Seven hundred fifty miles away from his hometown of Palatine, John Chase has found success working as a top executive for a company that helps large businesses enroll their employees in benefit programs.
But a trophy he keeps prominently on display in his home in suburban Atlanta regularly reminds Chase how the lessons he learned at his first job more than three decades ago are still vitally important in running an efficient business today.
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In 1977, at age 10, Chase started working as a newspaper carrier for the Daily Herald. His route included the Reseda subdivision and Carpenter Drive area near Palatine High School.
"I had about 50 customers on average, which was a relatively large route for routes at that time," he said.
Chase, now 46, said carriers were responsible for buying papers from the Daily Herald at a wholesale cost, which meant they had to be careful to purchase only as many as they would be able to sell at retail cost to people on their route.
The papers would get dropped off at the carriers' doorsteps at about 4 a.m. and they would be responsible for packaging them with supplies they bought from the company, Chase said. He remembers loading the papers onto his bike, or a sled if it was snowy, and getting them delivered by 7 a.m.
"It's stuff that they definitely don't do anymore," he said. "It really seems old-school now."
To make the whole system work, carriers were set up with counselors, who were often moms in the neighborhood responsible for handling route changes or vacation schedules. But for the most part, the kids were in charge of getting the job done themselves.
"Running your own business is what they encouraged -- the very simple standards of integrity and hard work and customer service," Chase said.
Every two weeks, Chase earned between $50 and $60, along with tips. He recalls the advertising and promotion departments coordinating rewards programs, including one that earned him a four-day, all-exclusive trip to Florida with about 30 other young carriers in 1978.
Chase's best memory of the job came two years later, when he was named Carrier of the Year. Besides the huge trophy, he won $500 and received a VIP tour of the company's facilities with then-president and publisher Stuart R. Paddock Jr.
"I thought that was so impactful. It felt like one of the best prizes," Chase said. "The fact the company would do that for me, I still remember it so vividly."
Paddock also visited the Palatine High School newspaper staff a few years later at Chase's request. Chase choked up thinking back to that visit, which was the last time he saw Paddock, who died in 2002.
"I remember him saying to people, 'John was one of our best.' I just felt like I always had a friend with him," he said.
After graduating from Augustana College and getting a master's degree from Illinois State University, Chase worked multiple jobs in the insurance industry in Chicago and Philadelphia before moving to Atlanta. He joined Hodges-Mace Benefits Group in 2005 and now serves as the company's chief information officer, as well as partner and executive vice president for all client services. But working as a carrier remains one of Chase's favorite jobs.
"It was an absolutely perfect foundation, and I really miss it," he said. "Just about everything the Daily Herald chose to do in that program is exactly what you do to run a business today. You had to have customer relations, you had to go out and do sales, you had to deal with complaints. At a very deep level, it was everything."