After we network for enough years, it’s often surprising to discover that a colleague or competitor whom we knew when he or she was a young executive or just a hard worker has risen to exceptional heights and influence. The initial jolt is a bit like watching an old television program and discovering one of today’s megastars acting in a bit part or as a character who we never knew existed.

For example, if you’re a fan of TV and movie fare, you may not have realized that some of your favorite current celebrities actually have roots in TV programs from decades ago:

  • Actor William Daniels, who played Dr. Craig Thomas on Grey’s Anatomy in 2012, played Dr. Mark Craig on St. Elsewhere in the 1980s, earning two Emmy Awards for his role.
  • St. Elsewhere, which ran from 1982 to 1988, in fact proved to be a breeding ground for many of the nation’s film and TV stars for decades to come. Its cast included then little-known actors Mark Harmon (NCIS); Denzel Washington; Ed Begley, Jr.; Howie Mandel; G.W. Bailey (The Closer); Stephen Furst (Animal House); and Alfre Woodard. TV Guide named St. Elsewhere the best drama series of the 1980s, a period in which network TV drama series experienced their glory days.
  • The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter were named for Sheldon Leonard, a prolific and renowned TV producer, writer, director and actor in television’s early days. He produced some of the most popular shows of the ‘50s and ‘60s, including Make Room for Daddy (starring Danny Thomas); The Andy Griffith Show; The Dick Van Dyke Show ; Gomer Pyle, USMC; and I Spy. As a movie and TV actor, he frequently played gangsters or other “heavies.”
  • Long before he became one of America’s most successful movie stars, Tom Hanks gained his first national exposure as a TV star. For two years, he and Peter Scolari (later, Michael Harris on Newhart) led the cast of Bosom Buddies, a comedy in which both characters dressed as women so they could live in a cheap room at a hotel for women. Incidentally, they were ad men before Madmen.
  • Film idol George Clooney first emerged in the public eye in The Facts of Life in 1985-87 and became a star in 1994 on the realistic TV medical drama ER as Dr. Doug Ross, along with his love interest, Juliana Margulies (The Good Wife). Clooney’s father, Nick, was a well-known news anchor in Cincinnati, Ohio, and host of American Movie Classics. His aunt was singing superstar Rosemary Clooney, who topped the charts in the 1950s and starred in the movie White Christmas, among many other appearances.
  • Speaking of Cincinnati, Jerry Springer started his career as a young, liberal political activist, was elected to Cincinnati’s city council in 1971 and later served a short term as mayor. He subsequently became a popular news anchor on the city’s NBC affiliate, then moved up to a show in Chicago that ultimately evolved into the nation’s first taste of reality TV.

Stories of similar evolutions are abundant in the business world. For instance:

  • Phil Knight was a newspaper sports reporter in Oregon and a certified public accountant before he recognized his talent as an entrepreneur. The business he started became Nike, and today Forbes lists Knight as the 23rd-richest person in America.
  • Born into poverty in rural Mississippi, Oprah Winfrey started her career while still in high school as a radio newscaster and eventually emerged as an actress, producer, publisher and philanthropist, as well as one of the world’s most powerful women.
  • Locally, for several years the executives who ultimately would separately establish 10 public relations and communications agencies in metro Detroit all worked as colleagues at the same time at the same PR firm and had offices along the same wall in a downtown Detroit office building.

The moral, whether in a production studio, a client conference or a seminar, is that the people you meet and greet tomorrow morning may one day be surrounded by paparazzi. So always display your best communication skills, manners and strategic thinking. Your former accountant may hire you some day.

~Steve Friedman is the director of marketing communications at Airfoil, a high-tech PR and marcomm firm with offices in Detroit and Silicon Valley.