Favorite Mentor Stories: One in a Series By Barbara Schmidt, studiobstyle

I was driving into work on Friday listening to the MPR Round Table about the year anniversary of Prince passing. Kerri Miller was interviewing three guests about their experiences with Prince. One guest spoke of how Prince mentored, and even championed, others to grow their artistic identity.

In the Premier Issue of the Star Tribune Magazine, Barbara Schmidt created and art directed three feature stories - a historic condo remodel - an interiors style story and finds from the National Kitchen and Bath Show 2017 (KBIS 2017)

In the Premier Issue of the Star Tribune Magazine, Barbara Schmidt created and art directed three feature stories - a historic condo remodel - an interiors style story and finds from the National Kitchen and Bath Show 2017 (KBIS 2017)

It reminded me of moments in my career when you find yourself grateful for someone believing in your ability. Those “kick the door open” moments when you stretch and reach new heights are pivotal to becoming an artist, a brand, the best vendor partner you can be.

The first story that pops into my head is from the beginning of my career when I worked for the Director of Marketing at an engineering/aerospace company.  I was so young and inexperienced and yet he sent me to manage photo shoots around the country.

We had so much work to do it was unbelievable. There had been massive layoffs so the lean and mean crew left behind had to carry the load. I was writing, art directing, both internal and external corporate communications.

We worked with an ad agency but a lot of the projects had to be built around data gathered internally first. I was constantly meeting with heads of departments and compiling statistics to present to my supervisor and the agency.

All this experience helped me understand internal corporate communications and the processes that build successful team development. I had no idea that the travel would spark that incredible thirst in me to develop creative in a variety of markets across the globe.

My supervisor was generous with giving me assignments that were in retrospect, way beyond my experience level. I’m so thankful, grateful and I wish I could tell him now.

Even now when I think back to how he treated me in comparison to how others treated me during those early years he was so ahead of status quo. He loved to share the success and invited others to be an equal part of the conversation. He found value in our collaboration and made sure we knew we were a significant part of the process.

Back then, I knew he was different then most of management because he walked to work everyday and it was several miles each way. All the other executives drove expensive cars and parked under the building in the heated garage.

He came in late everyday at around 9:30 a.m. and stayed well past 6:00 p.m. every night. He said he wasn’t a morning person and I found myself sympatico although I had to attend regular 7:00 a.m. meetings anyway.  

As a hobby, my supervisor imported wine from Italy and spent several weeks a year exploring Italian culinary and vintner pursuits. He became a wine importer because he loved those small producers so much he wanted to be able to drink those artisan vintages that no other importers brought to the U.S. I learned about food, wine and the love of all things Italian from him.

Sadly, he died several decades ago not long after I’d left to work for a local ad agency. He probably knew how much he was helping me at the time now that I think back to some of our meetings. He always asked my opinion and let me have time to come up with solutions even though he was guiding my answers with respect.

He wore suits that were always a little too large for his slight frame. Maybe it was all that walking that kept him lean or maybe he was already sick.

I heard he died of cancer in the mid 1990s even though I haven’t found any confirmation of that fact online. I lost track of him after he’d retired and disappeared from my contacts at the corporation.

I can see that we would be friends now. If only I could share a good Italian espresso with him and laugh about how so many things have changed and what has stayed the same. He was a very good supervisor and an even better human being. Thank you Jim – you helped me so much – it was a great beginning to a wonderful career.

Barbara Schmidt