As you go through life, you don’t realize who will be a mentor and how important their advice will be to you. My parents were uneducated immigrants who made a life using the creativity of their hands. My mom was a talented seamstress who could take a picture from Vogue and recreate it perfectly. My dad, a master carpenter, could turn a piece of wood into a work of art.
Education was not a part of their lives, and so it became a critical part of mine. My dad sat me down before I went to college and said, “I have given you all I have to give, it’s not much, but I’ve tried to set the good example. Make the most of it, study hard, learn all you can, go out, do more, be more than me.” I wanted to be in the creative arts in college, an interior designer perhaps. However, my father encouraged me to get an accounting degree. I never really became the accountant my father thought I would, but his advice set my career in motion.
At the forklift manufacturing firm where, at 28, I was CFO, the president of the company knew I didn’t have a lot of experience. He said to me, “you will make mistakes. It’s okay. Just don’t make the mistake that will cost the company.”
Those words have stayed with me. He taught me not to be afraid of decision making, and yet know the impact of the decisions I make. That is also where I learned not to be afraid to ask the dumb questions, to really understand what lies underneath the product sold to a consumer. And that advice I pass on to everyone I work with.
I’ve never thought of myself as a mentor, and I’ve never really had formal mentoring relationships. But I try to learn something from everyone I meet and pass on the lessons learned to those who come after me.
Probably the best mentor I had is someone I have never met. Aristotle, who wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” These are words I strive to live by every day. I hope to be a good mentor to my kids and pass along to them the same message my father gave to me going off to college all those years ago. And I will be right there behind them.