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November 03, 2012


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I never was a networking type of person but I can offer some thoughts on my path to becoming a managing director of an investment firm and head of its largest money making division. First, I went after experience on a clearly defined path. I wanted to manage money and wouldn't consider anything else. I turned down higher paying opportunities that didn't offer that chance. The jobs I took had to show a clear path to managing money.After 3 years I was managing a $800 million portfolio.I got the position because from day 1, in every strategy session I offered a view on changes to the portfolio. I quickly came to understand that people like to talk a lot but when it comes time to make a decision (especially about investments)the room gets quiet.
I would add that one day a salesman showed up from Salomon Brothers to talk about a new product - mortgage backed securities. The head of the department asked if anyone wanted to get involved with them and would like to manage a small portfolio of MBS. Everybody shied away and I enthusiastically volunteered. I eventually became seen as an expert and ended up going to many wonderful places and speaking at conferences on how to analyze MBSs etc.
With experience managing the portfolio under my belt I looked up one day and realized I didn't want my bosses job. It was time to move on. I asked my contacts on Wall Street to let me know if something interesting came up. Soon they pointed me to an insurance company that had 2 portfolios that basically were not being managed. That's where I went. Throughout the time I made it a point to go to conferences and talk to people. I didn't realize it but this was laying the groundwork for my career move. At the conferences I would run into the head of one of the largest investment mangers in the D.C. area. We would exchange pleasantries and talk about what we were doing in the market etc. To make a long story short, he called and offered me a job after I had been at the insurance company for 2.5 years. Anyways I eventually replaced him and spent 14 years at the company.
My advice from my experiences is to know what you want to do, do it as well as you can, and talk to people in the industry. Don't worry about getting there too fast. Executive compensation is such that once there for a few years you can typically retire or do whatever you want.

In my experience, the key is to develop a strong relationship with as many executives as possible. There are obvious reasons for this (i.e. the more you know....) however more importantly, again from my experience, is that everyone has something different to offer you in terms of what they can teach. Very few people in executive level positions are good at every aspect of the business that they are in, however they are extremely good a one of two of them. One may excel at sales, or technical issues, or developing staff, etc, however that may be lacking skills in other areas.

Because of this, it is important to begin to understand who and why is good at what and what it is you can learn from each of them to help you in your career. Early on in my career I just assumed that all of the upper level folks excelled at everything, however the sooner I realized this was not the case and began to look up to different people for different reasons, the more momentum my rise to the top picked up.

The one person that has been a constant mentor to me from the beginning is a national, perhaps even global, technical resource in the subject matter I work in, and is top notch at dealing with staff issues, however he lacks greater when it comes to building relations with clients. Accordingly, I have found other people to fill in the void for skills such as this that I cannot learn from him.

Mentoring works differently depending on the company culture, and I can imagine also varies by industry, but here are my 2 cents.

If they showed some interest in you, that means you already have some lines of conversation open along this interest. I would work on this by making sure to keep in touch more often than once quarterly, having ad hoc conversations, ideally bringing up some project you are working on or something that could potentially be of value in their work. And on the opposite side, to build a mentorship type of communication, you need to ask for advice occasionally, whether about career path, or about a specific challenge or opportunity on which they could be expected to have a perspective. I am mentoring several people in our company and I am always happy when they come to me with specific challenges proactively, and I could help them think through them in the context of our [unique] company culture.

As for my own mentors, the ones that are most senior usually don't have that much time or patience for detailed advice, but they always have some interesting thought or direction for me. I try to ask them for advice at least a few times a year, but keep it brief, specific and within their abilities to engage.

Personally I keep mentoring relationships all in work context, but I know quite a few people successfully introduce a personal connection through common interests. It all depends on your personality - I would say if it doesn't come naturally to you, don't force it.

Also, personally, I wouldn't ask for "official" mentoring, just let it grow into such a connection over time. I would find it a bit weird if a person I don't know well yet, asks me if I would be his/her mentor. Just let it happen.

Thanks to everyone for your advice of this topic. I definitely have a lot to think about. My company has an official mentoring program so it isn't quite as weird as it sounds.

In the past I have picked mentors to have on going relationships with because we click. I can usually tell this within the first meeting. But with all of the people at the executive level, they have a level of polish that I have found it hard to read even after a couple of meetings.

I would also like to hear some specific stories about times where mentors at a more senior level have made an impact. What kinds of topics did you choose to seek advice on? If you are or have been at a senior/executive level what kinds of topics have you advised people on?

I would suggest that you ask these mentors for feedback on the way you are approaching problems or projects, or you may discuss an issue the business faces and talk to that person on how to best navigate the organization to get the desired outcome for something. Every company has informal networks in addition to the formal ones and a mentor can help you navigate through that.

That is what I have offered in mentoring others.


I would suggest a few things:
First, get your boss or your boss's boss to help you. One mentoring relationship I developed came about when I asked by boss (who is very respected in the organization) to ask a Sr. Exec. to mentor me. This introduction can help to potential mentor to see that your boss thinks that you have potential and are worth the effort.
Secondly, instead of asking for a Sr. Exec. to "mentor you" - which can sound like a bid, long commitment, you could ask a Sr. Exec. to meet with you x number of times over the next y months to talk about topic z, then see what develops from there.

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