Mentor/Mentee Relationships

Mentoring relationships are a unique way for up and coming industry members to learn from more seasoned veterans. These relationships come in all shapes in sizes and have different outcomes depending on the people involved. A successful mentoring relationship requires willingness and perseverance on behalf of the mentor and the individual who is being mentored (mentee). Here are some true stories from mentors and mentees who have worked together to improve themselves and their careers. 

Adjustment Made Easy

Tom Kruse Wayne Barker
Tom Kruse Wayne Barker

Adjusting to a new position can be difficult in this industry, but guidance and advice from a mentor can often alleviate some of the stress. That’s why Norco (Boise, ID) has a program that matches new branch managers with experienced ones upon promotion. When Tom Kruse was promoted to branch manager at Norco in 2001, Wayne Barker, branch manager at the company’s Bend, OR, location, volunteered to walk him through the responsibilities of the position. Barker spent two separate weeks on location with Kruse, helping him handle all the paperwork that accompanies a management position. “It really helps to have someone with experience walk you through some of your duties and responsibilities as a new manager,” Barker says. 

Having been in the industry for 25 years, Barker appreciates the complexities associated with regulatory compliance, and sought to help Kruse understand Norco’s processes. “It’s very helpful to have a person or list of people you can call when you’re unsure of something,” adds Kruse. “One of the most valuable things Wayne did for me was develop a list of contacts for key issues. He also took me through how to manage all the paperwork involved with regulatory compliance.” Kruse is currently managing the company’s second largest branch in Elko, NV and the two men stay in regular contact. 

Teaching Is a Two-Way Street

Patrick Galphin & Steve Atkins
Patrick Galphin (left) and Steve Atkins

Mentoring isn’t always just about business. A mentor/mentee relationship often has advantages that supersede the educational or training benefits. Steve Atkins, senior vice president of nexAir, gets together with his mentee, Patrick Galphin, about once a month outside of the office. Galphin was recently recruited out of college to work in inside sales for the company and was set up with Atkins through a program that pairs senior management with new trainees. “We go to lunch or for coffee and he’ll give me advice about my career as well as my life at home,” Galphin says. “I recently got married and he was constantly giving me advice about my marriage and topics like finances and life insurance.” The most important thing that Galphin learned from Atkins was the value of the customer, especially in a difficult economy. Atkins constantly reinforced the importance of relationships by setting an example for Galphin. Developing relationships with the people he works with is a critical aspect of Atkins’ job. “You need connectivity within a workplace in order to be successful,” he says. “And older guys like me get just as much out of it as the younger guys.” At 26, Galphin is 20 years younger than Atkins and is a part of the generation that will eventually fill the management positions. But that does not mean Atkins isn’t willing to learn from his younger counterpart. “This next generation has new ideas about the ways business is done, and I’d like to think I’m learning just as much from Patrick as he is from me,” Atkins says. 

A Motivational Mentor

Earl Schmidt Jon Thompson
Earl Schmidt Jon Thompson

“I’ve coached a number of sports teams and raised two sons, and I try to give young people advice whenever they need it,” says Earl Schmidt, purchasing director at Oxarc. Five years ago, Schmidt hired Jon Thompson, a young man who seemed like he could use some good advice. Prior to taking the warehouse position at Oxarc in 2004, Thompson had held a number of jobs in construction. He enjoyed working with customers in his new position, and he expressed to Schmidt an interest in taking on a more customer-oriented role. “It was Earl who really motivated me and showed me that I had the potential to advance here,” Thompson says.

Schmidt met regularly with Thompson to develop his customer relations skills. “Earl taught me that I can’t talk to customers the same way I would talk around the shop,” Thompson says. “He taught me the importance of working with others and he showed me that I had an opportunity to pursue a career here at Oxarc.” Schmidt admits that he wasn’t afraid to be frank and open with Thompson, and the young man seemed to need that kind of honesty. “I told Jon straight up that he came off the wrong way to people,” he says. “I sat him down on a number of occasions and we discussed his goals and how he could achieve them.” Schmidt also encouraged Thompson to enroll in welding classes offered by Lincoln Electric. Thompson was soon promoted to inside sales, where he got the opportunity he wanted to work with customers on a regular basis. “People here noticed his rapid improvement and he got promoted. He really does a great job for our company,” Earl says. 

A Guiding Hand

Rob Kinney Bruce Tanner
Rob Kinney Bruce Tanner

At 40 years old, Rob Kinney, territory manager at Praxair, has been working in the industry for nearly 24 years. He has had his fair share of mentors in that time, most notably Frank Fuentes, the manager of what was formerly South Bay Welding Supply in Hayward, CA. If Kinney’s experience has taught him anything, it’s the importance of having someone who can provide guidance and assistance to young workers in the industry. That’s why Kinney works closely with Bruce Tanner, mentoring and making regular sales calls with the 27-year-old fellow territory manager. “Rob worked with me a lot when I was first getting started and gave me some really great guidance and constructive criticism,” Tanner says. Kinney has worked with a number of younger employees at the company, and he really relates to them, being relatively young himself. “It wasn’t that long ago I was in these guys’ shoes, and I remember the people who helped me grow as a salesman,” Kinney says. In particular, he stresses the importance of listening when dealing with a customer. “A lot of young salespeople are very eager to sell and have a tendency to rush the process,” he says. “But there are strategies involved, and it really takes patience to be a successful salesperson.” Perhaps the reason Kinney stresses listening so much is because as a younger man he once almost talked his way right out of a sale. “The customer had just given me his business and I just kept on talking and selling,” Kinney says. “He finally stopped me and told me if I didn’t shut up he was going to give the business to another distributor.” That customer taught Kinney a valuable lesson, and he is glad to be able to share his learned lessons with a younger generation.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association