This week many of us will gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. We will share in good food and fond company as a way to express gratitude and appreciation for the people and things near and dear to us.
I recently had a chance to give thanks to someone who gave me a foundational opportunity in my early life and career. In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, I’d like share my story with you.
Opportunity is not just a word. For me, opportunity is the reason I went from an entry-level retail clerk to the business partner I am today. Twenty-two years ago, I graduated from Penn State with plenty of education but no job. Because one man dared to take a chance on me, my professional life was radically changed.
Jobs were scarce in 1993 when I received a B.S. in Environmental Resource Management. I ended up working retail sales hoping something would open up in my field. A friend of my mom invited me to meet with her husband, the president of a well-established construction company. I met with him at his house and he grilled me on different topics – many of which were not related to my degree. That meeting left me feeling intimidated and thinking I was destined to fold clothes and work the cash register for a while. I had no idea that this man would eventually become my mentor.
I was surprised to be invited back to interview for a job at his company a few weeks later. The interviews were grueling because I knew little to nothing about construction and engineering. But I got the job. Why me? It was obvious that my mentor was going out on a limb to give me a chance. The job was the perfect opportunity to learn the construction business from the ground up. Thankful for the chance, I worked my tail off to ensure that I would never disappoint my mentor for taking a risk on me.
With hard work and dedication – traveling to job sites, doing cost and scheduling, health and safety, QA/QC – within 5 years I became a project manager and project controls manager on a $120-million-dollar project. My mentor would check up on me and provide guidance by assigning project managers that he felt were the best to help steer my career. While I rarely engaged with my mentor directly, my goal was to never let him down.
I eventually left his company to obtain an MBA and later progress up the ranks and deepen my knowledge at other major companies. Now a partner of our own company in the construction industry – Lydon Solutions – I felt compelled to thank my mentor for the original opportunity he gave me.
Recently I visited my parents in Pittsburgh and decided to reconnect with my mentor. Walking to his front porch with a confident and poised aura –I nearly broke into tears within seconds of seeing his face. He and his wife greeted me with open arms. I instantly felt like I was at my first interview all those years before.
We spoke for hours and he talked about the professional risk he took to hire me. I found out from him that after my initial interview with his company, the rest of the managers didn’t feel I was the right candidate, but he put his neck on the line because he saw potential in me. Without my knowing, he was always in the distance checking on me and seeing if he made the right choice. Hearing of my successes in business made him ecstatic. I thanked him countless times before our visit ended and we wished each other well.
The experience that my mentor provided me with stands out above all the opportunities I’ve had. His influence helped inspire a similar mentality at Lydon Solutions. We’ve found that there are candidates that might not be the best candidate on paper but given the right opportunity, will far exceed expectations. Those are the “diamonds in the rough” that we look for at our company.
When opportunity meets potential, there is success. The purpose of this post isn’t about touting myself or my company, but sharing an example of what happens when someone sees potential in an inexperienced person and gives them an opportunity. I thank my mentor for the experience he provided me. I also encourage everyone to look beyond what is expected in a position. You’ll never know the impact to your company, you, or another person’s life in doing so.
On behalf of the entire Lydon Solutions team, I want to wish you – our customers, partners and colleagues – a Happy Thanksgiving.