Present life: Chiat is the interim CEO of ScreamingMedia in New York City, a programmer of news for Web sites. In 1968 he cofounded Chiat/Day in Los Angeles. It had annual revenues of $900 million when he sold it in 1995.
Former life: Short-order cook at his family's drive-through restaurant on Long Island. "It was one of those places where the girls on roller skates bring the food to your car. I liked the action -- I was constantly busy from 5 at night to 1 in the morning. You master how to follow orders with speed and accuracy. The worst part was cleaning up at night. You scraped down the grill with a grinding stone, put the frozen French fries back, mopped everything up. To face that when you're dog tired and just want to get out of there is hard."
Lessons learned: "You learn that you're not done with a project until it's completely ready for inspection. In the agency business, being conceptual is the fun part, but the payoff comes from execution and preparation. That process takes the same kind of second wind as cleaning the grill, because just when you think you're finished, the team comes up with three different approaches and you have to go back in and attack again."