It’s unusual to have just one mentor.
I have different people to talk to about different things. But the one mentor who stands out is Larry Hirst. He’s now chairman of IBM Europe, Middle East and Africa, but when we met he had just become IBM country manager for the UK.
I had been at IBM for quite a while, and I asked him to mentor me. So in that sense, it was a formal and acknowledged relationship – and it has continued ever since. It was an unusual situation because he was, compared to me, such a senior executive. We discovered that we could instant message each other if I had a very quick question. But usually we would schedule time so that we could sit down and, in a more formal way, go through topics we had earmarked in advance. Over time, he discovered that there were subjects that I was expert in. While I wouldn’t call it reverse mentoring, I could offer him guidance, too.
In 2005, Lenovo bought IBM’s PC business, so having worked for IBM for some time, I found that I now worked for Lenovo. That was a very difficult time for me, and Larry was a great source of help and encouragement then. He helped me learn how to work in a new company in a smaller environment.
Over time, the nature of what you want from a mentor changes, and at this stage, I’ve gone from needing advice on how to be successful within the company to needing advice on how to be successful and behave like a more senior manager. I wouldn’t go to Larry with a day-to-day problem, but if I was thinking of changing career or taking a new role, I would immediately get back in touch with him.
This mentoring has gone right through a life cycle. It started off as a very formal relationship that kept to set times and one-to-one meetings, then developed into regular chats by phone, then irregular chats by phone. But I still feel able to speak to him – I know he’d take a call from me any time. I would feel very comfortable going straight back into detailed discussions about myself, what I can do well or what I can do better. I was delighted when he agreed to mentor me. As a junior manager, I wanted someone who would pick me up and take me with him. And Larry undoubtedly did that.
By Ken Batty, executive director of HR, EMEA, Lenovo