As a faith-based man, I feel that one of the best ways I can honor God is to strive to open up others’ hearts and minds to the bounty and blessings that are possible in the world. The world that God laid before us is a gift of unimaginable value. As a business leader, I realize that hard work and entrepreneurship are powerful tools for changing lives, and that by sharing the lessons I have learned, I can empower people to lift themselves, their families and entire communities. As my dad, my earliest mentor used to tell me, it’s all about others.
As a board member for several companies and foundations, I’ve done my best to share my advice and life lessons in ways that help people and companies grow and prosper.
I see it as a joyful obligation. I have benefited immensely from mentors in my own career, and I seek out opportunities to guide others. Everyone has an influence and impact on the world, whether they are trying to have one or not. By focusing on mentorship, older (and hopefully wiser) leaders can impart lessons that touch many, many lives.
Early in my career, I had a wonderful mentor — an extremely prosperous businessman and very wise gentleman named Dex. Dex used a big bus to travel the country for business, and from time to time I would call him or his secretary to see where he was headed to next — then I would fly out to the nearest airport, find his bus, ride along for a while and talk with him. Sometimes, this was at 2 or 3 in the morning. He was generous with his advice, and he had a huge impact on me.
During one of these late-night bus rides, we were riding between Hattiesburg, Miss., and Charlotte, N.C., and Dex had his driver pull the bus over as we were passing a big car graveyard. He was a huge car enthusiast with an amazing car collection, and he had spotted something amid all the junkers.
We got out. I was wearing a three-piece suit, but he wanted to get a better look, so we wound up climbing a chain-link fence with barbed wire at the top of it. Dex goes over to this old Chevy and says, “Jim, what do you think this car is worth?” And I mean, it was a mess. And I’m looking at it and I say, “Geez, I have no idea. I mean, now? Or after you fix it up?”
Now, Dex used everything as a teaching moment. So he says to me, “Well, you see, that’s exactly the point about people, too. …” It’s not the present value he was after when he stopped. He saw the potential. And he took a similar approach with the people he met in his daily life. Regardless of someone’s current station, he looked for potential. A lesson I never forgot.
Some people can enlarge your vision, enlarge your life, enlarge your event horizon, enlarge your view of yourself and what you can accomplish. I’ve enjoyed both sides of the mentor-mentee relationship, absorbing lessons from others and helping to guide young executives as they grew.
Few things have given me more pleasure than watching a young executive embrace new challenges, grow into new roles and achieve a level of success that may have previously seemed impossible.
Guiding those kinds of realizations is something that I think business veterans should do, and a mentoring relationship is something that executives young and old should seek out. It’s humbling to put aside your ego and focus on the potential of another person — and it’s also incredibly gratifying to see the results.