CEO seeks out mentors for himself!

Richelieu Dennis, the chief executive of Sundial Brands. CreditBenjamin Norman for The New York Times

One of my favorite features of The Sunday New York Times is Corner Office by Adam Bryant. This week he interviewed Richelieu Dennis, founder and CEO of Sundial Brands.

I highly recommend you read the full interview, but what caught my eye was as usual the word mentor. As Adam Bryant usually does in his interviews he asks the open ended question, which is always a good idea after asking several very specific questions, “Other insights along the way?” Dennis Richelieu replies:

I learned how to reach out to people, so seek out mentors, to understand how to do things. So here is a CEO seeking out mentors! But he goes on to say:

At first I didn’t realize I could do it. But even competitors were receptive and willing to talk to me. This is an important lesson to startup founders – anyone will talk with you, even competitors! Founders, even established CEOs, need to learn and continue to learn.

And finally Richeliu, as so many successful founders do, wants to give back: I try to do that now myself. If there is something that I’ve learned along the way that I can pass along, I’m always happy to help people. 

And that’s one reason I become a mentor, as so many people helped me out as an entrepreneur. I learned how basically good people are as a 17 year old hitchhiking 10,000 miles through Europe and the Middle East on my own. People not just giving me rides or buying me a meal, but taking me into their homes for the night. People who didn’t speak a word of English being kind to a young traveller.

Of course, Ican never pay them back or the many advisors, mentors, and acquaintances who helped me out along the way. So now it’s my turn to help out others, and to learn from them and hopefully imbue in them the desire to help others, even competitors.

Reaching out to people as Richelieu Dennis did, and probably continues to do, is not easy if you are an introvert like me, but it does pay off.  And I encourage every founder to reach out, either formally through a mentorship program or informally.

The second to last question Adam Bryant always asks is How do you hire?

The answer is totally in sync with my experience and style: I can get a pretty good sense of what matters to them by the questions they ask me, rather than the questions I ask them.

As the saying goes, The only stupid question is the unasked question. Don’t be afraid to look foolish. As my saying goes, If you don’t ask, you probably won’t get.


Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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