Experts say the best mentors are those who have a natural rapport with those they guide. The best approach is to help the mentee set goals and map out a viable career plan. “A good mentor wants the person he advises to succeed, and makes sure that the individual approaches opportunities that the mentor knows she’s ready for,” says Moulton. “But the mentor doesn’t let that person sidestep the hierarchy and doesn’t do the work for her.”
Robert Schiffner, CFO of Campbell’s Soup, says mentoring is one of the most important parts of his job and one of the highlights of his day. He credits his own ascension to the C-suite to Jake Powell, the former CFO of Nabisco, where Schiffner worked for more than 25 years. In the mid-1990s, Powell tapped Schiffner to become the controller of one of Nabisco’s divisions, a move Schiffner believes was pivotal in his career development. Today, Schiffner says mentoring is an integral part of his everyday job as CFO. “I really enjoy interfacing with people — giving them advice on how to climb the ladder and answering questions they might have.”
That can, of course, pose certain challenges. Mentors must not only manage their time carefully, they must also manage both the expectations and the motivations of mentees. Executive coach Moulton says that mentors should be careful about whom they help, favoring those who clearly have a vision for their career and the ability to work for success versus those who may be seeking an easy way ahead. Knobloch acknowledges that serving as a mentor can sometimes give the appearance of favoritism, but says that the true go-getters want to work for their success and tend to ask for less help as they gain more experience.
Making a Network Work
While mentoring may come easily to some, it’s a skill that most people can learn. Moulton says that initiating a formal mentoring program or joining an outside network is a great way for CFOs to get the hang of what is, after all, a very soft skill. Many alumni associations and networking organizations offer training on how to be an effective mentor and will help match individuals. Pursuing the role of mentor in this way, versus helping out a staffer or two, has one distinct advantage, according to Moulton: “It can be refreshing to have a relationship with someone who doesn’t report to you. It’s more personal.”
Lavoie looks to his own group affiliations — as a member of Financial Executives International, the Treasurers Club of Boston, and the Bentley College Executive Club — for opportunities to network with and mentor aspiring executives. That kind of involvement, he says, provides not only a chance to pass along what he knows, but also to “discuss finance-related issues and bounce things off each other to generate new ideas.”
In fact, though he now spends a fair amount of time as a mentor, he still works both sides of the fence. “I’ll never stop being a mentee. I talk to Chuck often and we get together once in a while. Whether a mentor or a mentee, career success is a continuous learning experience.”
Laura DeMars is a reporter for CFO.
CFOs on the Move
Bowne & Co. is adding a veteran of the Big Screen to its C-suite by appointing John Walker as CFO. Walker was previously CFO of Loews Cineplex Entertainment, now part of AMC Entertainment…. Cincinnati-based insurer Midland is protecting its finances by promoting treasurer W. Todd Gray to CFO. He replaces John Von Lehman, who plans to retire…. David Moffatt will be taking care of Allied Healthcare International as its new CFO. He joins the company from Monster Worldwide…. Lisa Gopalakrishnan, former CFO of Intermix Media, is the new finance chief of Abraxis Bioscience, replacing interim CFO Ronald Pauli…. Commodities brokerage Refco is getting back on its feet with the help of Jerry Lombardo, its new CFO. The company has been under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection since last year. Lombardo replaces Gerald Sherer, who was dismissed earlier this year…. Mark Morrison is parlaying his finance credentials into the corner office as CEO of Hallmark Financial Services. He is succeeded by Jeffrey Passmore, who was appointed principal financial officer…. Tivo will now record Steve Sordello as its new finance chief. Sordello was previously the CFO of Ask Jeeves…. Family Dollar Stores is in the market for a new CFO since R. James Kelly was promoted to president and COO.