It’s a good thing, right, when mentors move on? But why do I get so bummed? Just find another one? Yea, right.
One of my mentors at the Darden School of Business announced he’s moving on to the next phase of his career. David Newkirk, Darden’s CEO of Executive Education (EE), spent six and a half years leading Darden’s EE. Since his first day, David took me under his wing, first as I directed the Career Development Center, and then as I reported to him running Corporate Relations. His accomplishments in EE will be celebrated over the next few days, as they should be. But it’s his accomplishments as a mentor, both to me and to many others at Darden, that I want to celebrate, and that I’ll miss.
Mentor [men-tawr, -ter] 1. a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.
David was an immediate ally of mine, and then mentor to me, the day he joined Darden. He saw his role at Darden was beyond just EE, but included being a senior leader at the School. When I asked, he offered strategic insight into my challenge in Career Development and was equally willing to open his rolodex for students. Many days I used his office to vent about bad banker behavior or poor market conditions. He always answered with a story, which gave me insight into solving my own problem. I saw David as a mentor to several on Darden’s leadership team. David’s thirty years of business experience, many as adviser to senior executives, gave me comfort when I knew he was helping guide the decisions of our leadership team. Darden has flourished in the past six years, due of course to many factors, but not the least of which was David’s advice, mentorship and leadership of the entire Enterprise, not just EE.
2. an influential senior sponsor or supporter
One of David’s core strengths is his genuine concern and support of his people. When I began reporting to David two years ago, I was immediately challenged to think differently about my job, encouraged to broaden my impact, and acknowledged for the work I was doing. I could (can) talk frankly with David, and know that he’ll listen (and push back when I’m full of myself). He is there when I need him, and yet manages me like a professional. My favorite quote, on one of the many times he wandered into my office just to check in: “Have I managed you enough this week?”
Finally, David is wise man. Seems like an old fashioned word, but for David it fits. His knowledge is broad and his experience vast. (What would you expect from a man with a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy?) His stories help me solve my problems, without telling me what to do. As much as anything, David helps me see things in better, more strategic perspective.
Now he’s moving on to another stage in his career. And what a career modeler he’s been. David’s career is a model for MBAs today. He continually reinvents himself: engine salesman, credit card marketer, strategic adviser, general manager. Seems like the cycle is every 7-10 years. He builds on the previous skills and adds new ones. I suspect he never gets bored, and when he stops having fun, he moves on. Sounds like a pretty good career model.
So, he moves on, and I have to find another mentor, right? Well, wrong. That’s the beauty of your mentor moving on. Now you have a person in whom you have total trust somewhere else in the world. I’ll give David his six weeks in London, but after that, he can expect my call. And the last thing I love about David is that if I don’t call him, I know he’ll call me. Cause that’s just the way he is.
So, I guess then, yes, I’m celebrating.