Freddie. Relationships, Mentors, Role Models and Secrets of Success

posted July 10th, 2009 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

I asked Freddie to tell me about the relationships in her life which she believes had the greatest impact on her and in particular her work life and career. She said from a relationship perspective, she would say mostly good relationships have driven her throughout her life. From the perspective of good relationships, she said one of the people who had the most important impact on her was her stepfather. Her mum remarried a man 25 years her senior when Freddie was 17 years old. He had already brought up five kids of his own (who were fully grown with their own families) and when he married her mum, he took in four kids, two of whom were snarly teenagers (including Freddie).

Freddie says imagine all of a sudden there are three generations in one house. Her stepfather, an uneducated second generation immigrant, was so smart and so well read and a very shrewd businessman who often helped friends and family turn around their businesses. He approached everything with a steady hand, including parenting his new family and managing various businesses but what intrigued Freddie the most was how he managed his investment portfolio. He looked at his portfolio in the Wall Street Journal on an almost daily basis and Freddie says this peaked her interest in the stock market. She felt he knew more than her teachers did. In her words: “he was very kind to people, he worked hard and most importantly took our family under his wing”.

She said he led her to have the kind of life values that she has today and some of her work interests came from him. Two years after he married her mum, he suffered a debilitating stroke and lost his ability to talk and process language and Freddie says that was probably when he and she became even closer. She says: “So here’s a smart, well read guy who knows everything about everything and overnight he can’t even watch the daily news because he can’t understand it. So we began to play backgammon and cards daily and I could see his frustration as he scribbled a few words on paper in an attempt to talk. He couldn’t read the paper and all of a sudden I was looking up his stock quotes in the Wall Street Journal for him and stuff like that. He was a very big influence on me. He was a very successful, unpretentious, generous, smart person who worked very hard and made a big impression on me. He gave me advice which has stayed with me all my life. My relationship with him would be one which had a significant impact on me.”

Freddie recalled her relationship with another person which she would classify in the “learn from your mistakes” category. In this case, she did not have a good relationship with the woman but she believes that it led to her being the way she is today in many respects. She had this relationship when she was a teenager. She was a camp counsellor for underprivileged children at a YWCA camp outside of Montreal. This camp experience was very good for Freddie and she ended up working there. Having been a camper at 15 and a counsellor in training at 16, Freddie worked at the camp for the following three years and and loved it so much she continued working weekends on a volunteer basis until she went to university, even though she had another summer job.

She says: “I just loved it so much and again, it was all about making a contribution and having a positive impact on people and in that camp environment, being with underprivileged kids; I just felt incredibly needed. So I worked very hard with a lot of very troubled kids and became very successful and in one of my last years at the camp I was in the senior circle which means that you’re dealing with girls that are 13 years and older, so you’re really working with teens which means you’re dealing with drugs, risk of suicide, social workers, etc.; I mean it was big stuff. Our Circle Director, so kind of our boss, was this lovely lady with a PhD in social working or something like that. She was completely inept and had absolutely no clue about real life situations. She had all the textbook knowledge but no practical experience on how to handle very difficult situations which could be pretty dangerous and given we were responsible for the safety of all these kids…I had a real problem with her”.

Freddie says: “What ended up happening is given my success and given my disregard for the Circle Director’s actual practical ability I kind of broke ranks with her, if you will, and I went my own way and I did things as I saw fit and other staff members started following my lead. Thank God, there were no tragedies that summer. I didn’t lose my job and she didn’t lose her job but when I got my performance review at the end of the summer it basically reflected the fact that I had not been a trooper; I had actually put every person at camp at risk by not following our Circle Director’s direction.The review was fairly comprehensive and I was shocked to discover that despite my popularity with the campers, I could get such a poor performance review. In fact, my following with campers extended beyond camp; I went to their homes and took them to the movies. I couldn’t imagine how I could be regarded so poorly by camp “management”; it was just unbelievable to me that I could get this kind of review and that really stuck with me. And it’s probably the best thing that the Camp Director could ever have done. It was a real slap in the face and just taught me so much about interactions at work”.

She mentioned her boss and mentor at the securities firm, in terms of his being someone who had a significant impact on her career and work life. Not only did he coach and encourage Freddie, beneath his veneer as the tough guy running a securities firm, he demonstrated real compassion. When Freddie’s stepfather passed away, he took her aside on the trading floor and delivered the devastating news that her Dad had passed. To soften the blow, he had a few of Freddie’s friends ready to escort her home to pack for the trip back to Montreal, he had a limo waiting, he had purchased plane tickets and even organized for her Montreal colleagues to wait for her arrival at the airport in Montreal and drive her home to be with her mum. Shortly thereafter, he transferred Freddie back to Montreal to run the Montreal trading desk and be close to her family. For Freddie, the bottom line with him is that she thinks he believed in her more than she believed in herself and kept on pushing her more than she would have pushed herself.

The last person she felt impacted her indirectly was her most recent boss who has since retired. She says, he was just a pro, an absolute master at his job and she would go to him and say she needed to know exactly how he did things. In her words: “I’m not so smart, I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel but if you tell me exactly what to do, I’ll just do exactly as you tell me. I follow directions really well and I just became a sponge as he laid out for me how to become an institutional relationship manager for a US investment management organization. I mean, he just kind of mapped it out because I walked into this business and I didn’t know much about it and I did exactly what he told me and thus became successful. Every time my responsibilities increased or when I was appointed to the Board or Management Committee of our parent company, I would lie low. Like a sponge, I tend to listen before I open my mouth; I have to feel I have gained credibility before I offer opinions or ideas. Again, he just encouraged me. “Freddie, you’re way too silent, we need to hear more from you, you know, Freddie you need to plan to spend more time at head office, because you need to get to know people and they need to get to know you; you’re one of those underappreciated people”. Freddie says: “I’ve always been good at following instructions: I laid out a plan to be very present at head office — hence my promotion to super elite (also known as stupid elite)”. Following his advice, Freddie broadened her contributions beyond Canada to the entire North American organization. In a sense, he mentored her. Freddie says: “So I would say in a different way, I think he viewed me almost as his daughter and he had a big impact on me.”

I asked Freddie whether she had role models, mentors and heroes and if so, what she saw in how they behaved that she found admirable and influential. In particular, how had they helped her to grow and develop personally and/or professionally and what impact had they had on her success. And she named a woman she only met once who has been a role model for her which she believes is rather funny/unusual. She says going back to reading the Wall Street Journal and looking at stock quotes and stuff like that, she always read a column in the Financial Post written by Marie Josee Drouin who was an economist by background and part of a think tank organization and on several boards, including CIBC. And although Freddie didn’t know her personally, Marie Josee was an educated woman who Freddie thought wrote really well and from her perspective was respected in the business and financial community who became a kind of role model for her. And she was French!!! Freddie says: “I thought to myself when I grow up I want to be just like her… a highly respected business person influencing corporate Canada”. Freddie says it was a silly thing, kind of out there but Marie Josee was a role model nonetheless.

In terms of mentors, she related a story about her very first boss imparting some very sound advice which has stayed with her for her entire career. She is not sure he qualifies as a mentor but in her opinion what he had to say qualifies as great advice. When she first went to work selling photocopiers, where she ultimately reported to this fellow who she believes was the V.P. Marketing, on her first day he sat down with her and asked her whether she knew the secrets to success and Freddie told him no. He said the first one is information. And she asked him what he meant and he said he or she who has access to information (this is before the world of the Internet) has the key to success. He said information leads to ideas and ideas can be converted into business, so every time you get a piece of information as long as you think about how it translates into business, you will be very successful. And he related the second secret of success which is managing your boss. He said the most important thing about managing your career, ever, is knowing how to manage your boss. People go up the career ladder thinking about managing the people that work for them. He said they have it wrong; it’s managing your boss that counts. And he told Freddie, if you remember these two things you will always be successful. And Freddie says she has remembered them.

I asked Freddie whether she saw herself as a role model, mentor, hero or leader and she said she wasn’t sure she saw herself as a role model. She said: “I hope I’m a role model to my kids but given that I only have boys probably their dad is more of a role model. I do see myself as a mentor. I do think it’s really important that I give back and help other people. In fact, that was part of the problem in my practice as a search consultant; I spent more time coaching people on how to find jobs than actually doing the work. I think that certainly in my life, at certain stages in my career, I tended to mentor younger women but I haven’t just focused on women, I’ve also mentored men, but I think more women have gravitated to me for mentoring. For some reason, I’m threatening to guys. I hope some day to be able to devote more of my time to mentoring and less to working to the extent that I do”.

What Strikes You?

The critical importance of managing your boss

Sometimes our hardest lessons in life teach us the most

Information leads to ideas and ideas can be converted to business

Being popular is not the same as being a leader

Rebellion is often not leadership

What is it about strong, successful women that threatens men?

What Strikes Me?

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