Sheridan’s executive advisor talks about his first job


Ralph Benmergui went from delivering pizzas and newspapers in the 1970s to delivering advice to Sheridan’s top executive in the 21st century.

“I never went looking for a job, but my best friend always found jobs and I would follow him,” he says of his adolescent days.

In his second year as the executive advisor to the president, Benmergui works in collaboration with Jeff Zabudsky on issues, policies and programs throughout the school.

As a self-proclaimed “bumble bee,” he takes care of a fair bit of external relations with stakeholders and government.

The 58-year-old former radio personality and director of communications at the Ontario ministry of training colleges and universities, came from humble beginnings.

As a kid he says he was “lazy” and “had no initiative.” Like any typical teenager, Benmergui didn’t want to work at all, but he needed to occupy his time while his best friend, Michael Topalovich, was out there in the employment world.

“If it wasn’t for Mike, I wouldn’t work at all. I didn’t like working and I’m not great at taking orders,” he says laughing, “I think I’m a little better these days.”

Benmergui’s first job – aside from the neighbourhood paper route for the Toronto Telegram – was at 16 years old with Topalavich as a pizza delivery boy.

“The problem was they had two powder blue Volkswagen Beetles and they were standard, and I had no idea how to drive a standard car,” although he told them differently he says. “I was terrified and I tried to avoid any hills with lights on it.”

“Mike was much better [at his job]. They taught him how to make a pizza and he’d make his own pizza every night, and he was picky about how it was going to be made.

“He wanted it perfect, and I just sat there waiting to be thrown into the car again thinking ‘I’m gonna blow this so bad.’ ”

He vividly recalls times he put the car in reverse after delivering a pizza without putting in the clutch and the car would stall.

“I must have just mangled the car,” he says. That is, until he had a dream that would change – or at least temporarily improve – his current terror.

In his dream, he knew exactly how to drive a standard car and the next time he set foot in the blue Volkswagen he knew what he was doing, but at this point he was already traumatized, the damage was done.

After less than a year delivering pizzas for Giovanni’s Pizza in Toronto, Benmergui couldn’t take it anymore and he left the job.

He convinced his mother he didn’t need to work when he was in university, but admits he should have.

“The thing about work is it kind of forces you to pick up your game whether you want to or not,” he says. “You shouldn’t feel bad about not wanting to work because it’s normal at that age, but there are advantages.”

Benmergui points out there is more to a first job than just cash.

“You’ll learn a lot when you work. Not just the job you’re working at, that’s almost the smallest part,” he says, “It just gets you on the road to growing up.”

Essentially,he says, your first job is the one that “teaches you that you’re going to be okay because you have to be.”


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