Mentors Bring the ‘Real World’ to the MBA Program

By Dan Michaelis
Published: Fall 2010

The term “mentor” comes from The Odyssey. When Odysseus goes off to sack Troy he entrusts his son Telemachus to the care of his old friend Mentor. Mentor did not live up to his name, but Telemachus received excellent guidance from Athena—the Goddess of Wisdom—who appeared to him disguised as Mentor.

However, it was probably a guy from the Bronx who described the mentor-protégé relationship best. The Yankees’ Yogi Berra explained, “Bill Dickey is learning me all of his experiences.”

Classical Greece, besides providing us with the word, also produced history’s most famous mentor-protégé chain: Socrates was mentor to Plato, who was mentor to Aristotle. Aristotle, in turn, mentored Alexander the Great (who chose an entirely different career path). They were all brilliant philosophers—and better grammarians than Berra.

But Berra nailed it. A mentor is more than a teacher who focuses on the purely academic. A mentor provides expert advice and guidance based on his or her own realworld experience.

The GW School of Business is helping its MBA candidates gain the invaluable benefit of real-world experience through its Global MBA Mentoring Program, which began its third year this fall. The program, jointly administered by the MBA Programs Office and the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, enhances the education of first-year MBA candidates by providing them with access to the experience and wisdom of GWSB’s distinguished and accomplished alumni community.

Although MBA candidates are not required to sign up for the program, 95 percent of them did during the initiative’s first year. That went in tandem with an overwhelming response from the alumni community. As a result, the program boasts an outstanding roster of mentors. The program matches alumni mentors and MBA candidates through profile questionnaires gauging their interests, expertise and skill sets. Mentors and protégés are informed of their matches via e-mail, at which point it becomes the student’s responsibility to contact his or her mentor.

GWSB does not monitor exchanges between students and mentors, and it is left up to each pair to work out the means and frequency of their communication. Students in the program are required to attend an orientation session. There is also an optional orientation meeting for mentors.

The program sponsors at least two events per semester, including a “Meet Your Mentor” reception, an informal happy hour, a lecture provided by a GW professor and a year-end roundtable and evaluation session.

The program has been a great success. Two of the alumnistudent pairs shared their impressions with GWbusiness.

Lorin Luchs, BAccy, ’68 (and JD, ’71), wanted to stay involved with the School. He had a wealth of experience to share, so he volunteered for the program. A retired partner from BDO, a professional services firm providing assurance, tax, financial and consulting services, Luchs, who still works as a consultant, initially assumed he would be providing students with academic help.

“When I read about the program in the GWSB Newsletter, I thought I would be responsible for helping with problems or issues with classes. I thought it was more of a tutoring program,” Luchs said. “But it was far more beneficial than I originally envisioned.

“The program is a means of building a bridge to the business world—a bridge to the future—for students,” Luchs explained. “Tutoring would have brought me into the academic world instead of bringing a student into the business world.”

For Coast Guard Lt. Jim Pafford, who graduated this summer with an MBA, Luchs really did build that bridge. A 2004 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Pafford had little exposure to business beyond the MBA program and couple of undergraduate courses.

“I don’t have any actual business experience,” Pafford said. “My degree is in mechanical engineering.” Pafford served on three different Coast Guard cutters—with deployments in U.S. coastal waters, the Persian Gulf and off the coast of Somalia—gaining experience in navigation, as a deck watch officer and as a member of the command cadre. He wants to continue to serve, but in a different capacity, putting his MBA to use at a major Coast Guard depot, working on financial, budget, accounting and human resources issues.

Luchs provided an excellent complement to his coursework and professors. “Lorin gave me the opportunity to ask questions about what I learned in class,” Pafford said. “He gave me a real-world understanding of what goes on in business, how things are done and why they’re done that way.”

Luchs said he enjoyed acting as a mentor to Pafford as well as interacting with other mentors and students. He shared his interviewing expertise and insights with a number of MBA candidates at events such as a “speed-mentoring” session.

Luchs also learned from his protégé. “Talking with Jim and the other students helped me see things in a different light, and it gave me important perspective for dealing with people I work with on a consulting basis, many of whom are younger than me and just recently out of school.”

“I would definitely recommend the program to any MBA candidate,” Pafford said, adding that the mentoring program may be most helpful for international students. “The program helped me bridge the gap between book-learning and the real world and to understand the differences between government and business,” he said. “In a similar way, the program is a great way to introduce international students to the culture of American business.”

Dinos Christoforakis, MBA, ’11, agrees with Pafford’s assessment. Christoforakis, who received his undergraduate degree in 2002 from the Hellenic American University in Athens, Greece, and a master’s in marketing from Stirling University in Scotland in 2003, came to the United States for the first time about a year ago.

“I came here knowing no one,” he explained. “If you want to do business you need to know people. I realized from the beginning that I should take advantage of whatever GWSB offered. The mentoring program is definitely important for American students, but for international students it’s 100,000 times more important. It made it much easier for me to understand how the business world works in the states.”

Christoforakis’ mentor, Bryan Goshorn, MBA, ’07, helped provide that introduction to U.S. business. Goshorn, a supply- chain and logistics consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton, strongly believes in the importance of networking for a successful business career.

“I told Dinos the first night we met that there are two critical things in pursuing your MBA,” Goshorn said. “Obviously, you’ve got your coursework, but secondly, and just as important, is the network you develop through school. It’s imperative that you optimize your time to make connections and develop personal and professional relationships.”

“Bryan really helped me make connections,” Christoforakis said. “I learned many useful things about how to network and interact with other individuals.”

Goshorn volunteered for the mentoring program to stay engaged with GWSB and to “give back to the School for what it gave me as an MBA student.” He wound up gaining something valuable by being a mentor: He made a friend. “We’re both hardworking and share a passion for business. There’s great synergy between us. Dinos and I are not good friends, we’re great friends,” he said.

“We have a high level of respect for one another,” Christoforakis added. “Bryan is very successful, and I’m always very interested to know what he thinks, what he’s saying, what he’s doing. Many times I’d pick up the phone to call him for advice about a school activity or an interview. I’d ask, ‘what would you do if you were in my shoes?’”

Throughout the course of the program, Goshorn and Christoforakis stayed in close contact. “There were times when I would call him or he would call me just to bounce ideas off each other,” Goshorn explained. “Dinos and I worked very well together. It’s a great relationship.”

Like Luchs and Pafford, Christoforakis and Goshorn give the mentoring program high marks. “I don’t see why any student wouldn’t participate,” Christoforakis said. “You’d have to be crazy not to.”

“I’d strongly recommend the program to both MBA candidates and alumni,” Goshorn said. “For alumni, it allows you to stay engaged with the School and have access to an elite pool of potential employees and business partners— GWSB MBAs.” GW

First-year MBA candidates interested in participating in the MBA Mentoring Program and GWSB alumni wishing to volunteer as mentors should contact the Office of Development and Alumni Relations at 202-994-4803 for more information.