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Mentor Spotlight

Mentor Spotlight-by Jacob Crist

The concepts needed to transfer institutional knowledge:

As opposed to having a designated mentor, I was hired into a succession program, which brought in 5 individuals in their early 20s and cycled each through various departments with a sponsored graduate school track. Port Authorities are complex organizations, so a mix of institutional knowledge of executive management with practical knowledge of staff, then apply across a range of departments - from operations to legal and from real estate to public affairs - was hard to find. Port Gateways are proud communities—every aspect of the industry is filled with experts. I tried to be a sponge and help where I could, getting better each day. It was a privilege to simply be at the table with such world-class business people representing the Great Port of New Orleans.

My background coming in and how I progressed:

I was 24 with an education in finance. My cycle focused on real estate, maritime terminals, river operations, and valuation services. I tried to always maintain a cohesive theme so that each phase would build upon the last. My visual was to be a “baseball player who could both hit and pitch”, which is a rare combo. Each experience was another tool in my toolkit. I didn’t have to be the best at any specific task, but rather knowledge of a broad range could be used whatever the situation.

Creative Ways of Paying Yourself:

Financial success came slowly, so, rather than get frustrated, I focused on controlling what I could and “paying myself” through experiences. Stretch assignments - public speaking, filling in for customer visits, managing meetings for construction projects, learning to read engineering plans - either took overtime or grunt work but helped fill gaps. The key here again was to always maintain a cohesive theme, to stitch together my experiences so they built upon each other. Random knowledge that doesn’t complement itself leads to wasted time and frustration.

Winning over skeptics:

All organizations have a hidden line of insiders versus outsiders, and there’s skepticism when some young folks are brought in to “learn the business”. Having a framework to cycle through departments at the management level was one thing; however, the real value was working with staff and “the people who get it done”. Specifically, the docks, cranes, rail, legal, and engineering teams. Understanding when one is in a privileged position, but working to build bridges with those who, day in and day out, are getting the job done is critical. I suggest anyone going through a similar experience read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

Patience and preparation:

Don’t spin wheels trying to force opportunities. No amount of wishing turns a red light into green. Prepare to recognize opportunity, and capitalize when that opportunity presents itself. It is difficult and takes stamina. Hitting 10 singles is better than 1 home run and 9 strikeouts. Then stay humble, and, after a good day’s work, be twice as hard the next day to obtain staying power. Offer to take meeting minutes and over-prepare. Find educational resources to supplement the on-the-job training. For colleagues tasked to work with you, find ways to make their lives easier, if not simply out of appreciation that you’re in a privileged position.

Earning respect and making it work:

True buy-in of staff, as opposed to their reluctant cooperation solely to achieve some corporate mandate, is critical. All too often we go through the motions to hit some goal or get a designation. The real value is in experience. We can all breeze in and partake in a “think tank session” as some privileged “succession plan guy” but showing up and grinding it out brings another level of respect from the most important part of every organization: those behind the scenes that don’t get the notoriety, title, or praise. These people ARE the organization!

Working towards staying power:

Stay humble, which isn’t difficult in the maritime world because it’s made up of so many subject matter experts who can set you straight at any moment. A willingness to work with departments that people often avoid: legal and auditing in specific. There is an abundance of knowledge in those two groups that all too often go untapped. And for those individuals working with you, recognize that not all were fortunate enough to be part of a succession plan, so take the extra effort to try to make their task or day easier.

Hurry but don’t rush:

“Aggressive conservatism” was a term I would repeat. You grow by taking calculated risks and advancing the ball. I was young and had support, so challenged myself by public speaking, taking on complex projects, and putting myself out there. Going through these (while having a support net) helped fast-track the experience. Playing it safe was OK but wouldn’t advance growth. The key, however, is to not shoot from the hip. We all have to be professional, and the job isn’t about us, but rather the organization’s goal.

Transitioning into management:

Success is more of the environment and the team as opposed to an individual’s efforts. Learn to invite comments, specifically from those who might not be in management. Informal communication channels within a company are a great tool. Seek different perspectives. Nobody wants to hear how great you are; give credit to those around you and help build them up— that’s the recipe for staying power. When staff believes in you and works to help teach you, it brings a level of substance that cannot otherwise be taught.

Imparting my experience on other colleagues that were not as fortunate:

I graduated in January 2009 and looked for jobs when the economy bottomed out. Hearing a laugh on the other line when cold calling stuck in. The generation coming into the workforce 2008-2011 is uniquely seasoned from that experience. I promised myself to remember that helpless feeling, and always spend a few minutes giving feedback to individuals, whether young, middle-aged, or late, who seek advice on a career transition. None of us are too busy to pause and help someone out. Constructive feedback is key. The world is far smaller than most of us realize, so sow positive seeds, and it will come back to reap benefits.

Advice for anyone seeking a mentor-like experience:

Prioritize an industry you are interested in. For the first 10 years, pay yourself through the experience in and of itself, and don’t make decisions solely on earnings. Take advantage of educational opportunities, whatever they may be, and don’t focus on checking a box, but rather gaining knowledge that can be applied. Try and see the world and introduce yourself to different experiences and people. Control what you can control, try to improve where you need to, and be flexible. Myself as an example was presented with family situations that prompted me to leave the Port of New Orleans. None of us can control everything. During my subsequent 12-year career at the organization, I tried to loop others in, so that they too could benefit from the experiences that I was privileged to go through. The term “pay it forward” certainly applies.