Mentoring has become a buzzword in public accounting and corporate America over the past few years, as organizations recognize the importance of providing guidance to young professionals eager to progress in their careers. Mentors offer advice, direction, a listening ear, and often a link to a broader network of contacts.
That's exactly what Kenneth Ashe, CPA, CGMA, a 38-year-old professional at Prudential Financial Inc. in Newark, N.J., had in mind when he took on a mentor in late 2015. He needed help figuring out how to make the transition from a more analytical and financial role within the company to one in project management, a career path he wanted to explore.
Eight months later, Ashe got more than he bargained for: His mentor, Peter Cropper, vice president of project management, offered Ashe a job on his team.
"I was just looking to make connections and expand my network inside Prudential," said Ashe, who started his new role as project manager in July. "I didn't think it would turn into the relationship it did—and into a job."
A Master of Accountancy graduate from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ashe began working in 2002 for a small public accounting firm in New Jersey, his home state. He acquired his CPA license two years later. Over the next 11 years, he worked for various companies, including Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and EY. He was drawn to the Fortune 500 world, though, and moved to Prudential as a manager of planning and analysis in 2013, the same year he acquired his CGMA designation. Two years later, he became a manager of financial reporting in the corporation's international insurance wing.
In November 2015, attracted to project management work because of the diversity of each endeavor, Ashe attended a "VP Open Door" session at Prudential. These 30-minute sessions allow employees to meet one on one with vice presidents at the company and discuss their careers. Ashe was not actively seeking a mentor, but when he sat down with Cropper, in the Enterprise Services & Financial Systems division, the two clicked instantly.
"Immediately I could tell he was committed to personal growth and development and career progression, and that motivates me to want to spend my time with someone," Cropper said. "It is really important when you are looking for a mentor that you shine and demonstrate that this will be a valuable use of the mentor's time." Cropper was impressed with Ashe's energy, intelligence, charisma, and ability to ask questions and listen.
The two agreed to keep in touch and meet about once a month for lunch. They emailed or sent instant messages frequently. Cropper gave Ashe advice on possible project management positions and whether they were a good fit. He counseled Ashe on how to more successfully manage projects in the division where Ashe was working at the time. He convinced Ashe to create a list of stakeholders on his projects and keep them informed. And he advised Ashe on analyzing risks and involving a team in that process.
"Pete also helped me rewrite my résumé. In fact, I think he did such a good job that he convinced himself to hire me," Ashe said, jokingly.
In summer 2016, Cropper was faced with his own conundrum: how to fill a post that required some project management and financial know-how. His team manages projects owned by actuaries in the organization, and these undertakings require various levels of expertise. Previously, his team had hired actuarial-focused employees, but they were not typically engaged by the project management aspects of the role. So Cropper came to a conclusion: It is easier to teach project management skills to a financial expert than it is to teach financial expertise to a project manager. At that time, the light bulb went on.
"His name popped right into my mind," he said about Ashe. "That was the 'Aha!' moment of, 'I think this is going to work.' " After Ashe went through a series of interviews with members of Cropper's leadership team, Cropper offered him a project manager position in the internal consulting group. "I never went into this relationship hoping to poach Ken from where he was," Cropper said. "But I knew that Ken's career goal was to become a project manager."
Though Cropper is no longer Ashe's direct supervisor as of October, Ashe is still part of Cropper's team, and the two still meet a few times each month. Ashe asks for suggestions on various tasks, and Cropper continues to share with Ashe his experiences and challenges, and ways to look at problems, develop skill sets, and become more marketable for the next level. Mentors, Cropper said, can help employees "avoid some of the roadblocks" that they will inevitably encounter under their own guidance.
The mentorship-turned-job also expanded Ashe's network at Prudential, allowing him to solicit advice from seasoned colleagues and make key management decisions. For example, when Ashe was developing a process to distribute financial data to a few dozen people who required it regularly, he was conserving several options and was leaning toward the one that would be the easiest to implement. "This is when Pete put me in touch with a systems expert in another group," Ashe said. "After discussing my problem and proposed solution with this expert, I decided on a different approach. The new approach was difficult to implement, but the end result would benefit not only my project, but several other projects within the company."
Ashe's association with Cropper has opened Ashe's eyes to what a mentoring relationship should be and the benefits that can ensue if an employee finds the right guide. Ashe had worked with mentors before, but his professional connection with Cropper was different. Cropper, he said, challenged him from the beginning, asking a series of questions about why he wanted to become a project manager and if he knew the work that was involved. And it was a "two-way relationship," with communication initiated by both parties, with Cropper regularly reaching out to check in and offer guidance.
"That's something I found very valuable," Ashe said. "And I'm going to start actively following up with people junior to me who have asked me for advice."
About the author
Cheryl Meyer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a California-based freelance writer.
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- "Exploring Mentorship: A Graceful Exit," JofA, Nov. 2016
- "How to Find the Right Mentor," CPA Insider, June 13, 2016
- "4 Steps to Start a Reverse Mentoring Program," Career Insider, May 18, 2016
- "Coaching Programs Get New Partners Off to a Great Start," JofA, Feb. 2016
- "Finding a Mentor," Career Insider, Jan. 21, 2016
- AICPA Online Mentoring Program, aicpa.org/mentoring
- AICPA | CIMA Competency and Learning, competency.aicpa.org
- Practitioners Symposium and Tech+ Conference at AICPA Engage, June 12—15, Las Vegas
For more information or to make a purchase or register, go to aicpastore.com or call the Institute at 888-777-7077.