Why I Followed My Mentor to Three Companies

August 3rd, 2015 / Comments Off on Why I Followed My Mentor to Three Companies

I’ve had several pivotal mentors in my life — Charlie Rowe in little league and Abner Bigbie in high school football helped me find my talents and hone my skills — and whether it was sports or work, I’ve always looked for great coaching to help me get to where I thought I should go. I appreciate all of my mentors, but one who has made an especially incredible impact is John Frandsen.

I met John in my first management job. I had been at IBM for several years and my Corporate sponsor, Dick Mainey, had been a great champion and gave me the chance I coveted: a job in computer security. It turned out I was pretty good at breaking things. They’d give me a week to break into systems and see what I could do. I once cut a big check. (I gave it back). I found all kinds of passwords. I became a good hacker, and as I earned a few rounds of promotions, I started to become more of a professional. I got recruited for other jobs outside of security, including a big opportunity in the finance department in Boca Raton.

John Frandsen was the Controller then and he had followed my previous work, including how well we did in our tests with auditors, and supported me going to management — even though I had no experience and little training.

John told really great stories, and he was hilarious. These were the days before PowerPoint and we used “transparencies” on projectors to illustrate presentations. We could always look forward to John putting funny pictures on these plastic cells — even at the most stressful times. During budget season he did a presentation with the 12 characters we’d have to deal with and instructions on how to work with them. There was “the dying man,” the guy who would drown if we didn’t give him money. (We were told to give him some money.) We were instructed to “beware of the gardener.” He was exhausting: Every time you cut his budget, he’d grow three more shoots and want more funds. (The suggested thing to do was to cut his funding way back at the beginning.)

John made the work fun, but he did something more than that. With this presentation, John took something that was an emotionally complicated task — people are weird about money and power — and made it accessible and comfortable. He even gamified it a bit, making him way ahead of his time. He also showed us how to get things done. Three of these I use all the time today:

“Don’t expect what you didn’t inspect”: John warned, don’t delegate so much that you don’t know what’s going on. He taught us that if you want to be sure that you get the desired results, you must spend time and attention on it.

Forcing functions: John introduced a process and checkpoints to ensure that things got done. I have followed this methodology, always having hourly, daily, or weekly checkpoints — depending on the situation — enabling us to iterate and get to the right outcome.

“Don’t confuse action for traction”: Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re moving the needle. You have to focus on the right things. John taught me how to organize and prioritize in order to achieve the right outcomes.

Later, John became the CEO of ThomasConrad. He recruited me and fought for me to get a product management job there even though I had never been in that role before. Then, when he later landed at Quantum he recruited me to run their network. I worked for him at three companies and learned so much from him. But I was surprised that he called me about these jobs. I never realized he thought so highly of me. In fact I had never understood why he would pull me aside and invest time in me and share stories or advice.

Now, looking back, I know John had taken time out of his busy schedule to take a risk on me, someone who was very risky. I think John saw a diamond in the rough. He thought I could do more and was willing to give me a chance.  When I realized this, I realized what mentoring was about and I learned how powerful these relationships could be. It has inspired me to want to be a better protégé. (Later, I recommended John to Gateway when I worked there.) It has inspired me to want to become a mentor myself. It has led me to focus my philanthropic work on underserved kids who just need to be given a chance, and it has inspired me to co-found Everwise, a company that is all about enabling mentor relationships.

I always looked for mentors where I could and know I couldn’t have achieved what we have without them. A huge thanks, John.

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