When I was only 16 I was hired by a corageous woman, Franca Magnani. She was correspondent of the German TV ARD in Rome and she offered me to answer the switchboard in afternoons, while doing my homework. Two years later, on August, 6th, 1978, hell broke lose, the most important thing that can happen in Rome, occured, the Pope, Paul VI had died. After 20 days a new Pope was elected, John Paul I. Portraits of the new Pope were produced for the TV station and after some weeks of intense work the exhausted journalists and cameramen took some days off to recover the August holidays that because of the events had been cancelled. So, when on September 28, suddenly the new Pope dies, there was nobody in the offices of the German TV to go on air to give the news to the German public. Except for me and a cameraman, Abo Schmid. I was a rooky, just turned 18 and had never stood in front of a camera. But I was the only one there in the first hours. So I had the honour to break the news myself. In the next hours Franca and the others would be back and I would return to my humble duties. But when everything was over and I left to go back to school and finish my stint at the TV I asked Franca how I could ever thank her appropriately for this wonderful opportunity and trust that she had given me. And she answered:”Don’t thank me. Should you make a career, help younger people as I helped you.”
An experienced person guiding a less experienced person. Or, more formally: “Mentoring is a formal or informal relationship established between an experienced, knowledgeable employee and an inexperienced or new employee. The purpose of the mentoring relationship is to help the new employee quickly absorb the organization’s cultural and social norms.” Even beyond the world of employees, as mentioned in this definition of mentoring, mentoring can be applied across different organization types, from advisory and supervisory boards, to start-ups and students. As a mentor I have been and still am engaged in the LMU Entrepreneurship Centre in Munich. This means providing a mentoring time per month for free, especially helping start-ups to tackle following challenges: brand-building, communications, marketing, sales, compliance, leadership, HR practices (recruitment, training, development). As one of the most extraordinary businessman of our times once told me:”Succesful entrepreneurs are paranoid.” What he means is that a good start-up is totally focussed on a new product and its launch. Normally the founder seeks financial expertise immediately after having achieved some confidence about the new product. Then events develop very rapidly, the first sales may start, cooperation agreements are being made and the company needs to grow. More skills are needed than the innovation, IT and finance…How does one hire good people with a small budget? What kind of people should I hire? How do I want to become known to important stakeholders? How do I build a brand? What’s the “story” for the start-up? How can I plan profitable growth? Where can I find allies if I can’t afford to hire people or buy companies? All of these are questions I was being asked in my years of start-up mentorship.
I can only do some of these mentoring activities during a year, though. Also, because besides start-ups I also try to help my friends Jan and Karin Kvarnström, who have set up the mentoring network to promote female leaders, Anna & Cie, another wonderful effort to pass on skills to the next generation, in this case to young female leadership potentials. And, as a father of two grown-up ladies just entering the job market, I am truly and very selfishly committed to this cause.