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Business Executive's Life Changed by a Mentor

In his newsletter, blogger Aaron Renn reflects on the crucial role of mentors:

One of the core functions of mentors is to [tell you the things] people are already thinking and saying about you behind your back - and helping you overcome them. A Financial Times profile of American Express CEO Steve Squeri shows how a mentor did this for him.

Squeri is the grandson of Italian and Irish immigrants and the son of an accountant who worked nights and weekends at Bloomingdale’s department store to make ends meet. During his studies at Manhattan College, Squeri lived at home. He had never been on an aircraft until he joined a training program at what is now the consulting group Accenture.

Four years later he moved to Amex. There, his Queens accent and cheap suits stuck out so badly that an executive took him aside. He said, “You have a really sharp mind, but the rest of you needs a lot of work. [Senior managers] tend to use all the letters of the alphabet when they talk.”

The mentor took Squeri shopping, arranged for [speaking] lessons and even organized sessions with a cultural anthropologist so the younger manager would feel comfortable when he was sent to the group’s overseas offices. Squeri says, “I’m an example of how anybody can get to the top with a lot of hard work and having people that run the company that … are looking at individuals broadly and not judging books by their cover.”

Renn comments: “This mentor saw a diamond in the rough guy and made it his business to polish him up. This sort of thing is worth its weight in gold. [But notice how] good mentorship gets uncomfortable.”

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