Business Mentorship—Giving Back to the Industry

Business Mentorship

Giving Back to the Industry

By Diane M. Calabrese / Published December 2021

Photo by iStockphoto.com/monkeybusinessimages

Don’t make the same mistake twice. This is good advice, but it’s even better if we can learn from each other’s missteps. Novices to an industry have plenty of time for unique blunders. Mentorship spares them repetition. 

     “I think it is important to continue the advancement of the industry and help others to avoid the same mistakes I have made,” says Michael Hinderliter, president of Steamaway Inc. in Fort Worth, TX, and a committed mentor. When mentoring, he has tried to emulate his father and his grandfather. 

     “Seeing others whom I have mentored succeed” is rewarding, says Hinderliter. “I have mentored those on my staff and those in the industry. Obviously, for those on my staff, it is more of a formal employee-employer relationship.

     “For those in the industry, I don’t formally coach for a fee, but I do coach for those who reach out to me,” continues Hinderliter. “Some do this very frequently and others not as much.”

     Contractors, distributors, and manufacturers in our industry give serious attention to mentoring. They know the more information they can impart to individuals who are newer to the industry, the stronger the industry becomes. 

     In the next three sections of this article, we have personal accounts from a distributor and two contractor members of our industry regarding their experience with mentoring. But we continue here with a reflection on the importance of mentoring from a member of our industry anchored in manufacturing.

     “Mentorship is all about investing in the organization’s workforce to increase employee engagement and commitment to the company,” says Daniel Sherlock, senior manager—engines and export, at American Honda Motor Co. Inc. in Alpharetta, GA. And he lists several benefits inherent in business mentorship. 

     “Mentorship sets the bar for how to move the business forward in a way that is consistent with the organization’s beliefs, values, culture, and work standards,” says Sherlock. “It helps bring new ideas and perspectives to the business, helping the company remain competitive in a rapidly changing business environment.”

     Indeed, the positive outcomes permeate the workplace. “Mentorship increases productivity as employees become more committed to the success of the organization,” says Sherlock. “It ensures less turnover as employees become more engaged with the company mission and goals.”

     Taking the time to mentor adds strength to a company in enduring ways. “Mentorship helps identify and build enthusiastic future leaders for the organization and creates a basis for succession planning,” explains Sherlock. “And it helps create more leadership diversity to capitalize on different paradigms, perspectives, and experiences.”

Keeping Pace with Changes

     Yes, it’s possible to do it all alone and get it all correct. (That would be a very lucky trajectory, but it does happen.)

     A veteran of our industry, Roy G. Chappell, CEO of Chappell Supply and Equipment Co. in Oklahoma City, OK, notes that mentoring can take place in many settings. Moreover, it includes opportunities to interact with customers and colleagues as well as employees.

     The mentoring itself takes different forms. “Here at the office, most of the time it is formal classroom interaction,” says Chappell. “Then, informal in the field. Going over things several times shows [team members] the importance of many different topics and items. Then when they talk with their customers, they don’t make snap judgement calls that in many cases would be wrong.”

     A balance between prudence and enthusiasm has long been important in sales. The best sale only counts if there is follow through with payment. 

     “When I started my company selling pressure washers, it was about a 180-degree difference from the oilfield,” says Chappell. “In the oilfield they paid when the equipment hit the ground, so cash flow was not a problem.

     “But with the pressure washer business customers there would be 90- to 120-day pay right off the bat,” continues Chappell. “You had cash flow problems.” 

     Fortunately, says Chappell, he was able to get advice. “Lynn Fisher with Landa helped us with how to collect past-due accounts—what percentage should be 30 days out, 60 days out.”

     It took focused (and hours-consuming) attention to be certain the cash followed sales within a reasonable interval. A year in, Chappell had collections “under control,” and he attributes the help he got from Fisher as essential mentorship.

     Even as successful owners like Chappell mentor others, they derive context from what they learned from others, and they recall their mentors’ expertise with thanks. 

     Ron Carruth, who was with Landa in its wastewater department, is someone Chappell cites as worthy of emulation. Carruth conveyed the importance of knowing “how to compare what you’re selling to a competitor’s unit,” says Chappell. “He spent a lot of time with us, showing us how to be just a little better at sales and service—how to serve our customers to keep them happy with our services and products.”

     The lessons were long lasting. “We still use what Ron Carruth taught us today,” says Chappell. “It is easier to keep existing customers than to go out and find new ones. Good customers bring you new business.”

     Relaying what he has learned is important to Chappell. It keeps the industry vigorous. It also helps other business owners achieve their dreams.

     “Seeing the people grow their business over the years is rewarding,” says Chappell. “Several companies would sell out because of slow growth. Others would put their nose to the grindstone and make it work, working 10- to 12-hour days. But that’s what it took to make the business grow and be profitable.”

     Mentoring and collegiality are two facets of the same approach to the sharing of knowledge. “Several years ago, three other distributors and I got together, each of us from a different part of the country,” says Chappell. “When we ran into a wastewater problem, we would ask the other three if they had run into the same issue.” The responses would come back quickly and meaningfully.

No Hand Holding

     Count C.L. Scott, owner of Houston Washpros Power Washing, based in Katy, TX, among the members of our industry who are enthusiastic about mentoring. “As someone who received so much assistance when I began, I can’t help but return the favor,” he says.

    As for how the mentoring is done—formally or informally, individually or as a group, free or in some instances paid—it depends, explains Scott. “Each circumstance is different.” 

     The most important thing is to share. “Business mentorship is important to me as a leader because it helps me fulfill my purpose,” says Scott. “Mentorship is also important to make sure our craft is taught in the right way.”

     Unfortunately, explains Scott, without mentoring, some in the industry may tackle projects with incorrect methods. The poor results they obtain will negatively impact not just their business but the businesses of their competitors. 

     Scott sees a potential mentor in everyone, and he encourages others to do the same. “I learn as much as possible from everyone I interact with,” says Scott. “Some people show me a better way of doing things or introduce me to things I’ve never considered, while others show me exactly what not to do while cleaning or interacting with clients.”

    Scott’s company has been in business for eight years with steady growth, but there’s always more to learn and accomplish, he says. “Hearing from men and women who tell me I’ve helped them change their lives, feed their families, and help put their children through school with information I’ve shared with them” is gratifying, says Scott. “When it’s a win-win-win, it just feels good.”

     For all his deep enthusiasm about mentoring, Scott does offer a caution: It’s about sharing knowledge, not doing the work.

     “Part of the ups and downs, pros and cons of mentorship is the fact that we are all human, and humans are imperfect,” says Scott. “There is a difference between mentoring and spoon-feeding or hand-holding. I prefer to help people who I can see are trying to help themselves.”

     Receptiveness in a mentee begins with a demonstration of commitment to learning. “A one-way relationship is unhealthy,” says Scott. “Time is our most valuable asset, and it can’t be replaced. Information is the most valuable resource on the planet.” An individual who has not apprehended the value of time or information sharing is not ready to be successfully mentored. 

     “Then there are people who are hungry and willing to give everything and anything necessary to be successful,” says Scott. “They take notes, pay attention, are eager to learn, and stay focused. These are the people who are satisfying to mentor—you can see the fruit of your seed harvesting. There is no greater joy.”

What to Look For In A Mentor

     Be sure to take advice from a trusted source. “When you’re looking for a mentor or asking anyone for advice, there are some important characteristics you should look for,” says Henry Bockman, president of PowerWashCompany.com in Germantown, MD.

     Among the characteristics are experience in the field, in the office, and in running a successful company, says Bockman. He emphasizes a company of any size can be successful. 

     Mentors should be “honest and candid but nonjudgmental” and “able to give constructive feedback,” says Bockman. A mentor should also be “a good listener and sounding board” and “humble” as well as knowledgeable. Ideally, the mentor will be able to help the mentee network and find resources.

     Bockman, like our other sources, deeply enjoys mentoring and the opportunity to share. “I have always offered to help anyone I can because I know how difficult it was for me when I started my first company 33 years ago before the internet existed.”

     The rewards come back in many ways, including a thriving competitor who becomes a friend. In October, such a colleague reminded Bockman of their first meeting 10 years ago. That’s when Bockman persuaded the man to start his company with a specific machine to get the job done and keep overhead low at first. Today the two men often meet and chat.

     “I have had similar conversations with hundreds of contractors whom I met while speaking at conventions and teaching power washing classes,” says Bockman. “I also get quite a few calls and emails from people who contact me after reading one of my posts on bulletin boards and Facebook. Most of them just wanted advice on how to bid large contracts, get into government contracting, learn about marketing, automate tasks, develop websites, or optimize search engines.”

     Bockman cites some of his many mentors, who are anchored both outside and inside the industry. Among them is his wife, Linda, an accountant who taught him the musts of financials. There have also been many individuals whom he met through the Veteran 2 Veteran LLC business cohorts’ program, including those who helped him better understand the world of government contracting.

     “In the power washing industry, there are several people I contact for advice on different things, and I help them with areas that I specialize in,” says Bockman. “For example, Michael Hinderliter has always been willing to give advice and answer questions on building a business.”

     The give and take in the industry—mentoring/sharing—in all directions invigorates it. Bockman provide a few examples of fortifying interactions.

     “Everett Abrams and Beth Borrego are the experts I contact when I have any questions about wood restoration and log homes,” says Bockman. “Mike Hilborn is a master at scaling up operations to take advantage of opportunities. Ken Bullinger is one of the most compassionate contractors I have ever met in this industry, and that has helped him build a group of extremely loyal employees by using unique methods. One example is a cook he has who makes breakfast for all of his employees during their morning meeting.”

     Why does business mentorship matter? Bockman sums up the perspective of the many strong voices in our industry: “For me, it’s about building relationships with people and watching them build the American Dream as their business grows and succeeds. I also just enjoy giving back to the industry and seeing the industry grow over the years.”

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