All of my mentors have been unofficial – just senior people that I have worked with.
My first was when I joined Ford Motor Company, in truck operations at Langley. I had joined as a graduate trainee, which is always challenging because you really don’t know what you’re going to be asked to do in HR.
A day or two after I arrived, John Rice, the employee relations manager, whose job it was to make sure that production never stopped, told me – a brand new graduate trainee, still wet behind the ears – that there was a stoppage in the paint shop, and that everyone had walked out. He asked me to go and sort it out.
I walked down to the paint shop. Everyone was sitting around smoking and chatting when I arrived with my notebook and pen. I looked behind me, and all I could see was John about a hundred yards behind me, killing himself laughing. And I realised that I was taking things far too seriously, and that I needed to find out what was happening. By just talking to people, John and I resolved that situation.
He constantly mentored me through those early years, and really helped me to gain confidence, and to understand that communication is everything. He was a great mentor because he was both a friend and a boss, and someone that I really felt I could go to and ask anything of.
I met another mentor when Scottish Power hired me as HR director. It was then a FTSE 40 firm and having just taken over a massive company in the US, was becoming international. My job was to bring it all together into a single, effective company. The chief executive there was Sir Ian Robertson. When he hired me, he sat me down and asked me if I thought I could do the job. I wasn’t convinced that I could, but I said “Yes, I’m sure I can”.
I had to put together the HR strategy, and to bring the US business into the existing company, while building up HR’s capability to deliver business results. During that time, I really got to know Sir Ian. He gave me a lot of very challenging things to do – really involving me very much as a business partner, who could contribute across the whole business, and not just in HR. For example, after a very short period of time, he put me on the operating board of the company, which was a tremendous vote of confidence. He became a confidant, someone I could speak to on a huge number of issues. And this was because I regarded him much more as a friend than a boss. It was an extraordinary relationship.
Paul Pagliari, UK group HR director, ISS UK