“Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living – if you do it well, I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.”
– Denzel Washington
In the last couple of weeks, two individuals who in much different ways played important parts in my formation as a businessman passed away. Those deaths made me realize how blessed I’ve been to have great mentors in my life and how important mentorship is to the success of leaders.
I met Louis Matte when I was just 16, when I went to work on his farm. The father of my friend Harold, he first appeared gruff and demanding as he smoked his pipe and told me where I would be working.
Little was I to know that for the better part of the next 35 years, our lives would be intertwined in business and he would become a fantastic mentor to me.
It was by working on his farm, his construction sites, land developments and gas stations that I was able to pay for my college education and rub shoulders with Louis, who was a local business tycoon.
I observed his propensity for business and his ability to visualize opportunities when others only saw hardship.
I was able to openly question him about business deals and follow him as he started a couple of successful ventures as I worked for him.
In 1988, he asked me if I would like to be his partner in a startup. For the next 28 years, we met regularly, and he shared with me his wisdom and advice on how to be successful in business and life.
“A lot of people put pressure on themselves and think it will be way too hard for them to live out their dreams. Mentors are there to say, ‘Look, it’s not that tough. It’s not as hard as you think. Here are some guidelines and things I have gone through to get to where I am in my career.’”
– Joe Jonas
One thing about great mentors is that while they’re willing to share their knowledge and experiences, they’re there for you when you make mistakes. I made my fair share of blunders, and Louis and I had occasional disagreements on how to approach various difficult situations. I knew when times got tough that I could always sit down with Louis and his wife Rolande and by the end of the conversation life would be better.
In the end, the dissolving of our partnership wasn’t as harmonious as perhaps I would have liked but I can honestly say that as good mentors do, Louis allowed me to learn and grow from the experience, and we were still friends afterwards.
“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.”
– Benjamin Disraeli
Annie Nusl died on Saturday and I was able to spend a few hours at her bedside before she passed away. Annie, unlike Louis, wasn’t a business guru. She was a dedicated employee of 20 years.
Annie’s gift to me, beyond her loyalty and friendship, was her ability to teach me how to be a better manager of people. She gently guided me to slow down, be more patient, pay attention to details, to treat people better. Annie cared, and that caring demeanour helped me realize that life is so much more than just money or business.
That’s just what some mentors do.
Mentors come in all shapes and sizes, and in all aspects of our lives. It’s only when they leave us that we truly realize their lasting influence and impact. And it’s then that we can reflect on the blessings that they’ve been in our lives.
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
– Isaac Newton