Half Men as this rich, childish and irresponsible billionaire, he used to lend his father (“Definitely not money, right, Walden?“) a hand with various construction projects from a young age.

Kutcher understood that by helping his father, the successful completion of a project was not his success alone but their combined success. This concept that the youthful Kutcher tacitly understood involves another characteristic first-rate CFOs must-have.

CFOs must be passionate about the idea of company success and should know that personal success is an outcome of company success instead of the other way around.

When Kutcher replaced Charlie Sheen in Two And A Half Men, he did not care about personal success and outshining Charlie Sheen. He simply intended to “entertain the hell out of people and drive up the ratings of the show.” It is clear that Kutcher still understands, even now that he is famous, that personal success is an outcome of the show’s success.

George Clooney


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Everybody had a soft spot for the flawed but passionate Dr. Doug Ross who put the welfare of his patients above his career in the television series ER which aired from 1994 – 1999. ER could be considered as his big break as he started receiving movie offers during his stint on the series. He was eventually written out in order to focus on his movie career. Although Clooney appeared in many movies, his name will always automatically be linked with the Oceans 11 Trilogy. Recently we have become accustomed to seeing Clooney on our television screens as the global brand promoter for Nescafé Nespresso.

But before appearing in a hit television series, becoming a silver screen success, and becoming accustomed to taking Nespresso coffee breaks, Clooney was accustomed to back-breaking manual labor which involved unloading, clearing, and digging on a construction site. So, bottoms up, George! It seems those coffee breaks are well-deserved.

As a construction worker, Clooney seems to have been a “Jack of all trades”.

The ability to play a “Jack or Jill of all trades” role is another skill that will benefit an exceptional CFO. The CFO has to be able to jump into many functional areas to supplement them. If the  COO quits, guess who likely needs to step up to oversee operations? That’s right! The CFO!

Looking at Clooney’s career path, it seems that he is still a “Jack of all trades”: construction worker, actor, screenwriter, director, producer, and brand promoter for Nescafe Nespresso. It looks like old habits really do die hard.

Sean Connery

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People magazine proclaimed him Sexiest Man Alive in 1989 at the age of 59 and Sexiest Man of the Century in 1999 at the age of 69. He is best known for portraying a character who is an intelligence officer in the Secret Intelligence Service, who is always involved with some long-legged beauty, and who has a license to kill. But long before Sean Connery made his big breakthrough as the suave James Bond who oozes charm from every pore while drinking his vodka martinis (shaken, not stirred, of course), he was actually in the “ stirring “ business. He worked as a cement mixer and bricklayer before finding fame and fortune as the most popular 007 ever.

Of all the celebrities above, Sean Connery is one of the few who speaks not only unabashedly of his humble beginnings but even with a note of pride in that very distinctive and defining Scottish burr of his. Do not get him started on the consistency of the cement he used to mix – the great man might just talk non-stop. Although, coming to think of it, listening to that world-famous accent for hours, might not be such a bad thing after all.

Another commendable characteristic superior CFOs should have is humility. CFOs must be down-to-earth and unassuming. They have to be comfortable with the spotlight shining elsewhere. They must never forget where they come from.

This is an extract from a speech given by Sean Connery at some award function shortly after he had received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II, “I got my break, big break when I was 5 years old and it’s taken me more than 70 years to realize it. You see, at 5…I learned to read and write. It’s that simple and it’s that profound. I left school at 13. I didn’t have a formal education and I believe I would not be standing here tonight but for these 2 basic skills…reading and writing.”

Superior CFOs need to be excellent writers. They are constantly communicating in written form and need to be able to break down complex concepts into very simple points so other leaders and the CEO can digest them easily and make decisions.

Sir Sean, your humility is truly humbling and your life and work have left people worldwide both shaken and stirred!

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