Real Leaders

Before Politics: This is What World Leaders Did For a Job

Photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash

World leaders, like everyone else, should not just be understood by the job they have now or the money they claim to have made along the way. Like everyone else, our leaders are shaped by where they started: their first job. Here are the roles they had to fight for, and the ones they had to take to make ends meet.

A few months ago, we looked at what today’s world leaders studied at college. But their first jobs can say just as much about the people they were and who they would become. Using information gathered from The Encyclopedia Britannica, The BBC, numerous newspapers and the leaders’ own autobiographies, we compiled a list of the fist jobs of today’s world leaders. Some started in the military, some were teachers, some even played sports professionally. Surprisingly few started in customer service – a shame, since customer-facing jobs help you learn to love the people who yell at you!

The map below shows the various industries that world leaders first jobs were in. Read on to see each country’s leader and what they did in their first full-time position.

Source: SavingSpot

North America

The United States, of course, is run by America’s most famous real estate agent. Although Donald Trump made his first pocket money by collecting bottles from his father’s construction sites and later got experience rent-collecting from tenants, he was assured a job in real estate from the outset, thanks to a family fortune in the hotel business.

Further north, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also helped along the way by family connections: his father was Prime Minister for 16 years from the end of the ‘60s. But Trudeau Jr. kept things real, working as a nightclub bouncer, snowboard instructor and radio host along the way. His first full time job was as a “highly valued, spirited and enthusiastic teacher” of math, according to his boss at West Point Grey Academy.

Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne Banker
Bahamas Hubert Minnis Doctor
Barbados Mia Mottley Lawyer
Belize Dean Barrow Lawyer
Canada Justin Trudeau Teacher
Costa Rica Carlos Alvarado Quesada Journalist
Cuba Miguel Díaz-Canel Engineering professor
Dominica Charles Savarin Teacher
Dominican Republic Danilo Medina Deputy of National Congress
El Salvador Salvador Sánchez Cerén Teacher
Grenada Keith Mitchell Cricket player
Guatemala Jimmy Morales Comedian
Haiti Jovenel Moïse Business owner (auto part store)
Honduras Juan Orlando Hernández Executive assistant
Jamaica Andrew Holness Executive Director of a children’s organization
Mexico Andrés Manuel López Obrador Various government positions within the government of Tabasco
Panama Juan Carlos Varela Executive Vice-President of Varela Hermanos S.A.
Saint Kitts and Nevis Timothy Harris Business Manager
Saint Lucia Allen Chastanet Unknown
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves Lecturer
Trinidad and Tobago Paula-Mae Weekes Lawyer
United States of America Donald Trump Real estate professional

South America

It’s in Venezuela that we find the world’s only customer service-oriented world leader: Nicolás Maduro, who worked as a bus driver in Caracas, the country’s capital. While he no doubt learned a lot about life and the wants and needs of people in this job, he supplemented his development as a future world leader with extracurricular activities. Both at school, and during life as a driver, he was involved in leadership roles within the unions. He also played to adoring rock concert audiences as a musician.

Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay are run by former soldiers, but Uruguay has the world’s only oncologist-president, Tabaré Vázquez. The respected cancer physician is the nation’s first left-wing premier and is currently enjoying his second term at the top.

Argentina Mauricio Macri Junior analyst at Holding Company (Economics / stocks)
Bolivia Evo Morales Soldier
Brazil Jair Bolsonaro Soldier
Chile Sebastián Piñera Economics professor
Colombia Iván Duque Banking consultant
Ecuador Lenín Moreno Director of the Continental Professional Training Center
Guyana David A. Granger Cadet Officer / Soldier
Paraguay Mario Abdo Benítez Lieutenant – Armed forces
Peru Martín Vizcarra Civil engineer
Suriname Dési Bouterse Soldier
Uruguay Tabaré Vázquez Oncologist
Venezuela Nicolás Maduro Bus driver


Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, famously rose to power after portraying a fictional president in a TV sitcom. His predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, was a Willy Wonka-style candy billionaire known as the “Chocolate King.” Like his teacher-turned-president character before him, it was Zelensky’s inexperience and no-nonsense (and no-corruption) approach that voters found alluring. While Zelensky does have a law degree, he was originally a comedian, transforming the comic troupe he established at age 17 into a production company and becoming a millionaire in the process.

You might imagine that Lithuania’s “Iron Lady,” Dalia Grybauskaitė, earned her nickname for her industrial past: she worked in a factory while studying political economics. In fact, the country’s first female president (elected with record-breaking numbers) earned the title through a combination of her black belt in karate and no-nonsense speechmaking. To complete the jigsaw puzzle of her odd political development, she cites the disparate characters of original Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher and Mahatma Gandhi as her biggest influences.

Albania Ilir Meta Deputy Chairman of Albanian Euro-socialist Youth Movement (FRESSH)
Andorra Antoni Martí Architect
Armenia Nikol Pashinyan Journalist
Austria Alexander van der Bellen Economics professor
Belarus Alexander Lukashenko Political instructor
Belgium Charles Michel Lawyer
Bosnia and Herzegovina Valentin Inzko Diplomat
Bulgaria Rumen Radev Air Force pilot
Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović Advisor to the International Cooperation Department of Croatia
Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades Lawyer
Czech Republic Miloš Zeman Engineering plant worker
Denmark Lars Løkke Rasmussen Consultant
Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid Sales manager
Finland Sauli Niinistö Police chief
France Emmanuel Macron Inspector – French Finance Ministry
Germany Angela Merkel Academic faculty (teacher)
Greece Prokopis Pavlopoulos Soldier
Vatican City Giuseppe Bertello Priest
Hungary János Áder Researcher
Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson Lecturer
Ireland Leo Varadkar Doctor
Italy Sergio Mattarella Lawyer
Kosovo Hashim Thaçi Unknown
Latvia Raimonds Vējonis Biology Teacher
Liechtenstein Adrian Hasler Head of Controlling at Balzers AG
Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė Factory worker
Luxembourg Xavier Bettel Lawyer
Macedonia Gjorge Ivanov Journalist
Malta Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca Unknown
Moldova Igor Dodon Assistant professor
Monaco Pavel Filip Factory worker
Montenegro Milo Đêukanović Legal aid
Netherlands Mark Rutte HR Manager
Norway Erna Solberg Unknown
Poland Andrzej Duda Teacher
Portugal Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa Law professor
Romania Klaus Iohannis Physics Teacher
San Marino Mirko Tomassoni Civil Police officer
Serbia Aleksandar Vučić Merchant
Slovakia Andrej Kiska Design engineer
Slovenia Borut Pahor Delegate, Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia
Spain Pedro Sánchez Unknown
Sweden Stefan Löfven Welder
Switzerland Ueli Maurer Unknown
Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Professional Football player
Ukraine Petro Poroshenko Soldier
United Kingdom Boris Johnson Management Consultant


Many of Africa’s leaders started out in military or political positions, which seems indicative of the troubled recent past of states such as Congo and Chad. But the continent’s most internationally famous ‘president with a past’ has to be Liberia’s George Weah.

The former A.C. Milan footballer, who won three Series A titles, three African Player of the Year awards, and a FIFA player of the year trophy, defeated his opponents (by 13 states to two) to take the presidency and was sworn in at the beginning of 2018. “I have spent many years of my life in stadiums,” Weah told the crowds, “but today is a feeling like no other.”Algeria Abdelaziz Bouteflika Soldier (Officer, National Liberation Army)

Angola João Lourenço Soldier
Benin Patrice Talon Business owner
Botswana Mokgweetsi Masisi Teacher
Burkina Faso Roch Marc Christian Kaboré Banker
Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza Sports professor
Cameroon Paul Biya Head of Department of Foreign Development Aid
Cape Verde Jorge Carlos Fonseca Director General of Immigration
Central Africa Republic Faustin-Archange Touadéra Assistant lecturer
Chad Idriss Déby Soldier
Comoros Azali Assoumani Parchutist
Congo Félix Tshisekedi UDPS national secretary for external relations
Congo (Republic of the: Brazzaville) Denis Sassou Nguesso Soldier
Ivory Coast Alassane Ouattara Economist
Djibouti Ismaïl Omar Guelleh Civil servant
Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi Military officer
Equatorial Guinea Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo Soldier
Eritrea Isaias Afwerki Soldier
Ethiopia Sahle-Work Zewde Unknown
Gabon Ali Bongo Ondimba Musician
Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo Teacher
Guinea Alpha Condé Teacher
Guinea-Bissau José Mário Vaz Economist
Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta Business owner
Lesotho Tom Thabane Unknown
Liberia George Weah Football player
Libya Fayez al-Sarraj Architect
Madagascar Andry Rajoelina Media entrepreneur
Malawi Peter Mutharika Law professor
Mali Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta Researcher (at French National Center for Scientific Research)
Mauritania Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz Soldier
Mauritius Barlen Vyapoory Barrister-at-law / lawyer
Morocco Saadeddine Othmani Psychiatrist
Mozambique Filipe Nyusi Mechanical engineer
Namibia Hage Geingob Teacher
Niger Mahamadou Issoufou Mining engineer
Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari Soldier
Rwanda Paul Kagame Chief of Intelligence
Sao Tome and Principe Evaristo Carvalho Unknown
Senegal Macky Sall Unknown
Seychelles Danny Faure Assistant curriculum officer
Sierra Leone Julius Maada Bio Soldier
Somalia Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Secretary in the Somali embassy in Washington DC
South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa Law clerk
South Sudan Salva Kiir Mayardit Soldier
Swaziland Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini Unknown
Tanzania John Magufuli Teacher
The Gambia Adama Barrow Security guard
Togo Faure Gnassingbé Financial advisor
Tunisia Beji Caid Essebsi Lawyer
Uganda Yoweri Museveni Leader – political resistance movements
Zambia Edgar Lungu Lawyer
Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa Business owner (construction company)


Like Weah, Mongolia’s President Battulga Khaltmaa started out in sports; and like Dalia Grybauskaitė, you wouldn’t want to get into a fight with him either. This judo master is also a former Sambo wrestling champion. He first tasted power as chairman of the Mongolian Judo Federation, and during his reign the Mongolian judo team became Olympic Champions.

North Korea’s ‘supreme leader’ Kim Jong-Un kept a low profile before succeeding his father as head of the government and military. It’s believed that he worked either for the Korean Workers’ Party or the army’s General Political Bureau, possibly in surveillance. He took further roles in defense and state security over the years, gaining the enviable title “Brilliant Comrade” in 2009.

Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani Anthropology professor
Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev Lecturer
Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa Soldier (Commander in Chief of the Bahrain Defense Force)
Bangladesh Abdul Hamid Lawyer
Bhutan Lotay Tshering Urologist
Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah Sultan
Cambodia Hun Sen Soldier
China Xi Jinping Manual laborer
Georgia Salome Zourabichvili Diplomat
India Ram Nath Kovind Lawyer
Indonesia Joko Widodo Pulp mill worker
Iran Hassan Rouhani Soldier
Iraq Barham Salih Foreign relations with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan
Israel Benjamin Netanyahu Soldier
Japan Abe Shinzo Manufacturing professional
Jordan Omar Razzaz Assistant professor
Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev Diplomat
Kuwait Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah Director of Public Security for the Ahmadi region
Kyrgyzstan Sooronbay Jeenbekov Teacher
Laos Bounnhang Vorachith Military service
Lebanon Michel Aoun Military service – artillery officer
Malaysia Mahathir Mohamad Doctor
Maldives Ibrahim Mohamed Solih Journalist
Mongolia Khaltmaagiin Battulga Professional wrestler
Myanmar (Burma) Win Myint Lawyer
Nepal Bidhya Devi Bhandari Union Representative
North Korea Kim Jong-un Surveillance of Government Officials
Oman Qaboos bin Said al Said Soldier
Pakistan Arif Alvi Doctor
Palestine Mahmoud Abbas Civil servant
Philippines Rodrigo Duterte Lawyer
Qatar Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani Military officer
Russia Vladimir Putin Foreign Intelligence Officer
Saudi Arabia King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Governor of Riyadh
Singapore Halimah Yacob Lawyer
South Korea Moon Jae-in Soldier
Sri Lanka Maithripala Sirisena Unknown
Syria Bashar al-Assad Army doctor
Taiwan (Republic of China) Tsai Ing-wen Law professor
Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon Electrician
Thailand Prayut Chan-o-cha Soldier (Queen’s Guard)
East Timor Francisco Guterres Unknown
Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow Dentist
United Arab Emirates Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Ruler’s Representative in the Eastern Region of Abu Dhabi
Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev Junior Research Fellow
Vietnam Nguyễn Phú Unknown
Yemen Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi Soldier


New Zealand’s inspiring prime minister Jacinda Ardern has been in politics from the start, working as a researcher for the Labour Party straight out of college. But she had ample chance to develop empathy and a social conscience growing up in a poor and gang-infested area among “children without shoes on their feet or anything to eat for lunch.”

Baron Waqa, 14th President of the island country of Nauru, is the only leader on our map to have started out as a composer. Today, his son has taken over the family business – updating some of the president’s traditional-sounding songs with modern pop beats.

Australia Scott Morrison Policy head at the Property Council of Australia
Fiji Jioji Konrote Soldier
Kiribati Taneti Mamau Civil Servant (Planning Officer with the Ministry of Finance)
Marshall Islands Hilda Heine Teacher
Micronesia, Federated States of Peter Christian Unknown
Nauru Baron Waqa Composer
New Zealand Jacinda Ardern Researcher with the Labour Party
Palau Thomas Remengesau Jr. Senator
Papua New Guinea Peter O’Neill Accountant
Samoa Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi Unknown
Solomon Islands Rick Houenipwela Banker
Tonga  Akilisi Pōhiva Teacher
Tuvalu Enele Sopoaga Education Administrator within the Ministry of Social Services
Vanuatu Tallis Obed Moses Teacher


To create these maps, we scoured articles, interviews and biographies of 197 leaders from all over the world. We then made sure all of our leaders were current leaders, as several countries have recently had elections. What we were looking for were the first jobs of our political leaders – not their first governmental job or their first gig for pocket-money – but their first real job as a young adult.

From there, we gathered all of the information – the country, the world leader’s name, their first job and the source used to find their job – and organized it in a spreadsheet. After fact-checking all of our information, we moved on to sort these jobs into broader categories; things like “Politics & Government,” “Military,” and “Medicine.”

Finally, we collected various maps online, first of the continents specifically, and then of the world at large. These were then modified and color-coded to illustrate the various job categories.

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