Mentoring benefits mentors as much as new entrants

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When Anna Nemeth started out in 1996, she says she was the only woman hired in her position west of Toronto. It wasn’t easy. And she had no mentors to guide her or cheer her on. “It was like going through the trenches, trying to figure things out,” says the VP and senior portfolio manager of the Vancouver-based TD Wealth Private Client Group. 

Harkening back to her rookie days, Nemeth says it can mean a lot to newbies if some veterans take the time to reach out and just say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff. This is what’s important. This is what you should focus on. This is what I learned from my experience.”

With some such guidance, she says she too could have avoided many heartaches and anguishes along the way. And now Nemeth has taken it on herself to be the mentor she never had. But she’s careful not to impose her ideology or advice. Her approach, she says, is to listen more than talk. She prefers to ask, “How can I help you?” rather than dictate, “Here’s how I can help you.”

The experience she says has made her a better, more motivated person.

Dave Patriarche, a zealous mentor and president of Mainstay Insurance Brokerage Inc., believes institutional knowledge is a waste if it isn’t shared. And those on the receiving end aren’t the only beneficiaries, he adds. “In making a mentee better, I make myself better. When I teach or mentor, I prepare for it. I get much more thorough. And I get to grow my network.”

The sceptics, Patriarche says, may feel newbies have no influence, or nothing to offer in return. “But a newbie might be a 20-year-old fresh in the business, or a 60-year-old changing from individual and life insurance to group insurance. We have a lot to learn from their experiences.”

Patriarche founded the Canadian Group Insurance Brokers (CGIB) association with the express desire to share industry knowledge, and provide opportunities for networking and informal mentoring. His style of mentoring, like Nemeth’s, is informal. “A formal structure never worked too well for me,” he says. “If there is something I want to get out, I want to get it out now. I can’t leave it there for the next time we’re scheduled to meet. I want to be available when a question or doubt arises.”

Patriarche enjoys mentoring people who are curious, have some spark, and a hunger to learn. To those people, he says, “Call me anytime you want. Doesn’t matter if it’s 10 times a week. If you have a question, are unsure of something, or want to hash through an idea, let’s talk about it.”

And some of the people who have taken him up on his offer have gone on to be extremely successful. “Even more successful [financially] than I ever will be,” Patriarche says. “And that’s really cool to watch.”
His favorite protégé, Peter Demangos, is a case in point. Demangos was a sharp young guy, licensed for less than a year, when he came to one of Patriarche’s breakfast meetings. “He was a sponge – eager to learn, with a million questions,” Patriarche recounts. And now, as founder and managing director of PDF Financial Group Inc., and co-founder of Collage, a payroll and benefits software company, Demangos is on the fast track.

But there was a low point in his career when he was struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and had doubts about the group benefits path. Patriarche advised him to put on the blinders, hold his path, and not waver. “Don’t go off and sell individual insurance,” he told him. “Don’t go off and do investments. Stay focused on group insurance. You are going to do great.”

Demangos acknowledges that was the best advice he received at that difficult crossroads in his career. He also taught Patriarche a valuable lesson in mentorship — not to strive for an alter ego. Patriarche wanted Demangos to focus on small group clients. Demangos preferred to cater to mid-sized and larger businesses. And that’s where he’s excelling.

Both realize the best mentorship is less about dispensing advice, and more about sharing experiences, successes and failures. “Just because it worked for me, doesn’t mean it will work for someone else,” Patriarche admits. “Every mentee will take what resonates most from those experiences and create their own path to success. That is what Dave and CGIB gave me — a launchpad for my own unique path to success,” Demangos adds.

And now Demangos pays it forward every chance he gets. “I’m happy to share my war stories — my ups and downs. If the next generation can learn something from that, I think we’re all better off for it.”

Transcontinental Media G.P.