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Old School mentoring: the missing ingredient in business today

Today’s job culture is far different from the hands-on privilege once offered to new professionals in the form of legitimate, Old School mentoring. Is this what today’s business culture is missing? The short answer is yes.

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What passes today for mentorship

If you are under 35 years old, ask your parents, or better yet your grandparents, if they were mentored. If they were, especially your grandparents, listen to all of their stories. I suspect you’ll be hungry to live their experiences yourself. Being mentored back in the day meant being taught a trade or profession by an experienced, and yes, trusted advisor. Over the years, I’ve spoken with dozens of recent high school and college grads who have given me an understanding of what now passes for mentorship.

On the positive side, those who go into most of the construction trades are often the best trained, relatively speaking. Back in the Pliocene Epoch, I was once a brick tender. That was the guy who ensured the brick layer was always sufficiently supplied with mortar, called mud, and the brick or block with which they were workin’ that day. There were two basic ways to learn brick tending. You hired on as a below market rookie, working for a non-union company and learned on the job at half the pay of the guy showin’ you the ropes. That’s how I learned. Or, you applied for membership in the local union, which had a very effective training program. Either way, you ended up a very competent brick tender.

Who’s being mentored in today’s job culture?

According to most industries, everyone is. Having been mentored myself within an inch of my life, I can tell you first hand, that today the concept has been thoroughly bastardized. Part of the agreement with my many mentors was to eventually pay it forward, when I was qualified to do so. In the last 15 years or so I’ve been blessed to have made good on that promise.

Mentoring 2,000 years ago:

Back a couple thousand years ago, being mentored was not only pivotal to success, if not survival, but a serious privilege. It often took several years, resulting in the universally respected title of Journeyman. It denoted that your work’s product was worthy of pay and of the highest quality, and that you were no longer indentured to the ‘master’ as their apprentice. It was a very sober undertaking, the implied contract being between the master and the apprentice, both of whom took their obligations very seriously. Back then the only reason for a union’s existence was to ensure the highest quality of workmanship — as it should be.

As a mentor, I prefer the Old School approach

As the owner/broker of a real estate investment firm, those who I’ve mentored have been young agents aspiring to open their own investment brokerage at some point. Their first job is to learn the most basic activities of an assistant. This entails learning the various players involved when investing in real estate. Then, there are the forms, which are endless. Being mentored means you’re with me at least 80% of the time. Clients meeting me in the office? You’re there. Five year after tax cash flow analysis? You’re doin’ yours on the same property, but separately. Those are but two of the myriad tasks and skill sets to be learned, or rather, mastered.

My mentors? They didn’t understand grading on the ‘curve.’ What they understood was that either I got it, completely, or I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely wasn’t pass/fail, it was master it or you failed and started over. Were they brutal? I was ridiculed often. Two of ’em employed the occasional back of the head slap. No, really, they did. To them, ensuring I was always learning was a deadly serious undertaking. They cared. It showed. I learned.

The other side of the coin — my experience as a mentor

Of those mentees who swore on their momma’s life to be ‘all in’, a total of, count ’em, four have stayed the course. Three were nuclear, glow-in-the-dark rookies. One is an established brokerage owner who, as I did, transitioned from homes into the investment side. I’ve easily had over a couple hundred begin the difficult journey apprentices must travel. Four were dead serious. So, when we constantly hear and read about lousy training programs, understand there’s another side. Hundreds, more likely thousands around the country who were offered the chance for wicked good mentoring by highly qualified professionals, didn’t even slack off, they completely flaked out.

In plain English, my batting average for mentoring success, when viewed objectively, sucks. I began offering to mentor serious agents back in 1996. In over 15 years, that means I’ve successfully taken four of over 200 agents to the point of earning a pretty good living. The rest? Most are doing something else, completely out of the business. The irony is that almost all of ’em came to me asking to be seriously mentored. Yeah, I know about human nature. But, to seek out the mentor themselves proactively, then flake out? The average flake out time was less than a week, sometimes less than a work day.

On the other hand, those four who stayed the course? The first two did well. One became a full blown real estate investment agent. In fact, he made $15,000 his first month on his own. The second guy not only succeeded, he later opened his own brokerage exactly as he’d planned. Of the latter two, one ended up coordinating my operation from the inside. That meant being ‘operations manager’ for tax deferred exchanges involving multiple properties/multiple states. It mean handling all transactions after they were negotiated. No, he wasn’t a transaction coordinator. He literally ran the business for 90% of what needed to be accomplished. TCs from three states reported to him. Brokers, lenders, escrow, title — everyone called him first, not me. That’s how good he was.

The fourth guy was a house broker, a one-horse operation, more or less. Since he was in another state, the ‘mentoring’ takes place online, on the phone, and in person whenever I’m in his state. Fortunately for him, he’s a whole lot smarter than I am. He’s significantly increased not only his real time operating knowledge, but enhanced that immeasurably by attending some very difficult, highly sophisticated, and rather expensive training I strongly ‘recommended.’ Each year, his income has increased impressively. The guy can take a new concept and take it to the street faster than most I’ve known.

I believe this and told him as much — he’ll experience what I call a 2-comma income year before he’s 40. He’s 32 now, I think. ‘Course, by then he’ll be mentoring others, paying it forward just as he promised. I also suspect he’ll be a bunch better at it than I ever was.

Old School mentoring assumes that mutual responsibility is the glue for success, bonding the mentor and the student together. Once that responsibility has been embraced, the relationship is almost assured of success.

Finding a mentor

Need mentoring? Find one. Are you highly experienced at what you do? Let it be known you’ll mentor the right person. I look back on my mentors, some of whom were literally icons, and wonder how I came to be blessed so many times. There are very few of us who are successful without being mentored, whether it was formal or not. We all owe them to pay it forward. Why? Simple — what we were taught was priceless. Without them. I would have been trapped doing something I hated. With them, I was given the key unlocking the door to a life I only dreamed of back then.

Old School mentoring — get it — give it back.

Related: Mentorship Report

Jeff Brown specializes in real estate investment for retirement, has practiced real estate for over 40 years and is a veteran of over 200 tax deferred exchanges, many multi-state. Brown is a second generation broker and works daily with the third generation. With CCIM training and decades of hands on experience, Brown's expertise is highly sought after, some of which he shares on his real estate investing blog.

Business News

Everyone should have an interview escape plan

(BUSINESS NEWS) A job interview should be a place to ask about qualifications but sometimes things can go south – here’s how to escape when they do.

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interview from hell

“So, why did you move from Utah to Austin?” the interviewer asked over the phone.

The question felt a little out of place in the job interview, but I gave my standard answer about wanting a fresh scene. I’d just graduated college and was looking to break into the Austin market. But the interviewer wasn’t done.

“But why Austin?” he insisted, “There can’t be that many Mormons here.”

My stomach curled. This was a job interview – I’d expected to discuss my qualifications for the position and express my interest in the company. Instead, I began to answer more and more invasive questions about my personal life and religion. The whole ordeal left me very uncomfortable, but because I was young and desperate, I put up with it. In fact, I even went back for a second interview!

At the time, I thought I had to put up with that sort of treatment. Only recently have I realized that the interview was extremely unprofessional and it wasn’t something I should have felt obligated to endure.

And I’m not the only one with a bad interview story. Slate ran an article sharing others’ terrible experiences, which ranged from having their purse inspected to being trapped in a 45 minute presentation! No doubt, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mistreatment by potential employers.

So, why do we put up with it?

Well, sometimes people just don’t know better. Maybe, like I was, they’re young or inexperienced. In these cases, these sorts of situations seem like they could just be the norm. There’s also the obvious power dynamic: you might need a job, but the potential employers probably don’t need you.

While there might be times you have to grit your teeth and bear it, it’s also worth remembering that a bad interview scenario often means bad working conditions later on down the line. After all, if your employers don’t respect you during the interview stage, it’s likely the disrespect will continue when you’re hired.

Once you’ve identified an interview is bad news, though, how do you walk out? Politely. As tempting as it is to make a scene, you probably don’t want to go burning bridges. Instead, excuse yourself by thanking your interviewers, wishing them well and asserting that you have realized the business wouldn’t be a good fit.

Your time, as well as your comfort, are important! If your gut is telling you something is wrong, it probably is. It isn’t easy, but if a job interview is crossing the line, you’re well within your rights to leave. Better to cut your losses early.

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Business News

Australia vs Facebook: A conflict of news distribution

(BUSINESS NEWS) Following a contentious battle for news aggregation, Australia works to find agreement with Facebook.

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News open on laptop, which Australia argues Facebook is taking away from.

Australia has been locked in a legal war against technology giants Google and Facebook with regard to how news content can be consumed by either entity’s platforms.

At its core, the law states that news content being posted on social media is – in effect – stealing away the ability for news outlets to monetize their delivery and aggregate systems. A news organization may see their content shared on Facebook, which means users no longer have to visit their site to access that information. This harms the ability for news production companies – especially smaller ones – from being able to maintain revenue and profit, while also giving power to corporations such as Facebook by allowing them to capitalize on their substantial infrastructure.

This is a complex subject that can be viewed from a number of angles, but it essentially asks the question of who should be in control of information on a potentially global scale, and how the ability to share such data should be handled when it passes through a variety of mediums and avenues. Put shortly: Australia thinks royalties should be paid to those who supply the news.

Australia has maintained that under the proposed laws, corporations must reach content distribution deals in order to allow news to be spread through – as one example – posts on Facebook. In retaliation, Facebook completely removed the ability for users to post news articles and stories. This in turn led to a proliferation of false and misleading information to fill the void, magnifying the considerable confusion that Australian citizens were confronted with once the change had been made.

“In just a few days, we saw the damage that taking news out can cause,” said Sree Sreenivasan, a professor at the Stony Brook School of Communication and Journalism. “Misinformation and disinformation, already a problem on the platform, rushed to fill the vacuum.”

Facebook’s stance is that it provides value to the publishers because shared news content will drive users to their sites, thereby allowing them to provide advertising and thus leading to revenue.

Australia has been working on this bill since last year, and has said that it is meant to equalize the potential imbalance of content and who can display and benefit from it. This is meant to try and create conditions between publishers and the large technology platforms so that there is a clearer understanding of how payment should be done in exchange for news and information.

Google was initially defiant (threatening to go as far as to shut off their service entirely), but began to make deals recently in order to restore its own access. Facebook has been the strongest holdout, and has shown that it can leverage its considerable audience and reach to force a more amenable deal. Australia has since provided some amendments to give Facebook time to seek similar deals obtained by Google.

One large portion of the law is that Australia is reserving the right to allow final arbitration, which it says would allow a mediator to set prices if no deal could be reached. This might be considered the strongest piece of the law, as it means that Facebook cannot freely exercise its considerable weight with impunity. Facebook’s position is that this allows government interference between private companies.

In the last week – with the new agreements on the table – it’s difficult to say who blinked first. There is also the question of how this might have a ripple effect through the tech industry and between governments who might try to follow suit.

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Business News

Plant-based milk company Oatly is going public in the U.S.

(BUSINESS NEWS) With the growing popularity of plant-based goods, it is unsurprising to see Oatly going to market, but how much the investment pays off remains to be seen.

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Plant-based milk Oatly on store shelves, two different varieties.

On Tuesday, the plant-based milk company, Oatly, filed for an initial public offering (IPO) in the U.S., which could value the company between $5 billion and $10 billion.

The IPO will take place after the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) completes its review process and is subject to market conditions. Additional details of the planned sale were not offered in the confidential filing. The price and number of shares available to purchase are yet to be determined.

The Sweden-based vegan food and drink maker was founded in the 1990s by brothers Rickard and Björn Öste. The company sells its products online and in more than 50,000 retail stores in 20 countries across Europe and Asia. The company entered the U.S. in 2017 and has also partnered with cafes, such as Starbucks.

Last July, Oatly raised $200 million in investment equity. The company is backed by former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and celebrity investors like Oprah Winfrey, Natalie Portman, and Jay-Z. According to PitchBook, the company was valued at around $2 billion at that time.

In 2019, the company generated about $200 million in revenue, which is almost double the year before. Figures for 2020 haven’t been released yet, but the company planned on doubling them again.

Although the numbers haven’t been made public, it isn’t a far-off stretch to say the company could have done just that. Demand for plant-based products has been high. In just the first week of March last year, Nielsen statistics showed the sales of oat milk were up 347.3%.

This rise is due to consumers seeking alternatives to animal products and healthier food options. Already, fast-food chains, casual, and upscale restaurants have entered the plant-based food sector by adding new plant-based items to their menus.

Burger King has its Impossible Whopper with a plant-based patty. Baskin-Robbins offers three vegan ice cream flavors. Starbucks also announced in December that it would now serve oat milk at all its locations nationwide starting in the spring.

Oatly already has a large following. As more health and environment-conscious consumers are willing to seek and pay for these types of products, it seems like their following will only continue to grow.

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