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  • Writer's pictureMike Lawshe

Who Is Your Mentor, and Whose Mentor Are You?

as seen in CSP

FORT WORTH, Texas —Have you had a great mentor in your life? Most of us have had mentors that have guided us in our personal, business or religious lives. I have been blessed to have had three great business mentors in my life. You may know all three: Jim Mitchell, Coney Elliott and Jim Fisher.

Jim Mitchell was one of the most creative and imaginative designers in the convenience-retailing industry. Our paths did not cross often, but he always made time for a chat during the NACS Show or other industry events to share what he was working on and his latest crazy idea. He was not afraid to be “out there.” In fact, I think he relished being an outlier, an attitude that taught me it was OK to step out of your safe place and throw out those wild ideas. Some of them could turn out great, and the others, well, at least they could bring a smile to those around you.

Coney Elliott had an entirely different perspective. He was one of the best merchandisers I have ever met, and he looked at store design through a merchandiser’s lens. Every detail was important to guide a customer to the impulse opportunities throughout a store. I learned from Coney that once the creative design was done, the work began anew, reviewing every detail to come up with the perfect solution. Coney would sweat every detail, and he wasn’t afraid to say, “No that won’t work; start over.”

And Jim Fisher. Well, Jim Fisher was one of the best human beings I ever knew. Jim was a student of the convenience industry, a voracious reader and writer always seeking to learn. Jim was a writer in this magazine and motivated me to write more. He challenged me to broaden my knowledge and to also be a student of the industry. Jim had that special ability to be in the moment with everyone he talked to. You could be in a room of 300 people and if Jim was talking to you, you felt like you were the only one in the room. That is how he learned, one conversation at a time.

A Time to Reflect

Jim passed away recently, and it made me introspective. Thinking about how these men influenced my career over the past 35 years has humbled me. I am grateful for all the time that they spent with me and for the friendships that resulted. I truly believe that these relationships were formational in my business life. And if you are like me, your business life rolls into your personal life, as well.

The convenience retail industry has such a great legacy of mentorship. With the huge number of family companies, much of that is by nature generational: parent to child. I am blessed to have my grown children in the business today. It is one of my greatest joys to see them grow professionally.

Peer-to-peer relationships can be trickier. I wonder how many of these associations are intentional vs. fate. In business, there are organizational charts that almost dictate a certain relationship with your boss. Dictated relationships are not always positive experiences. But I want to focus on those awesome examples of good mentorship, where someone reaches out to you with no ulterior motive or family tie. Think about those people in your lives that fit that bill. It could be a coworker, a friend or acquaintance, and the best are often selfless and life-changing. What an amazing thing.

Your Turn

Now I want to ask you to flip the script. How many people can you say that you are a mentor to? How many people in business have you taken under your tutelage and had a positive impact on, intentionally or not?

Remember the movie “Pay It Forward”? In it, Haley Joel Osment takes a lesson from school about changing the world by paying it forward to three people and then those three people pay it forward to three more, and so on. What an extraordinarily simple way to change the world. Sometimes the simple things can have the most impact.

As I said, this industry has a great legacy of mentorship. I challenge you to embrace that legacy and pay it forward. Let’s take all that we have learned, put our unique spin on it and pay it forward in the form of mentoring others. I have found in these relationships that you get more than you give, which seems to be true more often than not in life. Thank you, Jim, Coney and Jim. You changed my life.


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