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Be Who You Needed When You Were Younger

Be who you needed when you were younger – I came across this thought-provoking quote by Ayesha Siddiqi a couple of years ago. This powerful statement reminded me of the important roles my informal mentors played throughout my career and why I choose to be an active mentor now.

Citibank’s departure from consumer banking across numerous countries globally at the end of 2023 gave me a chance to reflect on my career and how various mentors crossed their paths with me. I started my career in the Global Consumer Banking (GCB) in Citibank, Jakarta – Indonesia nearly three decades ago as a Management Associate (Citibank’s highly competitive Management Trainee program). Throughout my achievements and successes, there were many professionals who were generous with their advice so I could wisely navigate each fork on the road. There was Puneet Bahl, the former Marketing Director in Citibank Card Business who my boss reported to. He nurtured my curiosity with the business by allowing me to explore data and information that I had access to — and how I could help the whole department in directing their Marketing efforts. These were the days before the term Marketing Analytics was widely popular. There was a simple action he did that has stayed with me: an example of how motivation and rewards don’t necessarily need to be monetary. Through sincerity, he showed me that there are way other effective and subtle ways to get the best out of everybody in the team.

During the early days of my careers, there were other mentors and friends who I consulted on a regular basis over IRC (Internet Relay Chat) before the days of Facebook and LinkedIn. With my background in Computer and Information Science, a mentor was so concerned with my welfare when he heard about the racial riots and the political upheaval in Indonesia that he tried to recruit me to his company in Maryland, in the United States in 1998. He also provided advice and considerations that led me to accepting the counter-offer to stay with Citibank and moved to Singapore when I resigned from Citibank and had actually signed a contract with GE Finance. This move served as the catalyst for me to return to Australia in 2002.

Mentorship does not merely cover career decisions as well. They developed me as a person and expanded my horizon – from one I discovered the joys of Putumayo World Music and Gabriel García Márquez. From another, I learned more about world travels as he gave me suggestions and advice on places to visit before Google was the go-to for travel tips (and introduced me to the joys of white asparagus in spring!). Another mentor would humour me with my left-field questions and often random thoughts. They provided advice, recommendations, considerations, and wisdom that have ultimately enriched my life beyond merely career advancement.

This, to me, is the hallmark of true mentors. Along with preventing mistakes and wrong decisions, mentors can also share the gems they discovered so these can be passed on and enjoyed by their mentees. Mentors share their life without necessarily expecting anything in return.

This is why I am in my 11th year as a Career Mentor at the University of South Australia Business Career Mentor Program (BCMP). This program is aimed to equip and prepare students who are nearing the completion of their degree, and about to launch their career. When I joined the program in 2013, I wanted to be somebody who I needed when I was young for Marketing students at the University. Every year, I am assigned a new mentee – and every time, I would instill confidence and share practical tips about their CV, interviews, job applications, as well as building their network.

Through the process, I hope I will also manage to impart my nerdy interests and curiosity. It always gives me great pleasure when I know that my previous mentees are flying high – and even when we no longer contact each other, I know that my role in ushering them to the next stage in their career is complete when that happens. Other mentors would take my place and give them the advice they need to walk forward. This is also what happens to me and my mentors – we may not contact each other as often as we once did, but my gratitude remains for their valuable guidance when I was younger and much more insecure.

So, this is also a call to arms – I hope you would be encouraged to share your life, your wisdom, and experience to up-and-coming and seasoned professionals as mentors. It may be a formal arrangement, or it may be just an informal lifelong friendship and mentorship. I continue to value mentors as well: as much as I enjoy my role as a mentor, I also appreciate those who I look up to as my mentors as I prepare for the future ahead.

Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life.
I don’t care what you do for a living —
if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way.
A mentor.

Denzel Washington

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