Hilary. Role Models, Mentors, Heroes

posted May 27th, 2011 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

I asked Hilary whether she had any role models, mentors or heroes and when she said she had, I asked her what she saw in how they behaved that she found admirable and influential, how they helped her grow and develop personally and professionally and what impact they had on her success. She said: “I did think about this before we got together because it wouldn’t be fair to the people that did mentor me not to think about it. The first was my father but my father in two stages.  My father alive, despite his calling me ungrateful on many occasions. I think I was graduating from grade 8, the first time he called me his most ungrateful child.  He could not believe he could have raised such an ungrateful child. He wanted to buy me a very expensive dress for my graduation and it was an old lady dress and I did not want it. I refused it and that bothered him a lot.  I was called his ungrateful daughter a lot after that.  All the time, though, each time he called me that he was trying to reward me.  It was usually when he was proud of me for something.  I signed up for a night course in Spanish when I was 16 and he wanted to pay for the course.  I was so independent and I told him ‘no, you’re not paying for my course, I’ll pay for my course.’  It was part of my independence, right?  In my fathers mind, there was nothing that I couldn’t do but we had to make deals on certain things, not necessarily compromises but the money wasn’t always there. When it was time for me to go to university, perhaps if I had insisted on studying something other than child psychology maybe they could have found the money. As a European parent, he was as backward as they came, there was no chance that was happening.  He said if I would agree to learn a trade then he would help me move to Europe. So I took a legal secretary course. I could take a two-year course in one year, and that’s what I did, that was the deal.  That was my father alive. Despite all this grim stuff that was going on in our household with an ill mother, working-class father… I don’t even know how many jobs he had… and the kids pretty much on their own because there was no money for anybody to come in and look after us, we had to make do. He was just some kind of character and we weren’t allowed to wallow in it, there was none of that.”


She continued: “So that was my father alive and then he died. He died suddenly a few years before my mother which was hugely offensive to me.  I stayed mad at my mother for quite a few years actually. Not quite a few, a few, I wouldn’t go and see her in the hospital because he had gone first. I didn’t even realize it. It was one of my sisters who pointed it out to me.  She said it was like I had been punishing mum because dad died and I thought she was probably right.  Anyway, when he died the outpouring that took place around us as a result of him passing came as a surprise to me.  I always knew my dad was funny and I knew he worked hard and I knew he was kind of a cheapskate and I knew he had a soft heart.  What I didn’t know was how he touched people and when he died, the cards that we got from people that I’d never met.  I remember a friend of ours, his mother sent a card.  She had never met my father and she said her son used to talk about him; we introduced everybody to my father.  They all came to our house and he was such a character.  Anyway, she sent this card to our family. She said she had never met my father and she wished that she had, although she felt that she had because of the things that her son and his wife had told her about my father.  One of my father’s partners, after my father died asked me whether I knew that I had never had a raise or a bonus that my father’s partners didn’t know about. I said no, what do you mean?  He explained to me that because my father would never stand for my making more money than he did, every time I got a bonus my dad would come in to work where he was a partner in the company and his partners would have to up the ante.  The people that he touched; he died in 1989 but it took a few years to gel with me and once it gelled I’ve never forgotten it because that’s how I want to be.  I want to be successful and I want to work hard and I want to make some money so I can be in a position to decide what I want to do. It is very important to me to be well thought of.  Everybody doesn’t have to love me and I’m certainly not the patronizing type, and my father wasn’t the patronizing type either but he had a way about him that made people happy to be around him. After I saw all those people and we read all those wonderful things it became the template for me.  When it’s all done for me that’s how I’d like it to be. When he died, I really never thought I’d ever smile again and then you sort of put it together and it took him dying… I’m not glad that he died… but again it took him dying for me to realize these things. It really helped me because I really haven’t… maybe I should from time to time question myself a little more, I am a hard-ass… but it really helped me to have my own values.  So I didn’t have to weigh anything anymore — I know.  I know how I want to be and that picture is there for me always.”


“So my father in two parts and then the man I talked about who shook my hand and said I don’t why you’re taking this job because it’s a lateral transfer.  He taught me how… just being his assistant… how unbelievably great our business could be. He was crazy.  He made great money and he shared it.  He didn’t want to have this money to keep it in the bank. I felt sorry for his wife occasionally because he was such a character, for example, buying an extremely fancy car so he could drive people around in it. He was smart and his clients loved him but he was a character and I really liked that part of him.  My father was a character in his own way and I think this man liked being a character.  You have to have the stuff, you have to have the substance but I like that sort of flamboyancy”


“A man who was very senior at my first firm, a man who is well known and respected on the street is the third person who had a significant impact on my career. When I moved into sales, I really didn’t want the job and I staged a silent protest for five years.  No one knew except me.  I would not go to any company function unless it was mandatory because I didn’t want the sales job; I hated the job. In reality, I loved the job. At the beginning, when I sat at my desk doing the sales job, I was mad. When my dad died in 1989, I’d been training in sales for some time. I used his death when I came back to work to say, you know, I’m pretty depressed, I’ve been training for quite a while, it would really help me if I could have my own client list now.  I sat beside this gentleman for years and he never, ever stroked me.  His way of a compliment was… it wasn’t a slap in the chops or anything… but again it was comedy. He would say ‘you just sit down baby, you just keep your head down, don’t make eye contact with the managers, don’t look up, pretend we’re in the bottom of a submarine here and all this stuff is going on, you just stick to what you do, keep your head down and call your clients.’ It wasn’t a pep talk.   This is what we did all the time.  He just kept saying ‘you just keep your head down.’ I got to go and speak at his retirement and I was so happy they had asked me. When I spoke, people were just rolling in laughter and I didn’t have to make it up.  People were laughing at me telling these stories. He would tell me you’ll own the world some day and we’d discuss our golden parachutes.  He was not quite old enough to be my father but he was a good chunk of years older than I am. It was always just settle down, keep your head down.  You just work hard and keep your head down, you’ve got a chair, it’ll be fine, just do your work. He was the greatest.”


“Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve had a female mentor.  It’s not unfortunate but maybe I prefaced that myself in my earlier comments by saying I responded more to men and, I don’t know, maybe when your mother is… I don’t know how familiar you are with MS… she would be hospitalized for three or four months at a time… and she would be sent back to the old country for treatment. They were a little further ahead in terms of the treatment of MS and under their system at the time she was still eligible for  healthcare.  I don’t know if maybe that’s why I don’t respond well to women because I had to be the mother.  I didn’t feel like the mother but somebody had to be in the responsible role and that may have influenced me later in life with women that if I’m not in the responsible role then maybe I’m just… I don’t know… I don’t want to sound like I hate women because I don’t but I don’t quite know why I respond so well to men.  They’re simpler or something.”


I asked Hilary whether she saw herself as a role model, mentor, hero or leader. She said: “I do.  I think I see myself as all of those things but it’s important to me to do it in a quiet kind of way.  As much as I’m not timid in a crowd, when it comes to those kinds of things I am personal about my own story because I don’t assume everybody that knows all your details has your best interests in mind.  So I am a little cautious and aloof.  I love mentoring but I like doing it one-on-one.  I remember a manager saying to me one time, you’re a senior part of the team, I don’t think you do enough mentoring, and I just looked at him and when I turned my back on him I thought you have no idea how much I do because I don’t blab about it.  I seem to like one-on-one or two-on-one; I really enjoy it. As far as leadership goes, I don’t know where I cross the bridge but I like being in leadership positions.  I’m not going tussle with someone to head up the island or anything like that but I’m not afraid of it.  Actually, I enjoy it.”


What Strikes Me?

An independent streak can show up early


By bargaining with our parents and making deals with them, we learn how to approach similar situations later in life


A parent’s good intentions are felt by their children, regardless of their external presentation


Sometimes the best advice is to keep your head down and do the work


Our earliest experiences in life influence us for years and sometimes we are unaware of it


What Strikes You?


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