Mentorship is listening carefully and sharing experience

Mikael Still and Silas Mwangi laughing on the street
This 2020-2021 Hanken Vaasa mentor-mentee relationship is – if not a match made in heaven – then clearly one that is full of respect, warmth and learning. Mikael Still (65) and Silas Magana (34) hit it off from day one last September. So, what is their secret? What does it take to be a good mentor? And mentee, for that matter? Could you consider becoming one?

We simply click

Mikael Still

Mikael Still is a 65-year-old yacht designer, Hanken graduate, career CFO, entrepreneur, board professional, husband, father and grandfather. He was celebrated as Hanken Alumnus of the Year in 2018.

The relationship between a mentor and a mentee is obviously different each time, depending on the mentee’s background, age, interest and character. One constant, however, is that the mentor is more experienced and should help the less experienced mentee.

This year I have my fourteenth mentee, believe it or not. The first time I was involved in our one-to-one mentorship was in 1997-98, before the current program even started in 2004. This is also my second year of mentoring a group of four international participants in Hanken’s business lead program for immigrants who have graduated. Prior to that I have also been a Hanken lecturer for international students readying them specifically for the Finnish labour market. 

In the Master’s mentorship program, one of the most satisfying relationships has been the current one with Silas. We simply click. We have a global reach in our discussion, and I think we like to have quite a helicopter view, to look at things from a wide perspective.

Silas is a bit more experienced in life than my other mentees have been. We are both excited about sustainability, developing company strategy and gaining clarity of vision regarding what a company actually is all about. He is very much into lean operations originating from Japan.

We have the same drive to help other people and to contribute to society. He moved to Finland from Kenya 10 years ago. Silas has lived in Finland, studied in Finland, supported himself in Finland for 10 years, and sent back money to Kenya from what he has earned from cleaning. Every time he goes back to Kenya he takes with him gifts to family and friends.

Silas and I have met face to face once before the pandemic. The other ten times we have communicated online in a very structured and productive way. The topics are chosen by the mentee and this mentee-driven framework has remained identical since I started. Some mentees are by nature more structured than others and, consequently, also profit more. We are supposed to schedule one-hour meetings, but they tend to become two… and sometimes we talk about everything else except the topic. This happened last Friday with projects and project-based businesses.

One thing I hear from all the international mentees I have had over the years is how hard it is to get permanent employment in Finland other than cleaning or other menial tasks. This we revert back to time and again and I do a lot of coaching on CV’s and interviews, but an obvious hurdle is the language. This prejudice against international talent makes me really, really sad. On the other hand, Silas is interested in giving something back to his own country and starting up some ventures in Kenya. This is another dimension or aspect of our conversations.

I don’t have any new, earth-shattering answers for my mentees. But it takes a good listener to hear what the other person is actually saying and this might be what makes an effective mentor. Maybe I am skilled at listening to the mentees on their own terms and talking to them in a way that helps them  make sense out of their concerns? After all, good mentorship is not about offering solutions but helping the mentees find the solutions themselves.

I am quite creative. If I didn’t do the job I am doing I might go into stand-up comedy or improvisation because I have always been quite a good improviser. So, the combination of being able to listen, being creative and good at improvising on the go means my mentees always get meaningful feedback.

Confidentiality is, of course key. It is all-important and obviously goes both ways because both of us open up and share. It is imperative that what happens in the mentorship program stays in the mentorship program.

Time is a factor for all Hanken alumni. My mentorship assignment consumes perhaps 12-16 hours in an academic year if we meet on average 8 times per program and for 1,5-2 hours. It’s not that much.

 

Mikael inspires me

Silas Mwangi

Silas Mwangi is a 34-year-old environmental engineer and Hanken graduate interested in international opportunities for promoting sustainable societies and empowering people. At the moment, he works as a quality engineer at Wärtsilä.

I was just about to finish my Master’s studies here at Hanken when I applied for a new mentorship. I landed Mikael Still. What a guy! I don’t know how to describe him. He is out of this world and the more we talk, the more we have in common.

He is really, really successful and I am hoping that when I am his age I will also have had all those titles. I feel our journeys are alike, as if I am following in his footsteps or mirroring him. When he was young, he decided to move to England. He didn’t know anybody, left and then returned to Finland.

I am an ambitious city boy from Nairobi who achieved a telecommunications’ diploma in Kenya and decided I wanted to study for a higher degree abroad. I walked around with a Sony Eriksson and a piece of paper in my wallet where I had written “in 2010 I will move to Finland”. This was two years before Nokia crashed and the country seemed too good to be true; I thought the opportunities Finland offered at the time were clickbait and couldn’t imagine in my wildest dreams that my wish would ever come true.

But it did! With a combination of hard work and luck I was finally chosen by the Embassy among many other applicants. I didn’t even have a passport when I first got accepted to the first telecoms program at Vaasan ammattikorkeakoulu and had never been out of Kenya. Somehow I managed the international insurance and raised the visa fee of 6 000 Euros. In Finland, I have never given up although I have had to work as a cleaner and the initial study program was scrapped with the Nokia crash.

In 2016, I moved on to complete a Bachelor’s in environmental engineering at Novia. I was deeply impressed by the Swedish-speaking community there and moved on to study for a Master’s in Business at Hanken. And this is when my mentee journey also started with a really great mentor, Stefan Nygård. Stefan was at that time a VP at Wärtsilä working on energy projects in Africa and the Middle East. I enjoyed his insights on SPV’s (special purpose vehicles), he really knew everything, and I landed a trainee position at Wärtsilä in Helsinki, working with managers on strategy and operational excellence.

In my final year, my second mentor Mikael and I have one big challenge; the conversation flows with such ease that we have a hard time sticking to the agenda. Because I always prepare carefully with a written agenda, goals, processes, reality checks and such.

My dream is to merge my business interests in Kenya and Finland, I hope to transform our family farm into an agribusiness, empower people and make life easier for them. Mikael has such insights in business models, financial strategies and organizational build-ups. Through SWOT analysis and templates to fill in, he makes me think and helps make my dream come true.

So, what makes a good mentor? It is not only about creating a bond and building trust. A good mentor is willing to use precious free time and invest it in you. For me this is amazing and I have a hard time seeing “mtu mkubwa” in my home country (Kiswahili for “big person”) having time for us smaller people in the same way. It is so impressive!

Mikael is offering me his resources, letting me pick his brain about anything and holds me accountable so that we really meet up if we have to reschedule and I complete the tasks we planned together. Ah, and this is important; it is not just a transactional relationship but he has the ability to relate as humans. He comes across as real and doesn’t judge me.

He allows me to open up, doesn’t brag about his successes and tells me frankly about his failures. He might say: “This I have never heard before, interesting, tell me more!” Then I tell him, feel valued and maybe even like I can teach him something. And I realize that we all have something to learn from each other. This gives me a feeling I can’t even explain – it’s like a Bruce Lee moment!

Mikael Still and Silas Mwangi on stairs laughing

Fast facts

  • First programme in 2004
    • 2019-2020: 47 pairs
      • Helsinki: 38
      • Vaasa: 9
    • 2020-2021: 66 pairs
      • Helsinki: 51
      • Vaasa: 15
  • Programmes in both Helsinki and Vaasa
  • Mentors are Hanken alumni
    • Application May-Aug/Sept
  • Mentees are students in the final stages of their studies (and alumni up to 5 years after their graduation)
    • Application in the spring
  • Joint meetings in the programme (separate for Vaasa & Helsinki):
    • Programme start with kick-off in September/October
    • One joint mid-term meeting in December/January
    • Final joint meeting (dinner and diploma ceremony) in May
  • The mentor and mentee meet about once a month
  • Mer info: hanken.fi/becomeamentor (hanken.fi/blimentor)

A good mentor 

  • is willing to share his/her experience, expertise, time and contacts
  • has well-developed social intelligence and good communication skills
  • is a good listener and inspires the mentee by giving honest, constructive feedback
  • contributes with an objective point of view, so that the mentee's capacity for reflection and self-analysis is developed

Text: Nina Winquist
Foto: Linus Lindholm