Mentors – Who Represents Your Business?

Mentors in small business can affect your bottom line!

Everyone has mentors. Some mentors teach you what to do. Other mentors teach you what NOT to do.

At 18, I got my first “real”, full-time job. The company serviced offshore oil rigs, and the drilling crews who lived and worked there.

Mentors are everywhere - photo of offshore oil rig

Mentors are everywhere, even in the oil field

When you are 100+ miles off the coast, working seven days a week, 12 hours per day, you don’t have time to “hit the drive-thru” for a burger after work, go grocery shopping, wash your laundry, or scrub your toilets. You’re too busy chasing black gold, pushing pipe, and swinging from the monkey board. You work hard, in all kinds of weather, at all hours of the day. It is good money, but you earn every dollar!

So, my employer provided kitchen and housekeeping services for drilling companies. We cooked, washed dishes, swept, mopped, changed and made beds, washed towels, sheets, and laundry, scrubbed toilets, and so forth. We were like the hotel staff for an oil field “resort”.

Yep, I was 18, and had hated washing dishes and cleaning my room in my parent’s home. Now, I was doing it as a full-time job. I’m sure my mother probably enjoyed the irony. 🙂

The training mentors were older and “wiser” in the ways of the world. Most had been through various jobs and marriages before ending up on a “resort” in the oil field. Like the roughnecks they served, they worked hard, lived dangerously, and partied like rock stars when they made it ashore.

Most of my training mentors didn’t pay much attention to me, the skinny, awkward “man”. They didn’t take an interest in me as a person, and they didn’t make a long-term impression on me. However, some twenty-five years later, I still remember one mentor.

The oil rig I was working on at the time was a few miles off the coast of Louisiana. In that part of the world, good Cajun food is a requirement, and rice is a mealtime staple. I don’t remember the name of this training mentor, so we’ll call him “Bob”. Bob was an older man, nearing retirement age, very crotchety.

As the “new kid”, I was working nights, so when I came to the galley to eat “breakfast” before starting work, it was approaching dinner time (for the day shift). As was the normal routine, there was Cajun food out for dinner, and I was going to eat that for my breakfast. I had previously noticed that Bob would cover the uneaten rice after the meals, and put it back out the next day.

No problem. Growing up as the oldest of four children, I was used to Mom doing that at home.

However, that day, when I went to add some rice to my Cajun “breakfast”, I noticed that there was mold growing on the cooked rice. Although money was tight growing up, and four hungry kids would have probably finished leftover rice long before mold would have started growing, I have no doubt Mom would have thrown moldy rice away.

Anyway, I grabbed the bowl and headed toward the trash can, pointing out the mold to Bob. He grabbed the bowl from my hands, growled at me to “shut the #@*% up”, and proceeded to rinse off the rice before placing it right back on the food line for the crew.

O_o

I have no idea why Bob did this. He wasn’t paying for the groceries himself. Our company was not stingy with the groceries. We had weekly steak night, weekly seafood night, and the kitchen was open 24/7. As far as I know, there were no “cost cutting profit-sharing” systems. The economy was good, and the oil business was especially good.

Twenty five years later, I still remember his actions.

Today, I have a small business. Contract employees work for me, and represent my company name. I want to be sure to mentor them the right way.

What did I learn from this “demented” mentor?

* Some people should not be trusted with your company name, much less as a mentor for your new staff.

As an impressionable new guy, this “mentor” was tasked with teaching me the corporate culture, and proper procedures. “Feed your client moldy rice” was probably not what the home office had in mind.

* Some people are penny wise, and dollar dumb.

Bob “saved” a few cents worth of rice.

Rice is cheap, oil is expensive.

Bad PR is even more expensive. If the crew had gotten food poisoning, it could have slowed or even stopped them from drilling. Just one shift  would have cost the drilling company thousands of dollars, or more.

My “mentor” would have lost his job. My employer probably would have lost their contract on that rig, and possibly the contracts for all the other rigs operated by that drilling company. Due to oil field gossip, my employer could have lost other contracts with other drilling companies in the region.

I wish “Undercover Boss” had been around back then. I found out later from co-workers that this was a regular occurrence, but that Bob had connections in high places within the company. They were apparently letting him coast to finish out his time until retirement.

What about you? Have you ever had a “demented mentor”? Have you ever worked for someone who taught you more lessons about what NOT to do, than they did about the right way to do things?

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