Patty Civalleri never finished high school and she attended community colleges only sporadically, but her career has provided quite an education. In running Pride Paper Corp., she draws on informal educational experiences in jobs ranging from computer marketing to selling fast food. Civalleri was interviewed by Karen Kaplan.
I ran away from home at age 14 and dropped out of school. My teachers convinced me that I should get a general equivalency degree, which I did when I was 16. At that time I was working in fast-food restaurants, at dress stores and in other retail jobs. Later on I worked on a couple of assembly lines.
I finally enrolled in a community college to take an introductory class on computer programming. That led to a summer job in the computer industry. I taught word processing, spreadsheets and accounting programs. From there I went into marketing, and I never went back to school.
I soon found myself working for a company that filed for bankruptcy. One of their competitors offered me a job, but I decided to stay. They cut the staff way down and I got to do some of everything--operations, accounting, marketing, public relations, sales, production, shipping and receiving. They gave me a 'PhD' in business.
I found some mentors. I always asked a lot of questions, and I probably got on people's nerves. I stayed late at night and studied the procedures and taught myself how to use the computer system.
When I was ready to move on, I wanted to brush up on my job interviewing skills, so I interviewed for a marketing job at IBM. I didn't think they would hire someone like me without a college education, but I figured I'd go just for the practice. I was surprised when they ended up hiring me.
IBM offers lots of classes taught by private instructors, and that was a great opportunity. I could give a hoot about selling, but I wanted to take the classes. I learned about marketing, sales, personal dynamics and customer-service-oriented things. Even now I still attend seminars whenever I find one that costs less than $100 and is related to small business or computers or technology.
When I had a baby, I quit my job and started a home-based business selling alcohol breath analyzers. It was a total bust, but that experience taught me that starting a company has so many god-awful details. There's always something that you have to be doing, from making sure that invoices are typed up correctly to making sure that UPS gets the shipping out.
After that, I worked for a company that sold printing services. I learned all about the trade.
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AT A GLANCE
Company: Pride Paper Corp.
Owner: Patty Civalleri
Nature of business: Designs pre-printed papers for letterhead, brochures, etc.
Year founded: 1994
No. of employees: 8
Annual sales: Less than $5 million