Mentors fill key roles in DU’s MBA program

January 04, 2013

Denver Business Journal

Liz Sherman’s enthusiasm is contagious.

“I love their fresh energy. They’re just all sparkly and bright and new and shiny,” she says, gushing about the students she mentors from the MBA program at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business. “They’re bold — not in terms of not having good filters or being politically correct — [and] they are courageous.”

Sherman, vice president and managing director at hrQ Inc., a Denver firm that offers staffing, retained-search and high-level consulting services, is one of several accomplished business professionals who serve in Daniels’ Executive Mentor program.

And a former co-captain of the DU hockey team is glad she’s involved.

His professional-hockey aspirations dashed, Dustin Jackson is trying to figure out what he’ll do with the rest of his life. He earned an MBA degree at Daniels last June, had Sherman as his executive mentor — they still talk today — and now has more direction on how to proceed in his work life.

In between, he gave pro hockey a shot. But when a Gwinnett, Ga., team in the lower-rung East Coast Hockey League cut him in October, he knew it was time to get serious about the next step of his professional life.

“She gives great advice; she’s very professional,” Jackson, 26, said of Sherman, citing “her willingness to help out, and her knowledge of what companies are like and if my personality aligns with that culture, if it would be a good fit or not.”

Her connections helped him to score interviews with potential employers, too. “When you’re applying for jobs, it’s really tough to get an interview. You need to be referred by someone who is looked highly upon by others.”

Jackson is exploring the fields of real estate, advertising and wine.

“He’s learning to parlay his leadership competencies as well as his competencies around teamwork,” Sherman says, noting Jackson’s co-captaincy of the DU team in the 2011-12 season.

And in the big picture, she says, “I learn at least as much from them [mentees], if not more, than what they say they learn from me. These are highly inquiring minds.”

The Daniels Executive Mentor program provides business folks at the vice-presidential level or above — more than 200 in the Denver area have signed on — to students for six months. Each mentor is assigned up to four students, and they meet at least monthly at the mentor’s worksite or other professional settings. The Suitts Graduate Career Center manages the program.

• Things worked out even better for Jessica Gu, who landed a job as a client experience manager at the company of her mentor, Brian McDonald, senior vice president, investor relations and global client experience at Charles Schwab and Company.

Gu, 36, emigrated to Denver from China, where she owned a public relations agency, when her husband landed a job here. But finding her way professionally here proved difficult at first.

The best thing she got from the mentorship? “The biggest thing is to have confidence in myself,” Gu said. “Brian helped me. … Brian told me one of the biggest things he did was inspire me to really think about what I actually wanted to do. He also inspired me to work for the best and to look for the right opportunities. So because of that, I began to gain trust in myself again.”

McDonald completed his second year of mentoring in June. “I had [Gu] spend time with my local work team so she could get insights into what they do and why,” he said.

Also, Gu’s student consulting team performed a segmentation analysis study at Schwab. “We had them come in and take a look at the demand for Schwab services among young investors and how to engage them,” McDonald said. “We’re looking at our 2013 investments now; we’ve used the [students’] recommendations to guide our thinking in some other areas.

“And we got a great employee who will help us with ideas.”

• Rob Lawrence, 33, appreciates the guidance of his mentor, Dan Epel, senior director of global strategic alliances for DigitalGlobe in Longmont; during the mentorship, Epel was vice president of strategic alliance at Information Handling Services in Englewood.

Lawrence also earned an MBA from Daniels last June. He leads the project-management department at Johnson Financial Group in Lakewood and is a Registered Investment Advisor. Previously, he sold radio advertising time for years.

“I was concentrating on finance for the MBA, but also wanted to find a place to make use of my experience in sales and marketing,” Lawrence said. “Dan was able to help me understand what the roles were like from more of an enterprise level; my experience was not in the enterprise level, dealing with C suites and such.

“It was really nice to have somebody like that who’s willing to give you the time, to give you an insight into what you can expect once you get out of the MBA.”

Epel has been a mentor for three years. He tries to give students “ways to look at the market,” he said. “Many of them are looking at, what do I do next? I can give them some perspective, having been doing this for some time. … I’ve had mentors at different times throughout my career — people who would listen, advise, give the perspective of someone who’s been there, done that.

“It was a huge value to me throughout my career, and if I can return that favor, I’m very happy to do that.”