First Job: Phil Petersen, founder and president, Brookfield Communities

What was your first job?  
As a very shy and quiet 13-year-old, one of the popular guys in eighth grade, Greg Fox, asked if I wanted to play bass guitar in an Omaha rock band that three friends were starting. That simple invitation changed my life forever and The Chevrons were born. We played ‘60s rock — Beatles, Stones, Who, etc. — all across the Midwest. (Editor’s note: The Chevrons recorded the hit record “Lullabye” in 1960 and were inducted into the Nebraska Music Hall of Fame in 1998.)

What lessons did you learn from that first job?
We practiced relentlessly until we were one of the top rock bands in the middle part of the U.S. I developed a very strong work ethic and found my self-confidence. We were booked months in advance and — in season — played seven days a week, sometimes in front of several thousand teens. We opened for bands like The Zombies, The Association and the Dave Clark Five.

What was your first job in your current industry?
My real estate industry start was as marketing manager for Del Webb Development Company. I was promoted to vice president, overseeing advertising, public relations and market research.

Do you remember your salaries from those first jobs?
On my first night as a Chevron, we played for a high school dance. They took a collection, and we made about $14. Within two years, we were four 15-year-old kids making $5,000 a week, in the 1960’s. I started at Webb, in 1984, at $39,000.

How did you transition from rock ’n’ roll to real estate?
I knew I had to grow up. I left the band in my second year of college. After graduating, my career began focusing on marketing.

What qualities do you have that have allowed you to be successful in both rock ’n’ roll and real estate?
With my friends in The Chevrons, I learned to be tenacious and driven to succeed. I had seen the benefits. I’m from the Midwest, so I am conservative with money. I don’t use debt to conduct business. At Brookfield Communities, we own all of our business and land holdings free and clear. And I build enduring relationships with the people I do business with.

What has been your biggest challenge at Brookfield Communities?
Given a good strong economy, finding success in business is not that difficult. Brookfield has grown into a $130 million company. My biggest challenge was to keep a large homebuilding business in the black during the last five years. We made it.

What accomplishment gives you the most pride?
My 37-year marriage to my wonderful wife, Kim. Great kids, grown, through college, through law school. And finishing my first full Ironman Triathlon during the recession.

If you weren’t doing what you are doing now, what would you like to be doing?
I’ve always been drawn to African wildlife, especially gorillas, rhinos and elephants. I would probably be working on the ground to protect all three. Oh, and did I tell you, I was born and spent my early years on the carnival, the son of the owner of Tivoli Shows, Inc.?