Do you have a mentor? Chances are, you probably have a couple of individuals that have affected your life in a meaningful way. We reflected with 32 small business owners about the person that impacted their professional career path the most. Grab a few tissues — these stories are truly inspiring.
1. Donnie Boivin
My biggest mentor has been Donnie Boivin. He interviewed me for his podcast Success Champions. We started talking business at first, but when we started discussing my former addiction, alcoholism, and homelessness he said THAT’S the story you need to tell. I started my own podcast, Recovery & Redemption, because of him. — Richard Kaufman, General Manager, GNC
2. Becky Mollenkamp
My biggest mentor is Becky Mollenkamp. Her Own It. Crush It. philosophy was exactly what I needed after starting back to work when I has a baby about a year ago. Between the community she has fostered online and her virtual business coaching, I have come further in learning about myself as a business owner and successful mother than I did in the many years of freelance work before I met her. — Ann Marie O’Braski, Founder, Crafty Marketing
3. My father
This is going to sound cheesy, but my mentor is my father. He is an entrepreneur as well. He has owned several successful companies and always pushed me when I needed it. My father has helped me fight to be the best version of me. He reminds me to take breaks for myself and to not get burned out. As an entrepreneur, I think we forget to take care of ourselves sometimes. He’s always reminded me how important it is. — Erica Hartwig, Photographer, Organic Moments Photography
4. My first boss
My biggest mentor was my first boss when I entered into the field I am now. I came in as a young twenty something with not a lot of experience, but an urge to learn. He taught me everything from how to work with clients, how to keep a work-life balance, and how to stand out in my industry. 15 years later, I have a huge client list and a couple ecommerce businesses I run. I couldn’t have done it without his guidance. Even today, we still stay in touch. — Jeff Moriarty, Marketing and Website Development, Moriarty’s Gem Art
5. Gary Vaynerchuck
The amazing thing about 2018 is with social media mentors can be ANYONE. I used to read a lot of books and within those pages there were many lessons and mentors, but now with Instagram, YouTube and podcasting, those mentors have been able to have a more profound impact on me! My biggest influence of late has been Gary Vaynerchuck. His intense nature speaks to my personality, and his message of empathy and self-awareness maps to my same thoughts. His content has been a huge help for me to see the value that lies in people, not just tactics and actions. — Nick Glassett, Founder Origin Leadership Group
6. My father
I have had many business mentors in my life but the most influential has been my father. I absolutely attribute a lot of my success to being in a position where I could freely ask questions and receive honest advice from an inspiring and influential mentor. — Elad Burko, Founder and CEO, Paper Wallet
7. My dad
As an entrepreneur himself, my dad was my greatest mentor. I was blessed to have watched him work and listen to his daily teachings on how to be successful in business and in life. He correlated these two aspects of our lives because he firmly believed how you do anything is how you do everything. His daily nuggets of wisdom on how to have strong character, work ethic, make good decisions, develop strong relationships, and have enduring faith led me to follow him down the path of entrepreneurism. — John Norce, Owner The Medicare Portal
8. Richard P.
I don’t believe I could have come this far in launching East End Doula Care this month without my mentor. There is something about a person that makes them a mentor in life, a presence we all can only hope to attain in our lifetime. Richard is able to be this presence due to self confidence in being an expert in his field. He carries himself with stature. His demeanor is one of being educated, generous and humble.
Being reserved, kind and professional only outline his personality. He’s been a cheerleader throughout my venture every step of the way. His enthusiasm and go get ’em attitude has been my guidance. At almost seventy years young, he is up every morning at 3 AM and leaves the house until he returns at about eight in the evening. This shows me that if he can do it, I have no excuse not to wake up early each day and push myself to get where I need to be. We all have choices, just choose wisely. — Susan Capurso, Owner, East End Doula Care
9. My former boss
I was working for one of the first web design companies in the United States. He was one of its owners. I just a lowly intern still at university, but he and I became close in a brother and sister kind of way. After university, I opened my own web design firm. He told me what to do and what not to do. But, he *hated* it when I called him my mentor, he always said “People should just take care of one another.” If I had not met him, I don’t know if I would have even started up my own firm at all. He had a huge impact on my life, and I am proud to say that my company turned 20-years-old this year. — Jean Paldan, Founder, Rare Form New Media
10. Brian Tracy
The biggest mentor in my life is Brian Tracy, who wrote the book No Excuses. His words really resounded with me to take control of my life. The gold of knowledge in how to change your attitude with life, really made me switch on. This is the reason why I am a successful photographer today. One quote of his really changed the way I approach life. “Successful people are more concerned with pleasing results, whereas failures were more concerned about pleasing methods.” It made me put in the hard yards to strive for success and improve in every way I could see possible. — Saideepan Mohanadas, Photographer, Sai.Co Photography
11. My mother
Despite having benefited from many mentors, my mother remains the largest influence in my career. Most mentors help via direct instruction, but watching her relentless work ethic thought me the importance of hard work better than any conversation ever could. — Artem Volos, Founder, Clutch Prep
12. Monica Moreno
I’m a college sophomore who is part of a team of student entrepreneurs working on a literary startup, Prolitfic. When we first started I was in charge of outreach, and didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Monica Moreno, who founded her own successful business, mentored me a lot on the marketing side. She taught me who to network, how to engage with customers, and how to be confident. An introvert in charge of marketing/outreach may sound like an oxymoron (and I definitely thought so at first), but Monica helped me come out of my shell. Now, I can talk to strangers about the startup I’m championing without letting my shyness hide my passion about this amazing project. I even speak publicly during business pitches and other events! — Vanessa Aguirre, Prolitfic
13. My grandmother
My grandma was born in Southampton, England and at 11-years-old she was walking back to her house when her house was bombed in World War II. She was swiftly moved to the British countryside to live until the war was over.
My grandma lost a lot during those times but what she didn’t lose was her appreciation of life. She taught me to never let things to alter my perspective on life, rise above, smile, and laugh it off. You only live once as she still says to this day at a ripe old age of 90. If it wasn’t for adopting her life mentality, I wouldn’t have the spirit to be an entrepreneur. I wouldn’t have the mental fortitude to just laugh it off and keep moving forward. She is unstoppable, unflappable and the main reason why I can handle the journey of the entrepreneur. — Steven Dudley, Founder Acts of Evolution
14. My dad
My biggest mentor was my dad. Right out of college, he encouraged me to get into sales. He said he had been through all kinds of economies and those that could sell would always be able to take care of themselves. He also explained that even if I was not in a traditional sales role, I would always be selling an idea or a budget to someone so I might as well learn the skill right away. My wife likes to say I even used my sales skills when I first proposed and she did not say yes right away and I went right into understanding her objections. — Derek Christian, Partner, Castle Keepers
15. My nana
My greatest mentor was my nana; Rosemarie Peaches D’Avanzo. She was an entrepreneur in Queens, New York. She sold whatever she could from jewelry to umbrellas to make sure she never had to work for anyone. When we would talk, I always told her I don’t understand wanting to work doing something you don’t love and she was always right there echoing me. Her support lead me to work in the culinary industry. Knowing there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing eventually lead me to found my own personal chef service. — Chris Martin, Commis Chef, Digest the Passion
16. A conference speaker
The biggest mentor in my life was a speaker I met at a conference event. After her presentation, I introduced myself and asked her for a business card. I followed up with her and we had the opportunity to meet for coffee. She was instrumental in helping me with guidance and insight from her career and life experience. I have had multiple occasions that I reached out with a question or to share a story and get her opinion on it. She always had kind words and advice to share.
We meet monthly for lunch and I reach out to her for important or urgent situations. Having her as a sounding board and a second opinion has been invaluable. She has saved me years of learning things the hard way with time and experience, and helped me fast track for success. She also introduced me to several colleagues and connections in her network. These introductions have led to amazing conversations and opportunities to grow my business. — Devoreaux Walton, Founder, The Modern Lady
17. My former boss
My boss of 13 years, Greg Liberman, has always helped me to make sure that our people are at the center of everything we do. No business can be successful, no matter how great the leaders are, without great people running the day-to-day operations of a business. — James Green, Offer To Close
18. My mother
My mother, Janie Sykes-Kennedy, has been my biggest mentor. A Columbia University-trained journalist, she ran Sykes Kennedy Associates, Inc., a marketing consulting company that did business around the world. In the late 1980s, she was invited by the U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. Housing & Urban Development as one of fourteen women to start trade talks with China and walked away with a contract to distribute the journal, Building in China, worldwide. She showed me by example what was possible as a female entrepreneur. You can make your dreams come true by believing in yourself, living your values, pursuing your vision, working smart, and seeking joy along the way. — Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy, Digital Media Expert, Power Living Enterprises, Inc.
19. Lou Covey
The mentor who had the biggest impact on my career path as a solopreneur is Lou Covey. I met him when I moved to the Silicon Valley area years ago. I shared with Lou that my goal was to start my own consulting business. He advised me to be sure to gain the proper experience before setting out on my own initiative. Lou told me that the missing piece was working at an agency, which would help me gain experience learning how to manage and work with clients. After receiving several offers, I pursued and accepted an agency job. I worked there for a year before moving forward to launch my business. I credit Lou with providing what was excellent advice that set me on a course for success. — Michelle Garrett, PR Consultant, Garrett Public Relations
20. My grandfather
He successfully ran a bar/restaurant business for 38 years, and had the respect of everyone around him. I helped him over summer breaks from grade school. I learned how to manage time, respect others, and be honest. These three simple traits have guided me throughout my careers and now as a business owner. — Ron Lieback, Founder, ContentMender
21. My father
I’m a fourth-generation owner of a commercial construction business based in St. Louis. I grew up learning about — and eventually going into — my family’s business from my mentor who also happens to be my father. He taught be three primary lessons that help me every single day. Listen more than you talk, negotiate fairly, and treat everyone, no matter who they are or what they do, with respect. Those lessons have been passed down through the generations, and I believe have been the foundation for what’s kept us in business since 1904. — Tim Spiegelglass, Vice President, Spiegelglass Construction Company
22. My father
My father remains my biggest and most valuable mentor. As a former Fortune 500 CFO, my dad has been able to share his knowledge and experience consistently over the years. He has assisted me in making balanced assessments of myself and career opportunities. He has helped me to recognize my strongest attributes and improve in the areas of where I have deficiencies. Most importantly, my father has shown me how to empower others and treat everyone from entry-level staff to CEO with respect. — Michael Roub, Managing Partner, Inflection 360
23. Sandra R. Royster
Sandra R. Royster, the former Director of Programs in the City of Chicago’s Office of Fine Arts, is one of my biggest role models. She had made a life-changing impact on me. I grew up in a small town in Connecticut and was the first in my family to go to college. When I graduated, I was full of hope and promise. However, there was no one in my life who could give me a professional road map to follow. I moved to Chicago shortly after I graduated. The city had just elected its first black mayor, the late Harold Washington. It was an important civil rights milestone and I wanted to be a part of it by working in his administration.
I applied and worked in the Office of Fine Arts with Sandra (Sandy) Royster as one of my first bosses. Sandy nurtured my creativity, intellectual development, curiosity, confidence, and leadership capabilities. She gave me room to find my way and make discoveries on my own. She was beloved by everyone and gave me a front row seat on how to be a responsible, kind, thoughtful, compassionate, and loving servant leader. Thanks to Sandy’s mentorship, I am now in a position to pay it forward through the work I do. My career allows me to help girls coming up behind me. They too can create a life and career of their dreams based on their knowledge, passion, and level of educational
attainment. — Linda Calhoun, Founder, Career Girls
24. My dad
My dad is an example of how to stay strong and keep your head up through all struggles and challenges. He taught me how coming up with a plan and seeing through brings success. I have used his words of wisdom and his personality traits to help me in my life, personally and personally. There are two words of wisdom that he has given me that I hold dear to my heart. The first is to believe in yourself and in your dreams no matter what others think or say. The second is don’t be scared of anything; the worst thing anyone can say is no. Those words have shaped who I am, my life, my businesses, and my success. — Vid Lamonte’ Buggs Jr., Founder, VLB/VBJ Enterprises
25. Dr. Nola Veazie
When I was starting out, I had no idea how hard it would be to run a business. There were tasks like making a business plan, budgeting, and handling daily operations to do. I learned to tap into a wealth of knowledge with Nola as my mentor. That got me up to speed faster and shortened my growing learning curve. — Zondra Wilson, Founder, Blu Skin Care
26. A businessman and philanthropist
My biggest mentor was the father of an ex-girlfriend, who just recently passed away earlier this year. He was a successful businessman and philanthropist. From business principles to managing people, he taught me so much. I think one of the biggest lessons I learned from him is how true happiness comes from giving to others. When you help others, you actually get more from one source or another. He was definitely a life-changing mentor for me in so many aspects. — Steve Kurniawan, Nine Peaks Media
27. My dad
My biggest mentor in life was easily my dad. He started his own landscaping business when he was in his thirties and maintained it to this day, I drew a lot of inspiration from him and he helped me a lot along the way. Any time I found myself in a pickle, he was there to help guide me in the right direction. — Thomas Adams, Blogger, Tech Prosperity
27. My dad
He was the CEO of a public company who showed me that leaders can be compassionate, strong and successful. I am eternally grateful for his support and advice. — Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder, Mavens & Moguls
28. My wife
My biggest mentor has been my wife, Rashmi Agarwal. She is one of the smartest people I have met. She has an uncanny ability to look at any situation or facet from multiple angles. As an entrepreneur, I sometimes work on my own and with small teams. With Rashmi’s help I am able to achieve much more than what I would otherwise. She makes me question my thoughts and even negate them when I cannot convince me. My wife is always there for me whenever I need, makes her the most important mentor for me. I can go on forever speaking about her! — Saurabh Jindal, CEO, Talk Travel
29. My godmother
I’ve struggled with my search for the right mentor not realizing that the best mentor for me was standing over my right shoulder. My godmother, Denise Knowles, has always been by my side giving wise advice and supplying business connections. Denise is responsible for whipping me into the young business professional that I am today. She knew I organically developed my company without help from anyone so If she noticed something wrong she’d quickly jump in to make sure corrections are learned and applied. Her love, passion, and dedication has impacted not only me but my community as well. I look up to her. — Anthony Greer, CEO, The Royal Society
30. My former manager
One of the biggest influences on my mindset as a manager and business owner came from a part time job I had as a teenager. I worked in Sainsbury’s and had a manager, Helen, who showed me some essential basics of managing people. Long before I ever heard the phrase ‘agile’ or ‘stand-up’ she would get the team together at the start of a shift and run through the day ahead. She made sure everyone knew exactly what they were doing. Helen would call out praise loudly to people, so all could hear. She would also help with problems rather than tell people off.
One thing that really struck a cord was very simple – on payday most managers would leave the pay slips in the team cubbyhole and you collected it there. Helen would come and find each member of staff. She handed their pay slip to them with a thank you. It was simple, but essential in making people feel valued. I’ve carried those principles with me ever since. — Stuart McClure, Founder and CMO, I Love the Sales
31. My college lecturer
Although I graduated a while ago, she has been a guiding light in helping me understand who I am as a person and the business world. She helped me to figure out the direction I wanted to go in my career. There are a hundred different career paths one can go down within every industry. For anyone just starting out, like I was at the time, it’s very overwhelming and shouldn’t be a decision you necessarily make on your own.
Everybody needs somebody in the industry who can stand behind you and believe in what you’re doing. Being someone who has always struggled to see the bigger picture and develop my ‘brand,’ having a mentor has hugely helped me narrow down my options and give me clarity on the right steps to take. It’s more about validation than dictation. She has shown me what I’ve known about myself all along. Having someone stand behind you through your career choices is crucial in the self-assurance that you’re taking steps in the right direction. — Nate Masterson, CEO, Maple Holistics
32. A senior executive
Homer Evans, a senior executive, was my biggest mentor. Homer taught me lessons about leadership and the vast difference between being a leader and a manager. His biggest gift to me was listening and asking great questions. He started this journey one day when he stopped by my little cubicle and said, “Wayne, you are the master of what you don’t say and the slave to what you do say, chose wisely young man.” After a month of barely talking, he came back. He explained that listening and asking great questions was one of the most important leadership skills. It was a pivotal moment for me, and informed how I would act as a team member, and how I would lead teams. I am still on this journey he started 30 years ago. — Wayne Strickland, Business Consultant