I’ve had three mentors in my life. I didn’t answer an ad—didn’t look at Craig’s list or Match.com. They just sort of adopted me.
Unfortunately, they are all gone now, but they were each invaluable at different times. I miss them.
The first was my employer at the Valley of the Sun Electric League in Phoenix. His name was Dick Reucker and he was an amazing, talented management executive. He was in the first group of Certified Association Executives recognized by the American Society of Association Executives.
Dick had one failing and I was the beneficiary of that flaw. He disliked the hiring process and never took the time to interview candidates very thoroughly for the position of his assistant. I was his first and I guess that convinced him he didn’t need to change his approach. His overall record was pretty good. A little more than half his hires were successful.
He gave me responsibility, he gave me freedom, and he gave me a voice in almost all the decision-making. He made the job interesting and exciting. I thought it was the best job I ever had or would ever have.
We argued a lot about various ideas. It was loud and heated but never personal. When it went on for awhile, he would say, “Why do you argue so much?” I would point to a sign that hung on his wall that said, “When two men in business always agree, one of them is unnecessary.”
At some point, he told me that I was pretty good but there was more I could learn. He said, “You stay, I’ll work your tail off and then I’ll help you get a better job.” Down the road he recommended me for my next job at KTAR-TV and the one after that as Executive Vice-President of the Electric League of Southern California.
My second mentor was Ed Myers, Vice-President of Marketing for Southern California Edison. He was instrumental in a number of subtle but effective ways to my being hired to take over the Los Angeles-based electric industry association. His company was the principal backer of the organization, but rarely exercised that power.
Our mission was to increase the use of electric energy in the existing home market. To do that, we put on coordinated promotions with five or 600 appliance dealers and later expanded into lighting and heating.
At one point, he vigorously opposed my move to change a minor organization program. Later on, in private, I asked him why? He said, “Never saw that coming. Don’t ever give me any surprises.” I learned; I never did.
During the first few years of my tenure, Ed would see me any time of the day or evening but would never have a meal with me. At one point, when I suggested lunch, he explained he didn’t want his name or mine on an expense account because he didn’t want anyone to think our professional relationship would be personally influenced.
When I suggested we create a long-range plan with a committee he would chair, he said, “No. You draft a plan and I’ll chair a committee to discuss and fine tune it. That way we’ll have a concrete proposal, well thought out, that will save us two years time.”
I went to visit him once when he was recovering from pneumonia. His staff was falling apart because they were intimidated and rattled by him. They were unsure what he wanted them to do. I suggested he hire me as his de facto Chief of Staff. He explained why that would be a big help to him but the corporate culture would kill me. He was right and probably the best advice he gave me. Truth be told, the corporation would probably never have agreed to hire me either. No surprise, I’m not the corporate type.
My third mentor was my brother-in-law, Al, Professor of Social Work at Columbia University. He rarely gave direct advice. He would get me to verbalize the problem and, rather than give me his opinion, he would outline some possible options and the consequences of each. It was very effective. On a couple of occasions, his direction led to a decision which made important changes in my life in a very comfortable way.
The only direct recommendations he made on a few occasions when I had some personal issues to resolve was to go talk to a professional. That was fine, but in each case, except one, I thought they were more conflicted than I was.
Mentors have been very important in my life. They can be very important in yours or your children’s lives.