When Newton Thomas, 73, graduated from LSU in the late 1960s with an engineering degree, he interviewed with Southern Instruments—a small Baton Rouge construction firm—received a job offer and left.
“I didn’t take the job,” recalls Thomas. “I asked them to wait two weeks for me to decide so I could finish my other interviews. I told them, ‘If you have to make a decision and hire someone else, fine, but I want you to wait.’”
After he finished interviewing at other companies, he called Southern Instruments to accept the job he thought was his for the taking.
“They didn’t wait,” he says, laughing. “They hired another guy and he was someone I knew from college, so I called the president of the company and asked him if I could come in and talk to him. He agreed. When I got there, the guy I knew from college asked what I was doing there. I told him, ‘I’m trying to get your job.’”
During his meeting with the president, he pitched himself with the confidence and tenacity Thomas is known for. He told him he worked hard, was willing to travel anywhere at any time, and was focused and determined on his career.
“I said, ‘I interviewed with you and you hired someone else and you screwed up. I know that guy out there. I went to college with him. My grades were better than his. He studied, and I had fun,’” Thomas says. “I told him, ‘I’m not here because I need this job, I’m here because I want this job.’ He called me two days later and I got the job.”
At the end of his first week of employment, the president of the company called him back in his office.
“He said to me, ‘This is totally embarrassing. We never discussed what I was going to pay you.’ And I told him, ‘I don’t care. Just pay me whatever you want to pay me. I just finished telling you how I was the best thing since sliced bread and the salary should reflect that. But I told you I didn’t care.’ So he asked me again, and I named half over my highest offer I had received from other job offers. And he paid me that.”
For more than six years, Thomas worked his way up the ladder of Southern Instruments, eventually being promoted to president. But he left in 1973 to start The Newtron Group, an industrial electric and instrumentation provider company.
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