Mentoring Group

What’s Your Mentorship Style?

Oct. 10, 2022
Five seriously dedicated mentors in manufacturing share their approaches and insights.

Guiding the next generation of workers for a company or community organization can be immensely rewarding. But, how to share a lifetime of experience is a different task for everyone. For this story, IndustryWeek hand-picked five dedicated mentors in leadership roles to share their backstories and best advice.

GUSTAVO SEPULVEDA

Robotics and Automation Business Head, Panasonic Connect

Backstory: Sepulveda mentors both within his organization, a manufacturing and solutions subsidiary of Panasonic, and for a nonprofit program called Braven that helps first-generation college students. Mentoring is a vocation for him, something he plans to continue doing even when he retires someday. “I have been extremely lucky because I have had very good mentors and very good managers in my life,” Sepulveda says, remembering at “least four that pushed me hard,” sometimes to the point that he got upset with them. “They were brave enough to tell me the things that I really needed to do to improve. I feel a moral obligation to do the same with the next generation.”

Give Direction: Sometimes, people confuse mentoring with motivation, but they are not the same, says Sepulveda. “If you tell someone, ‘You are great, you’re doing everything fine,’ you’re not telling that person what he or she needs to improve. They may have a short-term gain and be motivated for the next one or two weeks. And that will be it. If you really care, you need to say, ‘Hey, you have to improve this.’”

A successful mentorship has three components, says Sepulveda, who usually meets with his mentees monthly. One, the mentee should not be in your department. “You cannot be his boss, or the boss’s boss,” he says, because the mentee will not be comfortable being open with you. Two, both parties must agree that everything in the session is confidential, so they can feel comfortable sharing their weaknesses. For the mentee, the weakness may be the current struggle they’re dealing with, and for the mentor, it may be a past struggle and what they learned from it. “Sometimes the best example is when the mentor gives an example of when he himself dropped the ball,” Sepulveda says. “That creates a lot of trust in the relationship.” Three, it’s important to reinforce that the mentor doesn’t solve the mentee’s problems—the mentor helps the mentee, “so that he or she finds the solution to the problem.”

SUSAN ELKINGTON

President, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky

Backstory: Elkington’s first mentor was her high school teacher in rural Indiana, who encouraged her to pursue engineering. “I didn’t even know what an engineer did,” she recalls. “I thought I would go into math and maybe become a math teacher or statistician.” She took his advice and thought she’d be an engineer forever. Elkington describes herself as an introvert, so earlier in her career, when an engineering supervisor at Toyota recommended her to lead a skilled maintenance team, she was reluctant. “But there was a mentor who said, ‘Hey, no, this is something that you can do,’” she says. “You don’t have to be the expert at something you don’t know. You can really do well with the things that you do know, and work to learn in those other areas. And so, I took that role.”

Listen: “One of the key things as any mentor going into a mentoring relationship is to be open to learning,” Elkington says. That means the mentor may occasionally be in the student’s chair. Elkington has a number of mentees at Toyota Kentucky and other locations around the world, but she is also participating in a reverse mentorship focused on diversity. Her mentors are two younger Black employees. The reverse mentorship has helped her gain a better understanding of “what is going on in our communities with violence, some of the situations that have occurred and especially related to the murder of Breonna Taylor that impacted our community.” She’s learned of safety concerns from hearing others’ stories. “We’re not aware of what maybe Black members of our staff [encounter] on business travel,” she reflects. “How some of our members have to take precautions, especially as they travel to certain areas.”

ARVIS WILLIAMS

Vice President, Global Quality, BorgWarner

Backstory: An engineer by training, Williams has spent most of her 33-year career in automotive manufacturing. Her “span of influence” at BorgWarner’s 26 plants in 16 countries includes quality, program management, advanced manufacturing engineering and operational excellence. She has a competitive spirit, something she developed being the only girl in a household with five brothers. When Williams’ high school teacher discouraged her from going into engineering, saying she didn’t have the math chops, that motivated her to work harder to prove him wrong. Much of her mentorship energy centers on at-risk youth, especially girls; she recently led a mentoring program at BorgWarner that focused on youth in the foster-care system. “I’ve always represented a first—either the first female, or the first Black American to have the positions that I have had,” she says. “I want to ensure that I am not the last such candidate in any of those roles.”

Make it Relatable: “Most of the young ladies that I work with in middle and high school have very low self-esteem in regards to taking on math and science,” Williams explains. “So, they don’t necessarily have an interest in STEM. I try to make them more comfortable and build a love for engineering science by explaining to them the application of math is really everything they see.” Their phones become lessons in conductivity “and how electronics works to transmit data, and how it’s received instantly.” The chairs they sit on are the introduction to a lesson in balancing forces in relation to gravity. “They have so many of the same influences in their lives as that counselor that will tell them what they can’t do,” she says.“I want to be the voice that encourages them, that gives them an ability to be empowered to dream a dream and accomplish it and not let anyone stand in their way.”

DESPINA ANASTASIOU

Global Business Development Director, Corporate Strategy, Dow

Backstory: Anastasiou started out as a chemist at Dow but gravitated toward more people-centered roles. In her current position, she shapes global corporate strategy around decarbonization, digital transformation and diversity, equity and inclusion, but is at the point in her career where she writes her own path (literally, she goes in and changes her job title in the company directory when she feels it’s not reflecting what she’s doing). “My roles have shifted from having oversight for more than $1 billion to then being a sole contributor without even access to anybody reporting to me,” she says. “That means I have very much shaped myself in the way that I view and define leadership.” She has long been an active leader in employee resources groups, and mentoring is an important piece of that. “What I love doing—I think it comes very close to what I’d call my purpose—is really unlocking the potential in others.” She currently has mentees “in the double digits for sure.”

Be Approachable: The idea of a formal mentorship can be intimidating. When Anastasiou gives one of her “master classes” at Dow around topics like managing up or resilience after a setback, she sometimes shares her own experience, and afterward women will want to connect. “I’ve told them not to use the ‘M’ word if that will make them reluctant to reach out,” she says. “They can just request a single meeting and say, ‘Hey, Despina—you said something that resonated with me. Would you be open to meet with me so we can discuss things?’ And whether we formalize it with a certain frequency or cadence, I really don’t find that as valuable as being available for people when they need specific help, as long as they have a true purpose of what they’re trying to figure out.”

DAAN VERKOEIJEN,

Senior Director, Operations, DSM

Backstory: Verkoeijen directs four nutritional lipids plants at DSM, a global chemical company that restyled itself as a purpose-based nutrition, health and bioscience company about a decade ago. He’s seen a lot of organizational changes in his 21 years at DSM and lived in five countries. Currently, he oversees facilities in Peru and Canada and in the U.S. in Wisconsin and South Carolina—and not only is a mentor himself but looks for opportunities to connect newer employees in the company with more seasoned ones.

Find What Fits: DSM has a formal mentoring program that matches people through a questionnaire, but Verkoeijen has had the most success setting up mentorships informally. “I have a large network of people I know,” he says. “So, if I talk to somebody and they say, ‘I would really be interested in the mentoring program,’ we talk it through.” He’ll ask if they want to go through the formal program or prefer to be paired with someone in his network that he thinks would be a good fit. “Knowing both people, I’m more certain there’s a click,” he says. “I can connect a process engineer in Mulgrave, Canada, with a process engineering manager with more experience in Kingstree, South Carolina. And I know personality-wise the chance that that works out: It’s 90%. And then it’s just, ‘Connect and talk, and if you like it, set your own frequency. Because sometimes it’s nice to have somebody to talk to that’s not your boss.’

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