|The Bahamas Investor Magazine
June 22, 2010
June 22, 2010
Plato, one of the world’s greatest philosophers, had classical Greek thinker Socrates for guidance. Investment wizard Warren Buffett attributes much of his success to the shrewd advice imparted to him by economist and Columbia University lecturer Benjamin Graham. Even Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic, had Freddie Laker to thank for some of his more eccentric, attention-grabbing publicity stunts.
For centuries, famous and powerful people in all fields of expertise have long understood the allure and importance of having mentors–experienced, trusted advisors willing to impart their knowledge, act as confidantes and help newcomers skillfully negotiate the ladder to success.
Rapport is key
In the business world where competition is fierce, it’s not only what you know, but who you know that can make the difference between climbing the corporate ladder, or becoming stuck on one rung.
This is a truth Diveane Bowe (CPA) knows well. Bowe was a 19-year-old intern when he first went to work at KPMG–an accounting firm that provides audit, tax and advisory services. Fast-forward 20 years and not only is Bowe the firm’s partner responsible for human resources and training, but he is also in charge of the risk advisory department.
“When I joined the firm, [former partner at KPMG Bahamas] Greg Cleare took me under his wing,” explains Bowe. “He was not only responsible for giving me a college scholarship, but also encouraged me to broaden my horizon by doing an international rotation, [with] two years spent at KPMG in Atlanta.”
In using a one-to-one approach to mentoring, taking time to get to know Bowe, Cleare quickly established a good rapport with his young apprentice. He was particularly impressed with Bowe’s personality, his work ethic and perseverance. “Diveane is a person that does what he says, means what he says and follows through with it. I could tell that he would succeed,” says Cleare, now the chief financial officer at Holowesko Partners Ltd, a fund management firm. “It’s very easy to mentor a person with those characteristics.”
Cleare is keenly aware of the value of the mentor/mentee relationship, having been mentored in a similar fashion by Denis Cross, a senior partner at the time when Cleare himself was a newcomer to the accounting firm. He was even happy to help when Bowe came to him looking for advice about another job offer. “[My mentor] certainly helped me to see what my opportunities were here at KPMG,” says Bowe. “It was the first time that I really went through some career planning with somebody who was genuinely interested in where I was going. He let me know what the possibilities were for myself, obviously way beyond what I could see.”
For Bowe, it was “a defining moment” in his career, though his mentor is modest about his input. “I drew on my own experiences and gave him the outlook on either side of the horizon,” Cleare recalls matter-of-factly.
Each one, reach one
The idea of mentoring, being able to tap into another’s experience, is gaining popularity in the workplace. According to Scotiabank (Bahamas) Ltd managing director, Barry Malcolm, mentorship provides an important dimension to the development and growth of businesses on both an individual and corporate level.
“Within our country, we could grow and enhance our professional pool much more rapidly and effectively if we, as professionals, commit to singling out and working with individuals to whom we can give time, to help them in their development,” Malcolm suggests. “I think that’s a very important part of growing a country, growing an economy, growing a business.”
Malcolm, who is responsible for charting the strategic direction taken by the bank’s 22 branches and 650 employees, is himself a product of mentoring. “Much of what I’ve been able to do in life–in the business and professional sense–I owe in great measure to the interest that persons of far greater capabilities than I, have taken in the development of my career,” says Malcolm, who has worked in executive positions with the Bahamas Financial Services Board, the Grand Bahama Port Authority and the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas.
Not surprisingly, Scotia embraces mentoring as an effective way to guide and support young professionals, simultaneously aiding in their career development through strategic pairing. “In advancing one’s career, one needs to have the requisite skill set and educational training and, of course, the requisite work ethics: the drive, the determination to win, to succeed, and to produce value. The combination of those skills and attributes can only be enhanced by having the benefit of a mentor,” says Malcolm.
Scotia’s mentoring programme is a mix of the formal and informal. It is formal only in the sense that each senior executive in the company is asked to give their time to other professionals. It is informal in that the company’s role ends once a list of mentors and potential mentees is compiled. The employees, not the bank, choose whom to pair with.
“There’s no formal reporting back to human resources or to anyone in the company once the pairing is done,” Malcolm explains. “What is shared between a mentor and mentee is intended to be just that, a confidential resource of assistance, support and guidance.”
For Peter Horton, corporate director of FirstCaribbean International Bank (Bahamas) Ltd, mentoring should be only one part of an individual’s personal development plan.
To enhance the mentoring experience he recommends continuing professional development whether it is in identifying deficiencies in one’s academic background, professional background, certification, or specific training.
“It shouldn’t be me saying to my guys, ‘I want to mentor you,’ although that’s something I’m quite happy to do. It should be people coming to me to say, ‘Peter, will you be my mentor?” says Horton. “Essentially, corporate progression should come from the self. You are not driven if you are sitting back waiting for the organization to get you there.”
Horton, a banker since 1984, recalls a time when career progression was driven by the organization, as opposed to the individual. “It was an easy ride in some respects, but it wasn’t the best journey,” recalls Horton, who hails from the UK. “Sometime around 1998/1999, I was with Barclays and saw the transformation take place. [The philosophy] changed to say: ‘Okay, you should be pushing yourself. We are not here to pull you.’”
Internal and external networking is “crucial” for the career-minded individual who wants to develop, says Horton. “If people don’t know who you are or know you exist, it’s very difficult for them to want to help you progress and develop.”
In 2009, when other organizations were slashing training budgets, FirstCaribbean spent more on staff training and development than they had in the previous year, although exact figures were not readily available. The bank currently offers a series of leadership training courses, performance management sessions and coaching classes especially beneficial to supervisors and middle managers, according to Siobhan Lloyd, head of human resources.
Once four key modules are completed, employees are enrolled into the Harvard Mentorship Program, an online initiative started last year, which provides further training and tips on being an effective leader. FirstCaribbean also offers key employees training opportunities overseas, such as a three-month stint at Canada’s CIBC. The bank is a member of the CIBC group.
“The direct pay off for me is: if I look at all the assets that we have in the business, the best assets I’ve got is my people,” says Horton. It is a winning strategy that’s bringing dividends for the bank. In 2009, for the fourth consecutive year, FirstCaribbean was named Bank of the Year by The Banker, an acclaimed magazine published by London’s Financial Times.
“I’ll use a Formula One racing car analogy,” says Horton. “You can have the most technologically advanced motor vehicle in the world, but if you have someone behind the wheel who doesn’t know how to drive, you are not going to win any races.”