In 2012 I attended a trade show and was walking the event looking for innovative new food and drink products to add to our company’s portfolio when I became aware that there were very few young food entrepreneurs in the exhibition hall. I decided to do something about it, so in 2013 started our ‘Young Entrepreneur of the Year’ award, open to 16-24-year-olds. The winner would win a cash prize and, perhaps more importantly, would receive mentoring from me for a year as they grew their embryonic food brand. The quality of the applicants was astounding, and some incredible young talent was unearthed, two of whom have since gone on to appear on BBC 2’s Dragon’s Den.
Whilst there has been a benefit to these young entrepreneurs from working with me, I can honestly say that I have received back as much as I have given out each year. Whilst not all mentoring is old to young, much of it is and engaging with younger people is life-giving and energy-creating and certainly benefits the mentor as much as those being mentored. As we become older, we can sometimes be a little cynical and it is good for us to have some of this cynicism blown away by the ‘no blinkers’ view from those of a younger age and attitude. The older generation needs the younger generation and vice versa. Intergenerational working often yields the best results in business. Building a business that will impact the world is not an overnight job, and often we must pass the baton to the next generation.
There are four main benefits to us of mentoring others:
Firstly, spending some time with our eyes taken off our own businesses and investments is good and will often give us a new perspective when coming back to affairs closer to home. Just as spending time away from home and work relaxing can fuel our creativity, spending some time in another business can often achieve the same result. We may well have a flash of inspiration that will benefit our own businesses. Alternatively, there may well be ideas and thinking that we can adopt within our own businesses. Remember many of the best ideas are borrowed from others.
Secondly, from a recruitment point of view, mentoring a younger Millennial leader, for example, will give us a good insight into how another generation thinks and what values are important to them. Each generation is different, all with positives and negatives, and learning what makes other generations tick can only be of benefit to us as we recruit and manage people from other generations. What motivates them and what incentivises them will not necessarily be the same as us. For those over 40, unleashing the massive amount of talent in Generations X & Y is key to our future business success and mentoring those from these generations can only help benefit our own business. Of course, there may well be a more direct impact and it has been known for those who are mentored to join the mentor’s company in some role in the future.
Thirdly, as a mentor, through mixing in different business circles we may see investment opportunities for the future. It is easy to become too narrow-minded in our focus and broadening this out to include other sectors entirely may open up our minds to other investments. There are a plethora of companies and agencies touting for business amongst the 600,000 start-ups every year in the UK and when advising these entrepreneurs who are looking for a mentor I often tell them to ask prospective mentors to invest in their business. (Incidentally, this often helps distinguish those that will genuinely help from those mentors just trying to make a quick buck.) Whilst mentoring others and investing do not always have to be linked, it is often helpful to do so
Fourthly, if you have had several years of business success and are comfortably off, mentoring others pro bono is simply a good thing to do. Embedded deep within our humanity as social mammals is a need for community. Those who live their whole lives only focussed on themselves and their own success are often unhappier people and die younger than those who look to give out to others. There is something very positive about helping others and giving out, which does something good for us. So, dare I suggest that if you want to be happier and live longer, give out to others through mentoring on a more regular basis. You will also bring that outward focus into your own business, and as the 21st century progresses, it will increasingly be those businesses that are not just focused on profit that will prosper and succeed. Looking outward to the local community and the wider global community will have a tremendous positive impact on both us personally and our businesses.
Just as caring for, mentoring and training your own people will result in higher commitment levels and the ability to build a better business, in the same way looking after other businesses will also result in building a better business, both theirs and yours. Collaborative working is becoming more and more important and ideas flowing between business people are essential in growing each other’s businesses. Mentoring others can only facilitate this in both directions. While advising others does involve a degree of effort and some sacrifice of time, the rewards will not only be reflected in your own business and character but will also ensure you have a greater impact in the world through another business achieving success.
Paul Hargreaves is chief executive officer of Cotswold Fayre, the fine foods wholesaler. He is also the author of Force for Good: Creating a better world through purpose driven business.