Making the Most of Mentors

I'm a firm believer that people come into your life for a reason; you often don't realize just what kind of impact they'll have on you until long after they first cross your path.
 
Once you enter the working world, you can't underestimate the importance of a mentor in your professional career.  By definition, a mentor is a wise and trusted counselor; an influential senior sponsor or supporter.  While there are numerous programs in the marketplace that can match you with someone to help guide your career, I think the most rewarding relationships bloom organically.
 
I first met Steve when I was in my early days at Anheuser-Busch Companies.  Steve was a group vice president, and General Counsel.  He was one of the few people who had the ear of August V. Busch III - something only six other people at Anheuser-Busch could say.  I would often cross paths with him at our annual strategy session meetings, though we never spent much time conversing.  
 
After a few years, as my work started to be recognized within the company, I had an opportunity to get in front of Steve and promote my work a little.  We were seated next to each other at an event, which gave me the chance to showcase my work and chat a little about myself.  During the course of our conversation, he mentioned that things were changing in the company and more opportunities were opening up for women.
 
 
You can't underestimate the importance of mentors when climbing the corporate ladder.
 
Before long, I was asked to join the team in St. Louis (Anheuser-Busch Companies headquarters) and that's when my exposure to Steve began to increase and the mentor-mentee relationship flourished.  Steve would come down to our department every Monday morning for coffee, sweet roll and a little conversation.  My immediate supervisor travelled extensively, so I held down the fort back at the office. 
 
It was during those Monday morning visits that Steve and I got to know each other quite well.  Though my immense respect and deference remained high, I began to feel more comfortable with him as our conversations turned to talk of family and life in general.  Steve knew I was a single mother at the time and he would often query me about my future finances.
 
"Pulido," he'd say in his gruff voice (Steve always called me by my maiden name). "Are you fully vested?  Have you gotten all the stock options you can? Are you being smart?"
 
I didn't mind him asking me these questions - I knew it was because he was looking out for me.  Over the years, Steve would continue to act as a surrogate father to me and though we never formalized it, he indeed had become my mentor.  His belief in my talents and recognition of my hard work only helped me to thrive ("Keep up the good work, Pulido.") 
 
Perhaps the most valuable lesson I learned from him that I carry with me now is to be comfortable with executives in the C-Suite.  While maintaining respect for people of that caliber is key, Steve showed me that they're people, too.  They like to be approached at functions and asked how their kids are doing and if they're enjoying themselves.  
 
I spent 10 years with Anheuser-Busch Companies and as my personal and professional priorities began to shift, I knew it was time to leave the nest.  When I called Steve to let him know I was leaving home, he wasn't surprised.
 
"I know you're gonna leave, aren't you, Pulido?"  He paused.  "I'm ok with that.  Just know, you will always have a friend in St. Louis."
 
"And you'll always have a friend in Chicago," I replied.
 
I last saw Steve about five years ago at a wedding; his health has begun to decline and he doesn't get around all that well.  Now, we mostly keep up with each other through mutual friends. 
 
Building a relationship takes time and as I said, shouldn't be forced.  I don't know that Steve and I would have had the bond we did if we'd tried to put a label on it.  Nevertheless, having someone who can provide that expertise to you in corporate America is crucial to survival. 
 
If there's someone in your company or industry you think could offer you valuable advice and guidance, don't be afraid to seek them out; find a common interest, pitch an idea, give them a compliment (so long as you aren't sucking up).  Tap into employee networks -- is a C Suite executive giving a speech at an event outside of the company?  If so, buy a ticket, attend it and go up and introduce yourself as an employee of the company.  They will appreciate the initiative you took to attend on your own time to see him or her.
 
You never know where that next great relationship might come from.    
 
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Pulido Sanchez Communications, LLC.
333 West Wacker Drive
Suite 500
Chicago, Illinois 60606
Phone (312) 855-0191
Fax (312) 885-9131