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What My Mentor Taught Me

Stories about motivation, interviews, style, and confidence from four mentees.

Motivation

Mentee: Sue Houser, Senior Claim Representative, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. (BNSF)

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Mentor: Marty Brummer, Director – Planning and Administration, Engineering Division, BNSF

Problem: Houser was picked for BNSF’s mentoring program – and couldn’t have cared less. Shortly after she was paired with Brummer, Houser was asked to make a presentation to senior executives. She didn’t want to do it – after all, she thought, Who cares what I think?

Advice: Brummer told her that her own attitude was her biggest obstacle. And he encouraged her: “I told her I thought she’d do a good job.”

Result: Houser’s presentation impressed senior management, who soon implemented several of her suggestions. “I’ve made my position here 10 times better. My attitude change was 90% of that,” Houser says.

Interview Tips

Mentee: Marie Milde, Buyer and Merchandiser, SuperValu Inc.

Mentor: Thomas Ritchey, President, Carlson Learning Co.

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Problem: Milde got the bad news in March: Her department at the grocery wholesaler was downsizing. Out of a department of 45 people, only 15 would remain. Milde had to reinterview for her position.

Advice: Her mentor did a mock interview with her and gave her tips on presentation. When she walked into her interview, a yellow Post-it note on her folder reminded her of Ritchey’s advice: “Slow down. Smile! Relax.”

Result: Milde aced the interview. “Tom told me to let them see who I really am, and they would want to hire that person,” Milde says. “His confidence in me helped me to have confidence.”

A Style Guide

Mentee: Susan Fleck, Vice President of Engineering, Boston Gas Co.

Mentor: Stanley Newsham, General Manager of Construction (retired), Boston Gas Co.

Problem: Fleck is one of the few women on the engineering side at Boston Gas Co. When she was loaned to

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Newsham’s field-operations department, Fleck found that her gender and authority posed a problem for the field teams she supervised.

Advice: “Stanley suggested that I change my approach,” Fleck says. “He said I should try to get across the idea that we’re all on the same team.”

Result: “It worked,” Fleck says. “People pitched in and covered for one another out in the field. Stanley helped me improve the group’s work.” After her two-year stint in field operations was over, Fleck was promoted to vice president. Newsham has since retired.

Confidence

Mentee: Susan Hickey, Senior Vice President of Marketing, SRR Solutions Inc.

Mentor: Venkat Srinivasan, Chairman and CEO, SRR Solutions Inc.

Problem: In 1989, when Hickey was contemplating a career change, she called Srinivasan, a professor with whom she’d worked as an undergraduate. He made her an offer: Start a company with him – SRR. As the new company’s temporary general manager, one of Hickey’s early duties was to make a presentation to CEOs from client companies. She was petrified.

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Advice: Srinivasan wouldn’t let Hickey off the hook. “He was adamant that I had to work to earn the clients’ trust,” Hickey says, “just as I had earned his.”

Result: Hickey nailed the presentation – and still remembers Srinivasan’s lesson. “Venkat is absolutely fearless,” she says. “And it’s catching.”