Mentorships come in all forms. Some mix job search advice with personal support; others are sponsorship-type connections targeted at helping a mentee achieve a particular promotion. Here, mentors and the people they guide discuss how they got together and what they gain from the experience.
Lisa Costa and Trinh Tran, Allen & Gerritsen
When the red betta fish she kept in her office at Allen & Gerritsen died, Trinh Tran sadly resigned herself to workdays without her little aquatic friend. But a few days later, to her surprise, a new fish appeared in the tank, courtesy of Lisa Costa, 47, her mentor and a senior vice president at the marketing agency. “It made me see Lisa in a completely different way,” says Tran, 26, an analyst at the Boston firm, which has an informal mentorship initiative. “She is an executive and a professional, but now I also knew she also would go out of her way to show that she’s willing to help and care.”
Career development, work issues, and even student loans are all fair game when Tran and Costa chat in Costa’s office, decorated with Boston sports memorabilia. “This is my first full-time job out of college, so it helps to discuss how to deal with certain co-workers or understand management styles,” says Tran, who asked Costa to be her mentor. Sometimes the two agree; other times not, but as Costa puts it, “the beauty of the relationship is we both feel comfortable learning from each other.”
Mike Volpe and Anum Hussain, HubSpot
At first glance, Mike Volpe, 38, and Anum Hussain, 22, don’t appear to have much in common. Volpe, a Canton native, is a former Bowdoin College football player with a 2-year-old son. Hussain, a young Muslim-American, is the first in her family born in the United States. Growing up in a small New Hampshire town, she coped with taunts of “terrorist.” But connected through their company’s networking program, they found a commonality in their love for social media marketing. Both work at Cambridge-based marketing software company HubSpot, where Volpe, chief marketing officer, describes Hussain as an up-and-coming star.
“I don’t always know what paths to take,” says Hussain, of decision making on the job, adding that sometimes she’s so focused on day-to-day tasks that it’s hard to see the big picture. “Mike has helped me figure out my strengths and weaknesses.” And after the Marathon bombings, when Hussain had the idea of producing a video advocating on behalf of Muslims to prevent discrimination, Volpe, encouraged her to do so and shared the video with his Twitter followers.
Both Hussain and Volpe like to tell the story about when Hussain’s parents, who emigrated from Pakistan over two decades ago, first visited the office. “Her mother gave me a huge hug, which was totally unexpected,” says Volpe. “She really appreciated all the advice and support I’d given her daughter. It was really a special moment.”
Vickie Henry, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders and Raquel Webster, National Grid
Listening to Vickie Henry speak at a Women’s Bar Association meeting two years ago, Raquel Webster was immediately impressed by her poise and confidence. Then a junior attorney in the field, Webster (far left) appreciated how candid Henry was about the challenges of working in a male-dominated profession. “She didn’t sugarcoat anything,” says Webster, who asked Henry, at the time a partner at a major Boston law firm, if she’d be willing to meet regularly, one-on-one. “I was going through a career transition at the time from litigation to in-house counsel and needed good guidance.”
At their first meeting, the two bonded over the challenges of parenting with a demanding career. Henry, now 46, says they also had a shared perspective about being a minority in the workplace. “I am a lesbian, and I know what it’s like to be the only one with a different sexual orientation at a practice; Raquel is black, and it’s no secret that the legal world has more work to do in terms of diversity.” She challenged Webster to ask strategic questions about an organization’s priorities and values during her job search. “It’s about working at a place that cares about people,” says Henry, an attorney for GLAD (Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders) and a social activist.
Today, Webster, 35, is senior counsel at National Grid in Waltham, but she often calls Henry for advice — and to get a dose of her mentor’s contagious enthusiasm. “I told my wife I want a Pollyanna T-shirt that says, ‘I am a relentless optimist,’ ” Henry says.
Hugh Klei and Santiago Fernandez, Deloitte
Becoming a partner at Deloitte — one of the Big Four accounting firms — is no small endeavor. But senior audit manager Santiago Fernandez believes with the help of his mentor, Hugh Klei (far right), a longtime auditor partner at the firm’s Boston office, he’ll be able to reach that goal.
It was a dream that seemed impossible for Fernandez just ten years ago, a fresh transfer from Argentina. “I had great vision and potential but lacked basic writing skills and language, so there were great challenges ahead,” says Fernandez, 40.
The pair’s first meeting three years ago was a bit like a blind date, says Klei, 49, arranged by the Deloitte mentorship program. Together they made a game plan, including accent reduction classes and working together on communication. “We agreed to always make honest assessments and commit ourselves to improvement,” says Klei, who says an overseas experience in Germany helped him understand the cultural adjustments Fernandez faced.
A key document in the partnership process is a 75-page progress report that demonstrates critical reasoning and writing ability. After they had worked together for three years on his English language skills, Fernandez nervously handed Klei his first draft. “It was like the culmination of our efforts,” says Klei. “We went out and celebrated that day.”
Down the road Fernandez hopes to “pay it forward” to aspiring accountants in Deloitte’s Hispanic network group. “There are many Santiagos out there who just need guidance and knowledge,” he says.
Vincent Capozzi and Janelle Woods-McNish, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care
Janelle Woods-McNish was recently crowned Mrs. Massachusetts and is headed for the Mrs. America pageant in September. That excitement is just one of many topics she and mentor Vincent Capozzi might wander into during their monthly meeting. But whether it’s career, family, or company politics, the two Harvard Pilgrim Health Care administrators know what to keep confidential. “We follow the motto, ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,’ ” jokes Woods-McNish, community involvement manager at the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation.
“We’re both driven to be number one in our fields, while still understanding that family comes first,” says Capozzi, 59, senior vice president for sales and marketing. Their partnership started four years ago when Woods-McNish approached Capozzi, an East Boston native, with a two-page proposal outlining what each could gain from a mentorship relationship. “He gains perspective from a younger employee and I get his views from a senior leadership level,” says Woods-McNish, 31, who grew up in the South. For one thing, Capozzi has taught her the importance of being her own advocate. “I credit Vin with pushing me to go on and get my MBA,” says Woods-McNish, now working on the degree. And Capozzi believes she has helped him understand what’s going on at the ground level in the company.
One day at work, Woods-McNish was surprised to receive a flurry of e-mails from co-workers congratulating her on winning the Mrs. America title. The instigator? Capozzi. “Only Vin would do something like that,” says Woods-McNish.
Dorothy Terrell, FirstCap Advisors, and Aisha Francis-Samuel, Crittenton Women’s Union
Moving to Boston eight years ago for career opportunities was a huge leap for Aisha Francis-Samuel, who knew just a handful of people here. So when she met Dorothy Terrell, 63, at a Bible study, she asked a lot of questions: What makes this city tick? What advice do you have to help me navigate this place? The two clicked. They both came from the South — Francis-Samuel from Tennessee, Terrell (far right) from Florida — and share a strong spirituality. Francis-Samuel, in a soul-searching phase, was impressed by what Terrell, now managing partner of venture capital group FirstCap, had accomplished. “I had a sense of getting a behind-the-curtains look at what it was like to be an executive director and serve on corporate boards,” says Francis-Samuel, 36. “I saw that she had a family but was still a successful woman who was able to balance community service and work.”
Although she’s older and more experienced, Terrell describes their meetings as “peer-to-peer mentoring.” When Terrell’s husband passed away two years ago, their relationship gained another dimension, as Francis-Samuel and others not only supported her emotionally but also set up a scholarship, the Albert H. Brown Bridge the Gap fund, in his name. Francis-Samuelis now comfortably settled in as a philanthropic manager at the Crittenton Women’s Union, where she helps create better futures for low-income women. “One thing we’re agreed upon,” says Terrell, “as we encounter life’s challenges, we need each other’s support.”