Mentors Shape Chattanooga’s Leaders of the Future
Being a mentor requires more than job competency. It demands a passion for people and a desire to uplift others by offering a listening ear and tools needed to get the job done. Stacy Gray, Ingrid Knies, Ronald Harris, Bob Giebert, Janice Kulovitz, and Anda Ray have been recognized by their peers as “model mentors” given their dedication to developing skilled employees. Here, they share their thoughts on the meaning and purpose of mentorship, including its crucial role in building business leaders for the future.
By Jenna Haines
Stacy Gray, Unum
Chattanooga native Stacy Gray has worked at Unum since 1998 and has been an assistant vice president in client services for approximately one year.
At Unum, her mentoring ranges from directly assisting people with their specific needs to explaining what she has learned on her own career path. “I think it’s all about identifying what the individual needs out of the mentoring partnership early on, and what I’m able to offer specifically to help them,” says Gray. “I tend to have a conversation very early on with folks to understand what they’re seeking from me.”
Gray says she has gained a great deal of helpful knowledge from her own mentors along the way, and hopes her support will yield the same for others.
“I’ve never mentored someone where I didn’t get just as much back to develop and help me think about things differently,” she adds. “I see it as a two-way partnership.”
Ingrid Knies, Mars Chocolate
Ingrid Knies is a long way from home. Before moving to Chattanooga, she grew up in Brazil and attended the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul. She has spent the last 15 years in the United States working at Mars Chocolate and about a year-and-a-half as the operations manager.
Knies attributes her love of mentoring to past managers and role models who have, in turn, fostered within her the desire to watch other people prosper under the guidance of a helping hand. “I love helping people to see different possibilities as well as grow their knowledge and skills to get ahead,” she says.
Knies says that she sees the mentoring process as not just about her or the mentee, but for the good of the company as a whole. “Great associates are our biggest asset,” Knies says. “I’m all about long-term investment in people. The return is guaranteed!”
While Knies explains that development is usually individualized, she offers advice that everyone can follow: be a team player, ask for help when you need it, build relationships with co-workers, be passionate about your work, challenge yourself, and, lastly, be authentic.
Ronald Harris, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee
Having grown up in the McCallie Homes in Alton Park, Ronald Harris comes from a different background than most of his co-workers. But with guidance from a variety of role models throughout his life—from teachers to pastors—he never believed he was incapable of anything. Harris has worked for BlueCross BlueShield for 27 years now—13 managing the diversity program. He’s also the executive sponsor for both of BlueCross’ mentoring initiatives.
Harris says that effective mentoring requires you to listen and “read between the words, not just the lines.” He also feels that “great mentors are always looking for ways to send the elevator back down to bring someone else up.”
While Harris is passionate about other people, he is humble on the subject of his own accolades. “I’ve never really thought of myself as this great mentor,” he says. “I think what’s really important is that, growing up in public housing as I did, there were always people who took an interest in me. And sometimes I couldn’t figure out why. But a lot of times others can see something in you that you can’t see within yourself.”
Bob Giebert, First Tennessee Bank
Bob Giebert, EVP credit risk manager at First Tennessee, summarizes his role as a mentor with a quote from MLK: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?”
A Chattanooga transplant from Little Rock, Ark., and Dallas, Texas, Giebert has spent 34 years in commercial banking. He has worked as a credit risk manager at First Tennessee for 20 years.
Giebert says his motivation to mentor others stems from his own personal influences. “The secret is honoring those who helped me at critical times by helping others,” he says. “I had one mentor who always held me accountable, yet also gave me great confidence that he would support me as I grew in the position.”
While Giebert says mentoring provides a great deal of personal satisfaction, it requires more than generosity. “The trick is to be watchful, listen, and ask questions. Great knowledge and caring people surround us. Always try to be curious,” he says. “I always ask those I work with ‘What are your goals?’ so that I can help them achieve them.”
Giebert notes that he feels fortunate to work at First Tennessee, where both formal and informal mentoring relationships are supported by the company.
Janice Kulovitz, Lattimore Black Morgan & Cain
Janice Kulovitz, CPA, is the “mother hen” of tax services. She is in her eighth year at Lattimore Black Morgan & Cain, and has spent the last three as a manager. “For me, my job is a perfect fit because I enjoy not only the technical part of it, but the ability to bring the people person part of my personality out,” she says.
A mother of two, Kulovitz often takes on a matriarchal approach with her staff. “They are like daughters and sons to me,” she says, “I get a lot of job satisfaction in watching our staff members advance in their careers.”
She has an open-door policy at LBMC, inspired by one of her own mentors, Warren Slagle—a former accounting professor at UTK who has since passed. “I spent a lot of time in his office trying to get direction and he was very beneficial,” she says.
Kulovitz says her mentoring work isn’t just personally fulfilling. It’s also beneficial to the company. “We take a strong interest in staff development because our staff is the future of our company. If you really want to attract and retain top-notch students, you have to invest in them,” she says.
Anda Ray, Tennessee Valley Authority
Anda Ray, senior vice president of engineering, environment, and support services at TVA, has made mentoring a priority in her professional career.
Since her start at TVA 30 years ago, Ray has occupied a variety of positions in the company, allowing her to gain a holistic perspective on how it operates. After realizing that many of her peers had less versatile experiences, Ray and a few of her co-workers initiated a mentoring program in 2011.
Along with helping develop the skills of mentees in different areas, Ray says the mentor-mentee system provides emotional support. “We all need someone to reach out and care about us that doesn’t have to care about us,” she says. “That fills people up with self-confidence to achieve really great things personally and professionally.”
Ray, who still leads the program, says it’s been a success. Over the past two years, the program has experienced a 300% increase in involvement—from 66 mentor-mentee pairs in 2011 to over 200 this year. Additionally, a recent satisfaction survey revealed that over 90% of the pairs were happy with their involvement.