From the woman who styles dolls’ hair for a living to the kid whose job it is to play with toys all day, meet seven employees of this year’s Fortune 500 with careers so awesome, engaging and unusual that it’s hard to believe they call it work.
Chief Play Officer, Toys “R” Us, Canada, No. 240
émile Burbidge, Age 12, Saint-Bruno, Quebec
On Valentine’s Day, my parents gave me a chocolate bar. Inside the wrapper was a note: “Congratulations, émile. You’re the new CPO.” I couldn’t believe it. I now had the coolest job in the world.
Playing with toys for a living is great. When I applied for the job, I knew I was the best fit. I mean, I did have 12 years of experience, after all. Toys “R” Us sends me around 25 to 30 toys, four times a year. Sometimes these toys haven’t even hit the shelves yet. I invite my friends to play with me so I can see the toys through their eyes too. Then I review them and do TV segments to help gift givers find the perfect toy.
Being CPO has inspired me to be a computer engineer when I grow up so I can design games for children. I love toys because they never let me down. My favorite toy of all time is my pogo stick.
When I’m not working I play outside, go to school, and do gymnastics. But I always find time to play. Playing is a priority—just like homework. —As told to Polina Marinova
Motion Capture Performer/Receptionist
Billy Ray Chubbs, Age 46, San Francisco
Industrial Light & Magic/Lucasfilm (Disney), No. 53
I started working at Industrial Light & Magic in 2003 as a security guard and later became a receptionist for Lucasfilm. When the people in the ILM motion capture department needed someone to put on the motion capture suit for a demo, they were like, “Billy Ray, do you want to do this?” At first I was a bit reserved—I wasn’t sure if they wanted me to scream and yell and flex—but the guy who was directing said to let go because every little inflection shows up in the movements. I became like a big kid.
Three or four times a year they give me a call. Some stuff I’ve done was used in the Transformers movies. I was Megatron in some parts. I also did motion capture for the Hulk in The Avengers, particularly the scene where he jumps from a giant helicopter onto a plane. They had me run as fast as I could, jump off a platform, fly through the air, and land on another platform. When I saw that scene in the theater with my kids, we all cheered. —As told to Laura Entis
Geospatial Analyst, Walmart, No. 1
Heather Gamper, Age 39, Sunnyvale, Calif.
My kids look at me as this dot mapper. To them, all I do is look at maps with dots. It’s not too far from the truth.
Here in the online grocery team at Walmart we look at how humans prefer to forage, or shop for food. We check different factors—traffic, population density, climate data. We try to understand the temporal dynamics. What time of day are people shopping? How far is a customer willing to travel to pick up what they ordered online?
Part of the reason I got this job is my interest in honeybees. When I moved to the Bay Area, I set up my own hives. One day I had people over, and someone saw my diploma and said, “You have a Ph.D. in geographic information systems? I thought you were just a beekeeper.” That person turned out to be the director of Walmart online grocery.
I have been stung a lot. The most was 20 times at once. I was moving a colony at night, and bees don’t like to be disturbed at night. The temporal element of beekeeping is critical. —As told to Lauren Covello
Master Clay Modeler, Ford, No. 9
James Dunham, Age 59, Dearborn, Mich.
I’ve lived in Detroit my whole life, and I’ve worked with cars my whole life. After high school I worked at an auto shop. I started at Ford in 1998 as a clay modeler and worked my way up to master modeler.
For each new car, we’ll build two, three, even four full-size clay models and then refine it down to the final model. The process can take up to two years.
When I tell people what I do, I often get, “They can’t do that on a computer?” But with a hologram, you can’t see how light plays on the surface of the car. The executives need to see the car to evaluate it. It’s an emotional thing. One of my proudest moments was 10 years ago when an executive pulled a handle on our model and tried to get in. He thought it was real, which was a huge compliment—although we did have to repair the handle.
It’s cool to see a car I worked on driving around. Like the Ford Fusion—I just love that car, but it was a tough project. It will drive by and I’ll think, I spent a year working on that shape. —As told to Laura Entis
Retail Department Manager, American Girl (Mattel), No. 450
Karen Collins-Allen, Age 38, Chicago
I’ve been at American Girl for 18 years and a salon manager for the last three. My job is, in one word, magical; I do dolls’ hair and get to meet the cutest little girls. We offer 18 different hairstyles ranging from $10 to $25. We also offer doll ear piercing, nail painting, and a pampering service where we clean your doll’s face, arms, and legs.
You don’t have to be a licensed cosmetologist to work here. We’ve had a variety of stylists: older women, guys, teenagers. The average stylist handles 19 to 25 dolls a day.
Sometimes a new stylist will make a mistake with ear piercing. It once happened with a discontinued Cecile doll — the hole was too big. Usually we have an inventory of extra heads; we didn’t this time. In all my years here, I’ve never seen a little girl that heartbroken. The mom cried, we cried. Luckily we were able to locate a Cecile in the lost-and-found. It had been unclaimed for over a year. After we replaced the doll, the mom told me Cecile had been a gift from the girl’s grandmother who had passed. [Pause.] And here I am getting emotional again. G-d was truly on our side that day. —As told to Lauren Covello
Dean of Pizza, Pizza Hut (Yum! Brands), No. 218
Jen Weber, Age 48, Plano, Texas
I graduated from college with a teaching degree and had a job teaching physical education lined up for the fall. I took a summer job as an assistant manager at Pizza Hut in Myrtle Beach. Pizza was just fun; I loved the adrenaline rush you’d get when the restaurant was busy. When the summer ended, I stayed. I’ve been at Pizza Hut ever since. The sauce got in my veins, I guess.
For the first 16 years, I was in the store as a general manager and then a regional director. Now, my title is Dean of Pizza Hut Academy. I train restaurant general managers from around the country who fly in for two to three days of immersive training. In 2014, we made some major changes to the menu, and had 1,300 general managers and area coaches cycle through over the course of 13 days to learn about the new products hands on.
A lot of the usual training centers on bigger issues of leadership and strategy, but there are also the basic things, like how do you cut the pizza and how do you put it in the box correctly. Sauce is also important. The flavor of the pizza comes through the sauce, and you don’t want it all in the center—we call that “center-loading.” No one wants to eat a dry crust. —As told to Laura Entis
Director of Sound Design, Facebook, No. 157
Will Littlejohn, Age 53, Menlo Park, Calif.
比如说，“弹窗叮”这个声音专门用于移动设备上的Facebook Messenger。“弹窗喔”则是大家在网页版Facebook Messenger上听到的声音。“弹窗喔”低沉、热情而且舒缓。它并不像“弹窗叮”那样发出响亮的信号。“弹窗叮”是为了让大家能在俱乐部等有干扰的环境下听到。
I heard the story of a couple that used Facebook Messenger to chat in the early days of their relationship. When they started developing pet names for one another, the girl nicknamed her boyfriend after the sound his messages made—“pa-ting.”
At Facebook, we call that same sound “pop ding.” When I hear a “pop ding,” I feel incredibly proud. We use synthesizers and real-world recordings to create notification sounds. It can take hundreds of iterations to get the exact sound we want.
The “pop ding,” for instance, is specifically for Messenger on mobile. The “pop om” is the notification sound you hear on Messenger.com. The “pop om” is low, warm and soothing. It’s not as high-signal as the “pop ding,” which you want to be able to hear in a challenging environment, like a club.
The goal is to create something that’s really useful and pleasant. We always ask ourselves if the sound has “repetitive tolerance.” In other words, can you hear it a thousand times and not be annoyed by it? It’s tricky to do. Just listen to the sound your microwave oven makes. That one could use a lot of help.—As told to Polina Marinova