- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - One chief executive tutors another. A mother on flex time shows her younger counterpart how to mesh career and family. Working together on a short project leads an older man to push his younger self to follow in his footsteps.

Young people flooding into the work world often need someone to advocate for them: guidance on how to navigate office politics; how to balance work and a personal life, and direction figuring out a career path.

“Look for somebody that you can connect with,” and who you can help too, said Kim Post, vice president at management consulting firm Global Lead LLC, who has been helping companies develop and retain employees for 20 years. “You can’t expect a mentor to own your life or career….Their job can be to advise you, advocate for you, help you meet the right people.”

The three relationships below illustrate different ways these relationships are formed and what benefit they gave to those involved.

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THE FLEX-TIME ROLE MODEL

LENGTH OF RELATIONSHIP: 14 years

KEY LESSONS: No problem is too small; a superior’s actions have far-reaching impact

HOW THEY CONNECTED: Formal mentor program

As Helena Yoon was coming to the end of her maternity leave at the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, she struggled with whether or not she could return to work full-time and still put her family first.

“There’s nothing more important to me than my family,” Yoon, now 34, said, and she wasn’t sure how she could balance being on the partnership track with the demands of a baby _ and later two young children.

She strongly considered leaving, but then looked to her former official mentor and close friend, Lillian Borsa, as an example of a working mother whom she could trust to tell her the truth.

Borsa, who also has two sons, took off eight months after each of her children was born. She came back to full-time gradually and was granted a flexible schedule _ working from home whenever she could _ while becoming a partner.

Borsa, now 41, didn’t belittle Yoon’s qualms. She had her former mentee and her husband over to her house as the younger woman was deciding whether or not to come back. Borsa told her it could be done.

“I didn’t feel like I was doing an injustice to my family,” Borsa said. “I wouldn’t be in a position to help Helena if I hadn’t done it myself.”

She taught Yoon how to deal with people who would have the perception that she wasn’t really working because she wouldn’t be as visible. Borsa also counseled her on backup child care services in case of a last-minute client meeting on days spent working from home.

Yoon too can work from home when she wants _ usually twice a week. She said she never feels awkward going to Borsa for advice, since her mentor routinely checks in with her to see what’s up, and has never made her feel uneasy, no matter how small an issue she has.

And Borsa now looks with pride on the accomplishments of the woman she helped keep in the firm, along with the younger woman’s own mentoring of others.

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THE B-SCHOOL GUIDE

LENGTH OF RELATIONSHIP: 5 years

KEY LESSONS: Cultivate shared interests; keep in touch despite not working together

HOW THEY CONNECTED: A casual greeting by the elevators

There weren’t very many African-Americans at Lehman Brothers in 2003, said David Neverson. So when the young analyst ran into senior vice president Ken Allen near the elevator bank, the casual meeting led to him being taken under Allen’s wing.

The two never directly worked together at the now defunct investment bank, but Allen asked Neverson to help him out with a minority-recruiting project, because Neverson had gone to the historically black college Morehouse.

When Neverson left Lehman four months later for a private-equity firm, the two kept in touch. They met about once every three months, with Allen strongly encouraging him to go to business school, as he had done.

“He kept me focused on going down the right path toward applying,” Neverson said _ and helping him shape what his career would look like post-MBA.

Allen also founded an academic enrichment program for high schoolers that runs for a month in the summer in Dallas, New York and Philadelphia.

“He’s made it a personal goal of his to facilitate success for minorities,” Neverson said.

What has Allen, 39, tried most to impress upon Neverson, 28, who has been out of a job since last fall? “Perseverance.”

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THE MENTOR TURNED INVESTOR

LENGTH OF RELATIONSHIP: 10 years

KEY LESSONS: Be your own best salesperson; Look for an advisor who has done something similar to what you want to do.

HOW THEY CONNECTED: At a workshop for socially-minded entrepreneurs

In 1999, Seth Goldman had recently struck out on his own with Honest Tea, an organic bottled-tea company. He spent sleepless nights worrying over cash flow and how his family was going to make ends meet _ until he found a guide in Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farm, a 10-years-wiser organic dairy entrepreneur.

“He’s been through a great deal of what I’ve been through,” Goldman said of Hirshberg. “He saved me some of the pain and misery he went through.”

After repeatedly running into Goldman, now 43, at various conferences and workshops, Hirshberg, 54, became intrigued by Goldman’s product, his charming manner and his willingness to answer tough money questions.

He signed on board as an advisor, helping Goldman convince a difficult buyer for Whole Foods Stores Inc. to carry the brand nationwide. Whole Foods is now Honest Tea’s largest distributor. Hirshberg also carried Goldman’s tea in his O’Naturals restaurants and taught Goldman how to fend off venture capitalists who could have poached control of the company.

Hirshberg became more than just a guide, however. He had Stonyfield Farm invest $900,000 into Goldman’s fledgling company in 2002 and he joined its board. Then in 2007, Group Danone _ a French foods conglomerate which is Stonyfield’s majority stakeholder _ and a private equity firm invested $12 million more.

The following year, Honest Tea struck a $43 million deal with Coca-Cola Co., giving the soft drink maker a 40 percent stake in the company. Goldman said the deal was largely modeled on his mentor’s relationship with Group Danone. An important plus was that the deal allows him to retain control of the brand for now, even though Coca-Cola has the option to completely buy Honest Tea by 2011.

Hirshberg has been Goldman’s “kick in the pants,” the Honest Tea chief executive said.

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