MY FIRST JOB: TJ Cannamela

Cannamela, 44, owns Buckingham Farms in Fort Myers

My first real full-time job out of high school, I worked as an installer for Cablevision Industries (CVI) in Cape Coral for $7.35 an hour. At the time [around 1992], CVI was the largest independently owned cable company in
the country. They treated their employees like gold. When you started, they bought you five pairs of jeans, five shirts and five jackets. They wanted us to represent them well—and it worked. I went out of my way to give customers great service because of the way I was treated by my company. I decided right then and there that if I ever had employees, I’d make sure they were taken care of at every turn.

My manager, Sandy Vale, was the biggest influence on my life. She embodied “tough but fair.” People who skirted the system didn’t like her, because they knew she didn’t let anything slide—but everyone who worked hard knew she would make sure they were rewarded. Sandy helped me realize how crucial putting in the hours was to success. We live in an instant gratification world right now and it’s affecting our work ethic. When I interview young people for positions, a surprising amount of them request several days off before they’re even hired.

I was so happy when I worked for CVI. It wasn’t the actual installing job—it was the environment, the people, the pride I felt. I remember the day we found out Time Warner bought CVI. Everyone was just devastated. We knew it was only a matter of time before corporate America changed everything.

We had one final treat in store, though. Alan Gerry, the owner of CVI, decided to show his appreciation for all of our hard work by taking everyone—and I mean everyone—who worked for him to Disney World for a three-day going-away party. He paid for everything—meals, access to the parks, hotel rooms, drinks [if you were over 21]. It was incredible. When people feel appreciated and have a pride about their work, it opens the door for them to develop necessary work skills like integrity, honesty and hard work. 

As told to Hillary Richard