My First Job: Sir Robert Worcester, the founder of polling organisation MORI, was a waiter

Waiting taught me values, in my opinion
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The Independent Online

"I can balance four full cups in one hand; you loop the fingers of your right hand round them and you carry the saucers in your left hand." Not that Sir Robert Worcester now needs to go back to his early employment as a waiter. The creator of MORI, he can claim the crown of the king of the pollsters; indeed, his company is the leading purveyor of public opinion surveys to Buckingham Palace. In addition, he soon begins a seven-year stint as chancellor of the University of Kent. When he was 13 his father died and as a student in the USA during the Fifties, Robert needed all the employment on the campus that he could get.

On two or three afternoons a week he pounded out press releases in the university's PR office and on Friday and Saturday nights he took photographs of happy couples at fraternity and sorority dances for 50 cents per snap. But "waiting tables" was his main job.

"I began being a waiter in my fraternity house; that got me my training. It was my girlfriend who got me a job in her sorority. We broke up just after that but for two years I saw her every day at breakfast. The 50 or 60 ladies - I call them ladies - would all come down in a rush, looking like hell, like death warmed over."

He and the other waiters, all of them male students, would start work at 7.28 precisely. The cook, who was a professional and really ancient - possibly as old as 30 - would have arrived two hours earlier. "At university, students come down at the very last minute which will allow them to get to their 9am lectures but this was hell for us waiters because we needed to get to our 9am lectures too. I tried to book myself in for classes that were on the same side of the university."

Most evenings, he would be one of the four students serving dinners, after which they would lay the tables for the next day's breakfast. "People eat early in America, so I could be out by 7.15." It should have been a good half hour later, but the washing-up area was too small for all the waiters to squeeze into; they played paper-stone-scissors and the winner - Robert, more often than not - skived off early.

The three jobs consumed about the same amount of time as his actual studies (around 35 hours) did but they brought more than money: they taught him the value of what he calls "endeavour" and of a "pluralist approach", which we would now call multi-tasking . Also, they showed him that work could be fun. Later in May he is going back to Kansas University - and this time it is to receive an honorary award, not to do the catering.

jonty@jonathansale.com

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