When I started my engineering career 17 years ago, I wanted the world right away. As I settled into my first job, I was frustrated with the lack of a “plan” for me. The company I worked for had an organizational chart that was inspired by their government clients, which made progression through the company mechanical and difficult to manipulate. When trying to express my strong ambitions, I was often met with a blank stare. As a result, I volunteered to develop a mentoring program for the company. I did exhaustive research and developed an elaborate program that included comprehensive manuals for the mentor and mentee, guidelines for participation, and goals for the program. After completing the development phase of the program, I realized that truly effective mentoring can’t be forced and is difficult to organize formally.
After that realization, I put my mentoring program on the shelf and got back to work. I slogged it out on projects and learning the business, eventually getting my professional engineers license. I developed several mentors along the way, all of whom have had a profound impact on my career and me as a person. One in particular really stepped out for me — Brock Johnson. Brock taught me many things that I use daily. He not only poured jet fuel on my career, he also made me a better person all around. When you find someone like that, you open yourself up and learn and absorb everything you can. Brock taught me about taking risks, being willing to do the hard things no one else will tackle, and how important it is to build a strong team around you.
Brock was a courageous leader who transformed our company into a dynamic, growing enterprise that was fun to work in. In addition to being courageous, Brock was tough. When he took over the presidency of our company and added me to his team, he outlined an ambitious growth plan to double the size of the company in five years (2006-2011). There were many skeptics, but Brock stayed the course. One big thing that made Brock tough was that one year into the five-year growth plan, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. For the next four years, Brock would fight and lead and conquer everything that got in our way, including the unexpected recession.
I am writing this on the two-year anniversary of Brock’s death on Aug. 21, 2012. His teachings, counsel, advice, fighting on my behalf, believing in me, and making all of us a part of an amazing vision will forever serve me in my daily life. My advice to all design and technical professionals who are looking for ways to enhance their careers is to be on the lookout for mentors. If you so choose, you will have the opportunity to have a number of mentors during your career. Absorb everything you can from the people who are willing to invest in you and fight for you. Life is short, and sometimes it is cut too short, as it was for Brock Johnson. Putting aside the temptation to over-design my career early on and to just work hard and open myself up to natural mentors was my recipe for success. I hope you have a mentor in your life and will have many more to come.
Chad Clinehens, P.E., is ZweigWhite’s executive vice president. Contact him at email@example.com.