The Mentor 

There was an advertisement on TV when Jaws2 was being released to the theatres:  “Jaws 2 This time it’s personal”

Well this will be a rather personal one.  Years ago while I was running a training department for a pharmaceutical company I would occasionally bring in a consultant. Today I am a consultant, where desperate companies bring me in, with the hope that I can save their organization before they declare bankruptcy at the end of the day.  I would end my three week training course, by bringing in a talented professional named Roz Usheroff.  Her goal was to elevate the consciousness and professionalism among our new hires.

She would share her very appropriate personal opinion of each employee.  She would talk to the men about suits and ties, as this was long before “business casual”. became the accepted look.  She would also talk to our female hires about skirt length, cleavage exposure and other accessorizing that helped lift the professional look of each employee.  Of course after she accessed my look, I spent far a little time burning my wardrobe, so that I would not appear to look like a used car salesman from the Bronx.  One of our finance managers even shaved off his moustache after the session. Oh and I got a haircut on the way home that day.

It was not her fashion advice that stayed with me after that day, but rather it was her advice on choosing a mentor.  Now “mentoring” has become as trendy as foamy coffee from Starbucks, however her counsel stayed with me for my entire career.

She said, “When choosing your mentor, do not select a colleague with similar skills.  Do not pick your manager with slightly elevated talents.  No pick a person with skills and talents so superior to yours, that just observing and absorbing their work, will increase your potential growth beyond your current state.

Now this advice helped to make my mentor decision as easy as falling off a log.  A small log, not a large barky log, where the fall might lead to potentially hurting myself.

Tom Potter hired me for my first real job.  He likes to tell the story of our interview at the Holiday Inn in Oakville.  (Did I just type Inn in?)

He ordered cream of mushroom soup so I did as well, because somebody told me to mirror your interviewer to attain commonality during the process.

Well Tom poured a little pepper in his soup, so I copied that act.  He asked a question, and I started coughing because I had inhaled all the pepper with my first spoonful of soup.  Now when Tom tells this story, words like “convulsion”, “spraying soup on him” and “No soup for you” are added to colour up the story a little.  In my version I just coughed a little.  Today he will probably add Coronavirus symptoms to this tale.

The most important part of the story is this man hired me. I had an English degree from U of T, and had no business applying for a job where science was a minimum prerequisite. Mr. Potter saw something in me that I never saw.

I could go on, so I will.  In our organization “Confucious Say” was replaced by “Tom Potter Say” because he offered words of wisdom that transcended the business world.  When coaching new hires “Praise approximate rights” helped me when raising my children.  If my kids did something that was not correct, I would praise the attempt and inevitably there next try was better.

Tom would advocate; “catch people doing the right thing” which simply meant be positive in your appreciation of employees.  Long before hundreds of management books became the mandatory reading for leaders, Tom was sharing simple, fundamental principles that all knew, but few did.

Searle Canada in Oakville, was the small pharmaceutical company where friends to this day, were exposed to this gentleman’s professional kindness and emotional intelligence.  Every meeting I attended when Tom was in the room, he would cut through the posturing and comments drenched with self-interest and say something.  His words would hang, as every person in that room wished they had said what he had quietly articulated.

A group of 16 to 20 of us connected to long gone Searle Canada, have a golf weekend every June.  From BC to PEI, we get together to tell the same stories.  One year Mont Tremblanc Quebec was our decided location. For reasons I still can’t explain, Tom asked me if I would like to carpool with him for the 5-hour trip.  When those golfers heard that I was going to spend 10 hours alone with Tom Potter, the jealousy exuded by others was frankly uncomfortable.  I remember Let it Be came on the radio as we approached Kingston, and though Mother Mary, was speaking words of wisdom, greater wisdom came from the passenger beside me.

I instituted a Hall of Fame for our golf group years ago. The idea was simple.  The nicest things ever said about you is inexplicably expressed at your funeral.  The idea was, lets tell people how much we appreciate, adore or admire them, while they are still alive, and can hear the eulogy.  When votes came in for the first inductee to Golf group Hall of Fame, Tom Potter was the unanimous first choice.

Eventually all 16 of us will get into our Hall of Fame, as batting average is not a consideration in the vote.  And no I am still not a member of this exclusive group, because of my steroid prescription from the 1990s to treat inflammation.

I could go on, but now I will not, as my blog is approaching the unreadable 1000 words.

I do not see Tom Potter as much these because he is now a doting grandfather.  Yes he has made a decision that spending time with his family is more attractive than spending time with me.  I never said a mentor was intelligent, just inspirational!

As I review and edit this piece it kind of reads like a love letter.  That’s because it is Tom.  I will end with a quote from Bob Hope, though old Tom may be the only one who knows who Bob Hope is.  Thanks for the memories.

Cue the Blong.  Rarely do you meet people with A state of Mind so superior to yours…


2 thoughts on “The Mentor

  1. Beautifully done Denis. I could make some wisecracks about “wedding cakes” and “shift double click” but I would only be masking my own emotion with humour. Tom literally changed my life for the better as well, and has provided hugely impactful role modelling and advice over my career. When visiting my modest home in New Brunswick many years ago, Tom had lunch at our kitchen table and met my wife and young children. He looked me in the eyes and said “you are a wealthy man, Grant MacDougall.” That’s the kind of shit that sticks with you. Hall of Fame indeed 👍👊

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