Who Was Your Mentor?

As the convenience store industry continues to mature, today’s leaders have a responsibility to pass their wisdom forward.

By Jim Callahan.

Way back when I entered the oil industry as a bookkeeper in 1968, I didn’t have a clue how fortunate I was to have two great mentors.

To be absolutely candid, I never heard the word “mentor” uttered at the time and would not have known what it meant. It was only years later that I realized I had enjoyed and benefited from two extremely distinguished and diverse minds.

I talk often and with great reverence of Reinhardt Oil’s Bob Seng and owner Ned Dewey, the latter a Harvard and Wharton School of Business graduate. Both have had an enormous impact on me and my family, as I have enjoyed a lifelong lift from being in their presence during the early part of my career. What an advantage to have been surrounded by such brilliance—brilliance that was shared so willingly.

I thought I was being ‘trained,’ but mentoring goes far beyond training. I would surmise that mentoring starts where training ends. Training is an obligation where mentoring is passion.

The most concise description of mentoring that I have come across is that a mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself. Don’t we all really need that?  

It is my sincere opinion that a would-be mentor is looking for candidates who have the potential, desire and determination that evokes memories of one’s own younger years and thus stimulates the desire to assist.  

Paying it Forward
For those of us who have had the good fortune to receive outstanding leadership and guidance in our careers, there is an obligation to pay it forward. While researching the role of a mentor in business, I found that there is actually a Pay it Forward organization based on the book and movie bearing the same name.

Paying it forward is to act without the expectation of being paid back, but with the hope that the recipient pays the favor forward by helping someone else. The organization is based on the belief that each of us has the power to better someone’s life.  There is even a Pay it Forward Day in April, but why would you want to wait?

The c-store industry has an unmatched record in sharing information and encouraging employees. This has manifested itself by fostering personal growth and elevating an entire industry. We can be proud of that track record, but as you look around at many of our leaders, there is quite a bit of gray showing. For the industry to continue to flourish the leadership torch must continually be passed on to a new generation. In short, the time is now to impart your wisdom.

There is more than an implied obligation to continue mentoring and paying it forward. History is filled with examples of great leaders and followers that went on to do great things. Renowned 19th century poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “My chief want in life is someone who shall make me do what I can.”  

Our employees aren’t really any different. Seek out those in your organization who might need that extra push and you just might find a diamond in the rough.

Mentoring also affords employees an opportunity to start anew with an improved attitude.

Our industry remains under constant attack by drug stores, supermarkets and big box operators that want to steal our business. Now more than ever we need to expand and improve our mentoring efforts if we are to continue the growth and profits that we count on to sustain our future. Remember that old saying, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

Jim Callahan has more than 40 years of experience as a convenience store and petroleum marketer. His Convenience Store Solutions blog appears regularly on CSDecisions.com. He can be reached at (678) 485-4773 or via e-mail at jfcallahan502@msn.com.


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