The Green Sheet Online Edition
November 27, 2017 • Issue 17:11:02
The true value of mentors
By Mike Ackerman
DigiPay Solutions Inc.
We all meet individuals who seem to come along at just the right time and influence us in essential ways. Dick Graeber is one such person for me. He has been a lasting inspirational presence in my life.
Before I began my payments career, I worked at Pepsi Cola, where Graeber was General Manager in Southern California and one of the three creators of the "Pepsi challenge" marketing program. Graeber believed in supporting young people and gave me responsibility for all marketing, public relations and advertising for the Southern California region. I began the job in 1984, the year of Michael Jackson's sponsorship and just before Coke introduced the disastrous "New Coke" reformulation.
From Graeber, I learned to be assertive and pursue my goals; his guidance was uniquely bold and commanding. He also supported my passions and consistently pushed me to do my best, even when I didn't think I was ready.
Here are five lessons my mentor taught me:
- Don't come to the table first. Negotiating is difficult, especially when thousands of dollars are at stake. Graeber believed in letting the other party mention money first. "Generally, the one to bring up money first loses in the negotiation process," he said. "If you say you want $50,000, they might have budgeted $100,000 for the sponsorship." He also believed in win-win situations that provided benefits to both parties.
- Make bold moves and show class. With Graeber's help, I learned to balance bold moves with classy gestures to create a lasting impression. Graeber would always acknowledge partner contributions after successful marketing campaigns. He encouraged me to reach out to sponsors, marketers and media and say, "Thank you for helping us make the promotion work as well as it did." We'd send them 20 cases of Pepsi as an additional thank you, even though we were the ones who'd spent the money. It takes two to be a success.
- Keep things simple and have fun. During one difficult negotiation, everyone seemed to be locked in conflict. Graeber relieved the situation by saying, "This is a simple business. We just make carbonated water with a little sugar and coloring that makes people happy for 15 minutes. Let's have fun in doing this." In the middle of another tense session, Graeber walked in with his close friend Steve Garvey. After everyone paused in stunned silence, the famous Major League Baseball player sat down and gave his opinions on topics that were far outside his MLB wheelhouse. Everyone laughed. It broke the tension and enabled us to move on.
- Be a role model. From Graeber's example, I learned the importance of ethics, values and standards. I developed my own leadership style based on my beliefs and attitudes. I've continued to follow his lead, adapting his approach, and building confidence by developing meaningful relationships with my clients today.
- Motivate and inspire youth. Graeber's direct reports were young and somewhat inexperienced, but he always validated and encouraged them. When you encourage staff to pursue their own goals and values, they become more engaged in their work and development, while also contributing to the larger company agenda.
In Dick Graeber, I see a great coach who led a team through a winning season. Our five-year plan to overtake Coke took only 2½ years to accomplish. Graeber enabled me to play a leading role in the Michael Jackson sponsorship, with a hands-on position that was central to our company's marketing strategy. Our Southern California location, the epicenter of the entertainment industry, was a key asset. We had product placement in several movies, including Top Gun, and dominant product rights at SeaWorld and other major venues.
Dick Graeber's guidance gave me a solid foundation for future success, with principles I've applied to my payments career. The value of having a mentor is the opportunity to learn firsthand from a professional. Mentorship is not a class. It's not, "I teach you and then you're done." It's an experience. And the greatest lessons come from being in the presence of someone who possesses the qualities you hope to one day embody yourself.
Mike Ackerman is President of DigiPay Solutions Inc., which specializes in high-risk, high-volume, card-not-present and business-to-business merchant services. Contact him at email@example.com.
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