68-year-old engineer spent 50 years at one company on career mistake to avoid

Kip Turner, 68, joined AT&T shortly after high school and has been with the company his entire 50-year career.

Courtesy of AT&T

Kip Turner, 68, has spent his entire 50-year career with AT&T working as an engineer. And despite his long tenure, he tells CNBC Make It he has often been one of the youngest people on his team.

Turner first joined the company as a station installer in 1973 when he was 18 years old. He took on about eight different roles over the next five decades, and “until probably the last 20 years, I’ve been the kid on just about every crew,” says Turner, who now works as a lead product development engineer near Faulkner County, Arkansas.

Being on the younger side, and the flexibility that comes with being early in your career, has its advantages. Turner recalls making his first internal move when he was 20 years old and applied to become a toll technician simply because “nobody else knew about it, and nobody else really wanted to go to this particular little town in Central Arkansas.”

Read more: 68-year-old has spent 50 years at the same company as an engineer, even without a college degree—this is his one regret

But, it can be a challenge to manage up to senior leaders on a team when you have the least amount of experience.

“I was working around a lot of older assertive men, and I’m not a very big guy, so I never wanted confrontation,” Turner says.

Still, Turner says he was able to make meaningful contributions even as a more junior member of his department.

His secret? “Learn your job well,” he says. “Be very confident when you challenge somebody, especially somebody that’s 20 to 30 years older than you that’s been doing the job for so long. [Don’t] be arrogant about it, but be confident in your knowledge.”

It’s crucial to be respectful, too.

“Give somebody an example instead of trying to embarrass them,” he says. “I made the mistake of embarrassing people in the past and it never, ever works out well.”

[Don’t] be arrogant about it, but be confident in your knowledge.

Kip Turner

AT&T engineer

Turner recalls once being on a big project to help protect several telephone facilities against a projected earthquake in the 1990s, which would impact their service area in Northeast Arkansas. “We were predicting disaster,” he says.

A senior leader asked the team about their ideas for how to handle the project, “and I said, ‘Well, I have a plan if you have any money,'” insinuating the project leader wasn’t prepared with a budget, “and it kind of embarrassed him,” Turner says.

Turner remembers his comment undercutting his solution and being followed by a “contentious meeting.” Tensions ran high, making a stressful situation worse.

Turner ended up getting his budget, and the team was able to provide different ways of communication in case services throughout Arkansas were cut off. He and that senior leader even became friends down the line.

In the end, trying to embarrass another colleague “wasn’t the right approach,” Turner says. “I figured that out.”

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