A Few Good Mentors

How can you find a mentor to help you advance your career? And if you’re on the other side of the spectrum, how can you identify the individuals you’ll develop a meaningful relationship with as mentees? These and other issues were on the minds of attendees of Monday morning’s “A Few Good Mentors” panel.

Two sets of mentors/mentees were on hand: The first was mentor Ron Schnur, CPSM, vice president of dairy supply and operations at WhiteWave Foods, and the colleague he has mentored, Bill Dempsey, currently the vice president of global procurement at Shire Pharmaceuticals. Schnur and Dempsey met when Dempsey worked on a contract basis for Miller-Coors Brewery, where Schnur was a senior procurement executive. Schnur immediately recognized a motivated and career-minded professional, and so began a mentoring relationship that’s lasted several years as both Schnur and Dempsey have moved on to other companies. It’s a classic example of what could be considered an “informal” mentoring relationship. They didn’t follow guidelines, or a corporate program.

The other mentor/mentee pair was Derek Everitt, CSPM, global sourcing director for Terex Corporation, who mentored Nicole Zhang, now regional sourcing manager at Terex. In their case, they came together through a structured Terex initiative to link graduate students with senior executives.

“The mentor is someone you can be a point of continuity for as the mentee moves along in their career,” said Everitt. Zhang meets with Everitt on a scheduled basis and discusses both a set of pre-planned questions as well as any other issues that have arisen since they last met.

If you’re looking for a mentor, Dempsey recommended approaching the people in your organization who are known as “influencers.” It doesn’t need to be someone at the VP level — directors and managers can make wonderful mentors, as well. “Invite them to coffee and just have an informal chat, find out where your common interests are and then, you can broach the subject of mentoring if it feels like a good match,” said Dempsey.

As for the mentor, what’s in it for you? “I’ve had a successful 25-year career, and now it’s my turn to give back to the profession,” said Schnur. He makes himself available to “anyone who wants to talk seriously about their career in this profession.”

Everitt added that it’s about retention of good talent. “The younger generations don’t always make it known why they are moving from company to company, but through mentoring, you can find out that there are often simple things that can be done to improve their work experience. It’s about giving them a safe channel to discuss these things and help give them direction early in their careers.”

There will always be challenges to mentoring, like making the time to meet/check-in, or learning how to read the other person and say “the right things” for each individual’s situation, but the panelists agreed it’s a rewarding and enriching experience if both mentor and mentee are on the same page.

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