Before moving to South Florida seven years ago, my career was in manufacturing—first of process equipment, then of HVAC products. And I was fortunate to have something many young managers today do not: a mentor. In the context of career development, I like to define a mentor as an individual who has knowledge, experience, and skill in a specific area or areas and is willing and able to share it with others. In my case, it was Earl Fester. I was a young graduate engineer hired to be a product manager in Earl’s company, a manufacturer of positive-displacement blowers and pumps. Although I didn’t report directly to Earl, for whatever reason, he took it upon himself to mentor me—and not just in the business of his business. He helped me to understand the different styles of management and when/how to apply them, the importance of having a vision and how to get others to share it, and the need to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances. Perhaps most importantly, he encouraged me not to be afraid to make mistakes and to own the ones I do make.
Earl also taught me about the social responsibilities that go with being an employer of others. Long before it became fashionable, Earl and his company were models of corporate social responsibility. One example that left a permanent impression on me was his support of public television in his adopted hometown. Earl was politically conservative and hated what he considered the local PBS affiliate’s liberal slant on nearly every issue. But he believed the arts were important and that PBS was the best way for most people in that community to become exposed to them. And he also believed that, as a leader in that community, he had an obligation to walk the talk. So he became one of the largest individual and corporate supporters of that station.
Recently, I attended a university’s winter commencement. Interestingly, when the provost made the obligatory pitch to the new grads, becoming a mentor—not being mentored—was mentioned as one of the primary reasons to join the alumni association.
How many organizations within the HVAC industry actively encourage mentoring? I see mentoring “lite” in some of the engineering and architectural firms with which I work and an occasional glimpse of real mentoring in a few of the (generally larger) contracting firms I know. But I’m too far away from manufacturers to know if they have any formal (although informal also works) mentoring programs in place. And I’m curious about the role of mentoring within the U.S. Green Building Council and the Green Building Initiative. If, as do I, you think it’s important to be a mentor, let me know. Add a comment describing your role and type of organization (it can be anonymous) and what impact mentoring has had on your career below.