The power of mentoring

Posted on the 29 October 2014

The power of mentoring

Paul Callaghan, chairman of Leighton Group who was a founding member of the Entrepreneurs' Forum, believes experienced business people sharing their knowledge can have a real impact on the success of early stage businesses and the region as a whole.

The Forum was established more than ten years ago to give emerging entrepreneurs the opportunity to connect with successful business owners. It has since gone on to develop a full mentoring programme to which members have free access.

Paul will draw on his own experience as a business mentor and give suggestions for ensuring a successful mentoring relationship as one of the speakers at the Forum's business conference in Gateshead on May 16.

Studies suggest that 70 per cent of businesses that are mentored survive for at least five years.

Paul, a past Chairman of Business Link and One NorthEast, said: "When I started in business in the 1980s I didn't have a mentor and made lots of mistakes. Fortunately, there are many successful business owners in this region now who are willing to share their knowledge.

"Mentors use their experience altruistically because they want to help and because we hope it will help the region as a whole to grow and prosper.

"In the software sector, for example, we set up the Software City project which has, as part of its objectives, to mentor, help new businesses to grow and create critical mass which, ultimately, is good for everyone because more people will want to stay in the region and to move here."

He went on to explain why entrepreneurs in particular can benefit from a mentor.

"By their nature, most entrepreneurs don't want to be told what to do. They have a view of the world, they have a business that's exciting to them, and they want to be the ones to develop it," he said.

"However, they also want someone to bounce ideas off, to reassure them that they're doing the right thing, to draw things out of them and to offer some fresh thinking or a different perspective.

"As an entrepreneur you can feel lonely and isolated so it's about having someone you trust to share both the good and bad."

Although some people seek a mentor from an entirely different sector, Paul believes there should be some common ground.

"Some business issues are the same whatever sector you operate in, but mentors also have to be honest about where they can offer support. For instance, I wouldn't be the person to mentor a manufacturing business," he said.

Sometimes mentoring might be needed on a single issue such as a potential acquisition, seeking investment or recruiting, when Paul suggests finding a mentor who has successfully navigated a similar experience.

In order to ensure a good match, he asks potential mentorees to explain their business and their plans for development in writing before meeting with them.

"There has got to be a degree of empathy with the person as well as having some understanding of their business. I ask what they want from their life, what is their motivation," he explained.

At the conference, Paul will have alongside him Dominic Edmunds, founder of retail software specialist SaleCycle, a company in the Leighton Group.

Dominic has been with the group since university in the late 1990s and three years ago came up with the idea for SaleCycle, now recognised as the world-leader in online shopping cart retrieval software.

"The great thing about having people like Dom in our Group who are young and have lots of creative ideas is that new businesses can come from them. I'm one of a number of shareholders, but SaleCycle is very much Dom's business.

"Since Dom launched the company he has been mentored by some of the most senior people in the Group. Part of this involves structured monthly meetings where he can discuss any issues, but he also knows that he can drop into my office or send me an email any time."

He added: "People shouldn't forget that a mentor can be within your own organisation, you don't always need to find someone from outside."

"A mentor needs to be far enough away so the person they're mentoring doesn't feel threatened or judged, but close enough so they can give an informed but impartial view."