You may wonder why a powerful executive would want to take the time to mentor. The good news is that, over my long career, I have found that many executives are actually looking for talent to help them carry out their mission. The mentor and the mentee complement each other: The mentor has the power, the access, and the ideas, and the mentee has the technical ability to turn the mentors ideas into reality.
Consider my relationship with one of my mentors at IBM, Robert D. White.
Bob White was an IBM consultant to the apparel and footwear industry during my time at IBM, and one of the seven corporate industry consultants reporting to IBM headquarters. Bob had responsibility for the strategic direction of IBMs development and support of computing in many thousands of apparel companies, but he had only three regional directors reporting to him. He had to depend on the field of branch office IBMers to actually implement software products.
I got to work directly with Bob when I developed my first IBM software Installed User Program (IUP) product. The product was about ready to be announced, but first it had to go to Corporate for pricing, a product name, and legal review. I had done all the technical work on the package, but I couldnt seem to find a good name for it, so when HQ came up with the name Apparel Business System and a good competitive price, I was immediately impressed with IBM corporate management and with Bob White, who had picked that name .
While many IBM systems engineers thought that the IBMers who couldnt program were overhead and out of the mainstream, I learned how vital these non-programmers were to the companys success. I got to attend many of the seminars Bob would give to CEOs about the state of the worldwide apparel industry and IBMs strategic direction. That was spellbinding stuff for me; Bob could hold the interest of a roomful of CEOs.
Bob eventually became an invaluable mentor to me, encouraging me to develop IBM software products that he personally presented to corporate IBM. He had found someone in the field to implement his vision, and I had found someone in IBM headquarters to help me expand my own vision. And our skills were so different that we complemented each other, rather than interfering with or second-guessing each other.
Yet, as Ive said, most of my programming colleagues did not recognize Bob for the potential mentor that he was. They did not grasp the fact that he was in a position to exert major, positive impact on any programmers career. Maybe they didnt see him as mentor material because he was so far away in the New York corporate office. I dont know, but they missed out on a wonderful opportunity.