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Learning From the Best

Good: Learning best business practices by working for a legendary company. Better: Applying that knowledge to a business of your own.

By Sara Wilson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In genetics, the apple usually doesn't fall too far from the tree. In the corporate world, the same rings true at times. The names of companies like Starbucks, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Hewlett-Packard and Charles Schwab may instantly conjure up deeply ingrained images of certain products in the minds of consumers, but for Jody Hall, Michael Ryan, Dave Deasy and Stacy Blackman, there's much more to these companies than just the products or services they sell. As former employees, they each gained far more than their paychecks. They learned lessons that proved invaluable when they left their proverbial nests to launch their own businesses--businesses that bear some striking resemblances to those of their mentors.

Coffee 101
Looking to satisfy your caffeine fix for the day? Just walk outside. There's sure to be a Starbucks on the corner, thanks to Howard Schultz, the man behind the ubiquitous brand. Jody Hall, 39, also has reason to give thanks, even though the coffee giant is now her competitor. At Vérité Coffee, the Seattle-based coffeehouse Hall opened in 2003, the brand's a little stronger and business is a little better because of the 12 years Hall worked at Starbucks, during which she watched Schultz brew his company to perfection. Says Hall, who worked her way up to Starbucks' head of promotions and events for new stores, "I learned a lot about the coffeehouse experience through [Schultz] and his vision."

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