Or to be more specific, my mentors.
When you’ve just completed your sixtieth rotation of the sun, hindsight becomes richer. There’s just more to review; you have more data on yourself to process (and it’s pretty honest too). So, I’ll do that – self-assess my professional life from time to time. I know others do too.
For me, the exercise of hindsight always leads back to mentors. I’m referencing the agents in one’s professional life who enable the greatest opportunities and most valuable of learnings.
As stated in the Book of Rules for Achieving Professional Mentor Status (I just wrote it), there is always one person who automatically qualifies (e.g. has “auto-mentor” status) – and that individual is the person who hired you for that first real job. In my case, that was a person named Barbara Jaekel, who became Campbell’s first vice president not long after, starting a tradition of strong female leaders in the company.
Here’s how it worked: I placed an ad that read “HUNGRY FOR PR” in a trade pub. Barb liked it (I’m not sure, but I don’t think she was desperate) and called me in for an interview. She was hiring for an automotive women’s marketing initiative (just emerging in those days), and in I walked – all 6’5”, 250 pounds of me fresh off the milk truck from Minnesota and living with his folks. Barb hired me on the spot . . .
. . . and put me to work. Her standards for details and “correct” client relations were beyond high. She was very-high energy (a lot more than I had ever seen before) and very passionate about good ideas. She became my friend.
The mentor who introduced me to independent thinking and business acumen would be Jodi Bittker (now Tobin) – we were hired around the same time by Barbara.
To me, it seemed, almost instinctively, Jodi could clearly relate what she was working on with the mechanics of the business (be it automotive, client, or agency — I was still working on the mechanics of my commute at the time). She was very detail oriented and always used terms like “buttoned up” or “nicely polished” to describe our work. She became my friend.
The mentor who taught me professionalism is Lyn St. James. We’d coordinate media tours and events with Lyn – and I learned early on that you’d better show up flawlessly prepared (Jodi always did). Lyn’s known for racing, but she was also a very astute (and successful) business owner. She also became the first woman to win the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year award.
The second person to hire me doesn’t get “auto-mentor” status, but I deem her one anyway. Nora Pearson hired me into Kelly Services’ corporate PR office, immediately sat me down, and ventured deeply into the virtues of empathy in the corporate workplace (I was hired from an agency). It was gold and proved a lesson always worth repeating.
I ventured into self-employment and found a niche in product development source materials (riveting, I know). The first such project was for the Saturn L-series, and the person who enabled me through the PO process (quite a task for a company of one) was Anne Santori. She hired me when there were easier paths to follow (and which ultimately served as a portal to many great experiences). In my world, Anne’s a hero.
I’ve lost regular contact with these mentors – but then again, not really. Because the learnings, opportunities, insights, fortitude and gumption they all demonstrated/taught me . . . have been passed on to my children – Olivia and Lucy. So far, the results are encouraging.
So, thank you mentors, and please know your impact is still felt and very much appreciated to this day. When I returned to Campbell a few years ago, I was pleased to find that the tradition of strong women mentors has continued.
In hindsight, it’s clear I’ve been quite fortunate.