The MBA Mentor Program affords students the invaluable experience by ikevantrounk



                                                The MBA Mentor Program affords students the
                                                invaluable experience and insight of senior executives
                                                                                                             By Ed Kromer

                          Richard Tait, who knows a thing or two about inspiration, likes to say he went from paperboy
                          to Microsoft, before co-founding Cranium, the revolutionary board game company he still serves
                          as Grand Poo-Bah (his actual title), a whimsical maestro directing a freewheeling philharmonic
                          of eccentric players who deliver masterpieces-in-a-box.
                            But Tait is the first to admit that he didn’t get there by himself.
                            Among the most influential mentors to have shaped and inspired his life and work, he counts
                 founder Peter Neupert, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Starbucks CEO
                          Howard Schultz. Oh, and his three kids. And a guy named David who shines shoes at a down-
                          town Tully’s with such integrity and passion as to elevate the exercise to an art form.
                            So when Tait was asked to join the Business School’s MBA Mentor Program a few years ago,
                          he knew he would pry free some space from his mobbed schedule to accommodate. “I’m incredibly
                          busy trying to be the best director of the company as well as the best dad I can be,” he says,
                          “But mentorship has been such an important part of my own professional development that I
                          thought, if there’s a chance for me to give back, I couldn’t pass it up.”

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Cranium                                                                                                                      Shurgard
When Aaron Owen Katzman got a           students around our office so they        And he soaked up the extended              American business is not necessar-       who can share an entrepreneurial         tives in legal, finance, accounting,
peek at Cranium, it twisted his         can see how it celebrates the cul-     contact with his one-time mentor.             ily usual for a Belarussian entrepre-    experience with me,” she says,           human resources, capital markets
melon.                                  ture and the mission that we’re on:    “Watching Richard guide this                  neur. And Liudmila Khomchanka,           “somebody who built the company          and assets management. Through
    An on-site visit to the imagina-    to give everyone the chance to         incredible group of intelligent               who came to the UW MBA program           from the ground up and has been          one of these connections, she land-
tive board game company and its         shine. I hope they see that work       minds and eccentric personalities             last fall after starting a wholesale     successfully growing it over             ed a summer internship, and
riveting “Grand Poo-Bah,” Richard       can feel as playful and as fun and     taught me a thing or three about              textile company in Minsk, found          time.”                                   learned about Shurgard’s organi-
Tait, was all it took for Katzman,      engaging as it does here, but still    effective leadership and humility,”           herself fascinated by the Shurgard          Through conversations with            zation as a real estate investment
now a second-year MBA student,          be highly productive.”                 Katzman admits. “Being a recov-               self-storage facility she drove past     Barbo, Khomchanka learned the            trust, a valuable lesson for a once
to know where he wanted to spend           Katzman got the message. He         ering micro-manager myself, I                 on her way to school.                    importance of passion, integrity         and future entrepreneur.
his summer, if not the rest of his      and fellow mentee Brian Lane           appreciated that self-awareness.”                 “We don’t have self-storage facil-   and self-confidence. But it didn’t          Barbo claims to get the most out
life.                                   concocted a “playful” internship          It’s also left an indelible mark on        ities in Belarus,” Khomchanka says,      stop there. “I learned from other        of his mentor interactions. “I always
    “Once you tour the office, feel     proposal, complete with mug shots      his cranium, and his myocardium.              “and I wanted to find out more           mentors in the program that it is        learn more from the students than
the pulse of the employees and          of each straining his cranium to       “Whatever I end up doing, I want              about the business model.”               much more valuable for the               they learn from me,” he says, “and
hear about the growth trajectory        best serve the company.                to continue to give consumers the                 When she realized that the inter-    students if they get to meet with        Luda was no exception.”
of the company,” Katzman waxes,            Katzman won the internship          ‘shine’ experience!” he says.                 national company’s CEO and               others in the organization,” Barbo          To that claim, Khomchanka
“it’s difficult to imagine working      and worked on co-branded promo-           “In a way that is profitable, of           founder, Chuck Barbo, was avail-         says. “This gives them a much            might take exception.
anywhere else.”                         tions with partners, like cereal       course…”                                      able for mentorship, she was eager       richer experience.”
    Tait does aim to inspire. “During   companies, who share Cranium’s                                                       to make his acquaintance. “I really         In meetings set up by Barbo,
our visits,” he says, “we first tell    target demographic “and lots of                                                      wanted to meet with somebody             Khomchanka met senior execu-
the Cranium story, and show the         excitable eyeballs,” he says.

    In so doing, Tait joined a cohort of senior executives    Runstad, Microsoft, Weyerhaeuser, Deloitte & Touche,           The first year 25 executives met with small groups of first-   made necessary by more frequent company and career
from the area’s top companies who offer their invaluable      Russell Investment Group, and many more of the region’s        year students, with the intent of enhancing their classroom    changes, requires the promising young person to seek out
experience and connections to UW MBAs each year. The          major companies.                                               experience.                                                    appropriate career guides and negotiate the terms of a rela-
list includes Bill Ayer (MBA 1978), chairman, president          These are high-powered people who MBAs would des-              “We wanted to help them learn to apply theory to real-      tionship.
and CEO of Alaska Airlines; Ed Fritzky, former chairman       perately like to meet, but would have little chance of doing   world settings, to look at what it takes to be a business          The UW program now counts nearly 70 able and willing
and CEO, Immunex; Tamra Chandler (MBA 1990), manag-           so on their own.                                               leader, to further hone in on industries and functions of      mentors who serve one of two distinct experiences. First-year
ing vice president at Hitachi Consulting; Erik Nordstrom         “Our program is unique,” says director Susan Canfield,      interest to them, and to learn more how they can build a       MBAs, typically just beginning to explore new industries or
(BA 1985), vice president of full line stores at Nordstrom,   who regularly fields inquiries from top 20 business schools.   career around their MBA,” Canfield explains.                   functions, select several mentors and make an extended site
Inc.; Wally Walker, president & CEO of the Seattle Sonics     “Most mentor programs are not as well developed, and don’t        Formalization of the program took advantage of the new,     visit to each. During the visits, the mentors give tours, tell
& Storm; John Fluke, chairman of the board, Fluke             seem to attract the level of executives that ours does.”       more proactive rules of engagement in mentoring. In the        tales of success and setback, discuss philosophical issues,
Capital Management; Susan Sigl (MBA 1979), general                                                                           old model, a relic from the era of life-long employment, a     field questions or arrange meetings with colleagues in areas
                                                              TRADITION IN THE MAKING
partner of SeaPoint Ventures. The A-list goes on and on,                                                                     superior would identify a young person with promise, and       of specific interests. Second-years choose a single mentor
                                                              The Mentor Program began in 1999, powered by a start-
with execs from REI, Cingular, Icos, Infospace, Wright                                                                       guide his rise through the organization. The new model,        and meet with him or her on regular occasions, working
                                                              up grant from the Herbert B. Jones Foundation until the
                                                                                                                                                                                            together to tailor a more targeted experience.
                                                              Business School made it self-supporting a few years later.

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Microsoft                                                                                                                        Boeing Ventures
At some point in her early years         “But I had exposure to a very wide       sations with Gillotti that continue,           Miller Adams is accustomed to            life outside of Boeing, his volun-       better to have an environment
meeting with UW MBAs, Debbi              community of resources through           across the organization, three                 technical questions. As director of      teer work, his interests, his time       where you can find something
Gillotti realized she could be more      the Executive Briefing Center.”          years later. “What I got out of the            Technology Ventures at Boeing            with family and church. “We start-       that you’re really interested in and
than just a mentor. She could be a          Lucky for Ran Feder (MBA              mentorship was less about busi-                Phantom Works, the aerospace             ed talking about work/life balance       passionate about.”
hub to the many reaches of               2002), who wisely chose Gillotti as      ness,” he says. “It was more about             company’s advanced research and          because somewhere along the way,            Hansen has taken Miller’s words
Microsoft, an organization that          his second-year mentor. During           how to work in a large organiza-               development unit, he’s all about         people were asking me about what         to heart, and to the Alliance of
many MBAs would like to know             monthly meetings, Gillotti found         tion—important details for the                 investing in strategic new tech-         sort of schedule we maintain here,       Angels, a sort of mentor and
better.                                  speakers to meet all of the market-      growth of a person that you                    nologies.                                which is, to some people’s minds,        matchmaker for early stage tech-
   Gillotti had joined Microsoft         ing inquiries that Feder and a           usually don’t have time to think                  After becoming interested in          pretty grueling—lots of travel,          nology companies. “I don’t mean
from Starbucks, where as CIO she         classmate requested.                     about. Debbi sees things in a much             venture capital and high-tech            very long days—and how do you            to trivialize it, but I realized that
had previously participated in the          Today Feder is global product         broader perspective. There are a               entrepreneurship, Ed Hansen              balance that?” Miller recalls. “Since    technology is kind of a detail,”
Mentor Program. In her new role          manager for Xbox 360 accesso-            lot of things that school can’t                (MBA 2005) chose Adams to be his         you have a limited amount of time        Hansen says. “It’s relationships
overseeing executive audience pro-       ries. “I didn’t get my job through       teach, but a good mentor can.”                 first-year mentor, and sought tech-      that you’re going to put into things     that are more important. What I
grams, she had unique access to a        the mentorship,” he says. “But it           Gillotti, now senior director of            nical advice about both sides of the     other than work, pick the things         really got out of this mentorship
wide range of subject matter experts     did teach me a lot about Microsoft       Strategic Business Development                 new business equation.                   that are really important to you.        was that to be a better business
throughout the company. “If I had        ways. It gave me an inside view of       for Microsoft’s Worldwide Public                  He got much more. Hansen and          Don’t just take on anything              person, you need to just be a better
been in another Microsoft line orga-     how the company and its divisions        Sector team, still provides UW                 several classmates requested addi-       because someone at the organiza-         person.”
nization, I might not have had as        work, information that is not avail-     MBAs expert guidance to the peo-               tional meetings with Miller, and         tion says to do it. This happens a
much visibility to the different         able to a student.”                      ple who move Microsoft, and to                 eventually got to talking about his      lot in the corporate world. It’s far
groups to connect students to peo-          More valuable, perhaps, was           lessons more valuable still.
ple who interest them,” she says.        information gleaned from conver-

A RECIPROCAL ATTRACTION                                        with people, how to be successful and still be a nice person.        There’s also much to be said for connecting with the        the start. “There is a feeling among students that when
Nearly 95 percent of MBAs participated in the voluntary        I hope this interaction with Tamra will help me be a more         next generation of leaders and, in another sense, customers.   they finish their MBA, that first job they take is the end-
program last year. The benefit to students is not difficult    complete person, rather than just another MBA.”                   “I get a lot out of being around young people,” adds Tait,     all, be-all for them. And it’s sometimes difficult for them
to see: It’s a chance to define career goals and develop the      The value to mentors may be less obvious, but it’s just as     who works in a young person’s business. “They bring such       to gain perspective,” she says. “The Mentor Program helps
networks necessary to achieve them. It’s a source of infor-    real, or so the growing ranks of busy senior executives who       a level of enthusiasm and innovative thought. They have        them see that a career over many decades is full of twists
mation about new industries and functions. It’s a way to       participate each year would suggest. Sharing the wealth of        such a fresh perspective on everything. Because they ask       and turns and chance and risk and success and failure and
deepen their education and connect with the business com-      experience and insight provides genuine satisfaction.             “why?” They don’t rely on precedent to determine future        serendipity. When they listen to their mentors, I think stu-
munity. And it’s a glimpse of where they want to be.              “All of us have had the advantage of someone mentoring         behavior. That causes us to constantly reevaluate and think    dents develop a sense of what it takes to build a career and
   “You get a lot from class and related activities,” says     us, either officially or unofficially, throughout our careers,”   differently.”                                                  become a leader over the long haul.” ■
Balu Chenicheri (MBA 2005), who worked with Hitachi’s          says Chuck Barbo, chairman and CEO of Shurgard Storage               In the end, though, it is the students who have every-
Chandler last year. “But there are certain skills you can’t    Centers, Inc. “This is certainly true of me. And my only          thing to gain from mentoring. And Canfield makes it clear      Steven Bangs contributed interviews to this article.
learn in the classroom. Not just skills, but how to interact   way to pay them back for all their help is to mentor the          that this program, like their entire MBA experience, is only
                                                               next generation.”

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