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Have you ever heard of Nolan Bushnell, Max Talmey or Sid Sheinberg? Well, if it wasn’t for them, Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Steven Speilberg just might not have become the visionaries they did. Bushnell was an engineer and entrepreneur who founded Atari, Inc. and Chuck E. Cheese and took Jobs under his wing as his first boss. Talmey was studying to become an ophthalmologist and mentored Einstein in math, philosophy and physics when Albert was the ripe old age of 10 ½. While the head of Universal Studios, Sheinberg “discovered” a raw talent in Speilberg. He developed and pushed the young filmmaker. It’s clear, the decisions we make have a marked effect on those around us. 75% of executives say they would not be where they are today were it not for the people who stepped in early in their career and offered guidance as they navigated career choices.
In the workplace, nowhere is this interconnectedness more apparent than in the mentor-mentoree relationship.
We interviewed five top executives in their fields for a virtual roundtable on Mentor Moments – a sharing of their insights about the benefits that mentoring brings to both the mentor and his or her protégé.
Virtual Roundtable Participants:
KJ Laessig, President, PROMOT Inc., marketing & sales consulting
Blogging Out Loud: Who is your professional mentor? How was he/she instrumental in shaping your career path? Is he/she still activity engaged in your life as a mentor or friend?
Jon T. Tanklage: I grew up in the food business. My grandfather Henry Tanklage, a German immigrant who spoke five languages, formed La Victoria Sales Company in 1941 to market a new La Victoria salsa line, which eventually grew into an international company. After I got my marketing degree from USC in 1994, I went to work for La Victoria in production so I would learn the business from the ground up. My first boss was Rick Palmer, the VP of Operations at La Victoria. He was my first real mentor. He saw something in me. He decided he wanted me to supervise the sanitation of the plant—the cleaning, repairing, etc. My first assignment was to write a sanitation manual. I told him I knew nothing about sanitation—he told me to follow people around, observe what they do, and then write it for the manual. Rick taught me to take initiative, and to be observant.
Kelly Hancock: My first professional mentor was Lisa Cowell-Shams, the EVP of Government Affairs for Westfield Corporation. The VP of Marketing saw that we were both very similar people, and she encouraged us to connect. Our relationship grew organically. Lisa always encouraged me to get involved, to interact with others. She encouraged me to speak out and have confidence in my opinions and ideas. She didn’t tell me what or how to do something; she encouraged me to figure it out.
Sharran Srivatsaa: My professional mentor is Tom Ferry. Tom is the CEO of Tom Ferry-yourcoach and is a world-renowned business coach and strategy consultant. Tom is still actively engaged in my life as a mentor and friend.
Mark Weslar: Rob Borland, CMO, U.S.A. Cycling. Rob is one of the smartest marketers I’ve ever met. Rob was my boss when we were both on the Coors Light brand early in my marketing career. He taught me a great deal about brand marketing and how to effectively build comprehensive plans that drive the business. Perhaps more importantly, he taught me how to ground those plans in deep insights and analytics.
KJ Laessig: I have been blessed with a long and varied career and have had people who helped me at various times but my experience is more a composite of a lot of experiences along the way. My first lesson was from Col. “Bull” Fisher, USMC, a decorated Marine in three wars, when he was a Major teaching young 2nd Lts. Infantry Tactics at Marine Corps Officer Basic School. He was all about taking care of his people. That gave me a perspective that influenced my life. You have to take care of people to have a successful operation and it is the right thing to do.
Blogging Out Loud: How has your relationship with your mentor evolved over the years?
KH: Lisa is now one of my best friends! We still talk about business and encourage each other, offer advice, insight. We support each other.
SS: My relationship with Tom Ferry originally started as a business strategy and professional mentoring relationship. I was new to my industry, and he helped me compress years of experience into days during our interactions. That helped me get up the curve faster, without having to wait decades to have the context necessary to have the necessary impact. Tom Ferry was tremendous in helping me recognize and call on my inner strength to be better person, a better leader, a better father and husband, and hopefully a better citizen of the world.
MW: We started out as boss and direct report. We only worked directly with each other for about a year and a half. When he took on a new assignment both he and I had a genuine interest to stay in touch. Rob has primarily served as a mentor, guiding my career interests and encouraging me to take risks & fulfill my ambitions.
Blogging Out Loud: What are/were the main components of your relationship with your mentor?
SS: Trust, accessibility, and commitment. Trust: I was at a time in my personal life and professional career where I was open to advice and guidance at a very fundamental level. That enhanced my relationship with my mentor. Accessibility: In this ever-changing world, opportunities or issues can’t wait till your next monthly meet. Accessibility via phone, text message, email, etc. is crucial. Commitment: We never finish a meeting without outlining what each of us is committed to do based on what was discussed.
KH: You have to be able to have the “safe place.” Many professionals—especially women—are afraid to speak out for fear of looking like they don’t have the right answer. My mentor let me ask questions, without judging me. Now, when I mentor others, I use the same approach. The mentor-mentee relationship is an investment on both sides.
MW: Career guidance. Life counsel. Shared motivation and encouragement. Rob has been a great sounding board for me as I debated and pursued different assignments and career changes. Rob always encouraged me to take on challenging assignments that stretch my capability and differentiate me as a marketing leader.
Share your own Mentor Moments
“I am not a teacher, but an awakener” – a quote attributed to Robert Frost. It rings true with our top-level executives and probably rings true in your career as well. Do you have a mentor? What are the best parts of that relationship? Please share insights on your mentor and what made a difference for you in the comments section below.
Note: Some responses have been edited for length. This is a first of two posts from the virtual roundtable on Mentor Moments. The conclusion will appear with the next post of Blogging Out Loud with a discussion of the most impactful lessons learned by the members of our roundtable, and an exploration how these leading executives are shaping the professional and personal lives of those around them.____________________________________________________________ Brought to you by Vertical Marketing Network, a Leading Integrated Marketing Agency. Screen captures intended as illustrative examples only. Registered trademarks and logos are the property of their respective owners.