Atlanta bosses share their best career advice for younger employees

They oversee some of Atlanta's most integral companies. Every day, they are responsible for thousands of employees on the job. But they weren't always at the top. They've learned a few things along the way, but they are not keeping it all to themselves. Three Atlanta business leaders share their unique perspective and valuable advice for younger employees, based on AJC's 5 Questions for the Boss series.

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Bob Puccini | president of Mizuno USA

Bob Puccini's love of sports was obvious from an early age. He pretty much grew up holding a baseball bat and glove. Puccini sailed through school and in his senior year, he was awarded a full-paid scholarship to Fordham University in the Bronx. His father's dream of his son going to college was now a reality. But Puccini's arm was giving out with each ball he pitched. His college coach, Gil McDougald, who had played for the Yankees in the 1950s with Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford, saw what was happening. In his sophomore year at Fordham, Puccini could no longer play ball, but he still had his scholarship and competitive drive. Both have served him well. After school he learned a key lesson: to be an effective manager you have to treat people with respect. He landed an opportunity with Gillette, was promoted several times and went on to work for Spalding, Titleist, Adidas, Head and Mizuno. His career path is a story of success. So what advice does he have for younger employees?

"I had many mentors. I didn't agree with every thing that every one of them had to offer to me," said Puccini. "But you have to be smart enough to pick the things that fit your character. Make sure you really understand what's important to you. Then build your own platform of success.."

Rick O'Dell | president and CEO, Saia LTL Freight

Rick O'Dell doesn't shy away from a challenge. He lost his dad when he was only 19 and admits he had to grow up fast. His career has been on the fast-track, as well. O'Dell, who's been in the trucking industry for three decades, is CEO of the now profitable Atlanta-based Saia LTL Freight, which posts $1.27 billion in annual revenue and employs 9,000 workers covering 34 states. His advice for younger workers is succinct.

"I was a middle-management person in 1995," O'Dell began. "By 1999, I was made the president of a company with more than $300 million in annual revenue. That's pretty crazy.
"You can't always define your career path. But you can do your job, gain experience, sign up for projects and get exposure. That will create opportunities."

Keith Parker | CEO, MARTA

In high school, Keith Parker participated in Junior ROTC and became president of the Gentlemen Athletes and Scholars organization. The experience he gained by taking part in those high school groups has helped to define the leader Parker is today. He spoke about that.

"I learned that if you can lead a group where you have no ability to punish or reward people, but you can still get them to do things, then you can do anything," said Parker. "I tell that to young managers all the time. If you ever have to say to someone, "I'm your supervisor, so you must do what I just told you to do," then you've already lost. Your leadership is compromised.

"It is much more important to be true to your word and for people to see the way you conduct yourself to deliver results. That's the reason they'll follow you."