Before you ladies send me a lot of e-mails, I'm using "paperboy" to represent all of the newspaper carriers in the United States, since I would guess that most are males. Now that I've got that politically incorrect explanation out of the way, let me proceed.

I recently read the book How to Make Big Money in Your Own Small Business by Jeffrey J. Fox, and he had an interesting chapter titled "Hire Ex-Paperboys." Fox's logic is that paperboys are dependable and self-starters, unafraid of getting up early for work and working under harsh conditions.

"The successful paperboy is a hard worker, and a worker who gets things done alone," Fox writes. "This is the kind of person you need in your business. You need people who value the job, and do the job well."

Knowing From Personal Experience

Having a good work ethic is not something that is necessarily hereditary - it can be learned. I found that out as a teenager delivering The Detroit News in all kinds of climate conditions for two years. Armed with my heavy-duty Schwinn bike and heavy duck cloth bags, I delivered papers to 100 customers along a two-street Detroit route.

I had to keep track of all of the collections and ensure that everyone got their newspaper on a daily, weekend, or Sunday-only basis. My father would drive me when the weather was unbearable - but, usually, I toughed it out alone.

I learned at an early age what it took to be a responsible businessperson. There were no days off on my job and no one to pass responsibility on to. I reprised my role later in life as an adult motor route carrier for The Detroit Free Press. Young or old, I learned what it took to have my own business.

Now fast-forward to the present day. My 11-year-old son delivers newspapers along two small neighborhood routes. The twice-a-week local newspaper has provided him with steady employment and a steady income (not bad when you consider the Playstation 2 and Xbox games retail for around $50 each, and Dad is not going to put out that kind of money). He has also built up a nice savings account.

Much of his success has come from excellent customer service - everyone gets a porch or door delivery.

The point is, he is now learning what it takes to manage a small business and be responsible for it. It is not fun being a young man waking up at 6:30 a.m. on Sundays to do the route, but if he wants the job, he has no choice. I help out with the delivery once in a while, but these are his routes, and he is accountable for them.

I'd Hire Him, Wouldn't You?

People like my son are often the best potential hires because they represent those who have developed a business sense by "working the streets" and not just having a diploma or degree to fall back on. Don't misunderstand - I'm a firm believer in a formal education and encourage both of my children to attend college or vocational school.

But I believe there is no substitute for hands-on experience. That's why I'm a strong advocate of HVACR training programs that include a lot of hands-on lab experience and ride-along work experience. The successful job candidate should be well-rounded and be grounded in business experience.

The next time you interview a job applicant, do a little more digging into the person's background. Ask prospective employees if they ever delivered newspapers. If they say yes, but they flamed out early, that could be a red flag. If they say yes, and they enjoyed the work, put them in your "A" file.

If you're interested in hiring my son, you'll have to contact me. I plan to be his business agent.

John R. Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-786-1390 (fax), or johnhall@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 01/31/2005