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Makings of a meaningful mentorship

How a brief meeting turned into major opportunities for a CBPA student and an alumna

Jill Johnson and Chris Waznik met at a Drake Connect event, and Johnson has been Waznik's mentor ever since

The introduction was the easy part — Drake facilitated that. But for Chris Waznik, turning a five-minute speed networking session with an alumna into an exciting mix of professional opportunities (interviews with industry leaders, lunch in one of the Twin Cities’ most prestigious establishments and not one but three internships related to his major), success was all about the follow up.

Waznik, a senior finance and accounting double major (with a concentration in law) from Spring Lake Park, Minn., attended a Drake Connect event in Minneapolis with the hope of honing his networking skills among encouraging alumni. The event introduced him to Jill Johnson, BN’82, GR’83, president of Johnson Consulting Services, who Waznik discovered had gone to school with his dad in Hudson, Wisc. back in the day.

Although the family connection was a conversation starter, Johnson says it’s Waznik’s desire for a meaningful mentorship that keeps the CBPA student on her radar.

“One of the things Chris has done brilliantly is he’s always reached out,” says Johnson.

Whether through e-mails to review his resumé, get-togethers over holiday breaks, discussions about what to do in an informational interview — Johnson was impressed by Waznik’s “coachability.” He consistently sought feedback to improve his preprofessional profile, demonstrating he appreciated her efforts to help him. From the student perspective, Waznik sees the value in heeding a mentor’s advice.

“Jill has won dozens of business awards, so I know she isn’t just giving me advice to hear herself talk,” he says. “She knows how to succeed, and she wants to open up doors for me to succeed as well. She also understands that I am a mentee, meaning I won’t get everything right the first time. But if I listen and fix a mistake, she recognizes and expresses her appreciation of the effort.”

Opening doors to professional opportunities

Johnson has been recognized one of the top women in her field by multiple industry publications.

When it came time to find an internship last spring, it was Johnson’s willingness to open up her personal network that led to Waznik securing three diverse opportunities related to finance. (Johnson was recently named by Finance & Commerce magazine as one of the 2011 Top Women in Finance and the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal has named her one of the 25 Women Industry Leaders.)

“A recommendation from a respected individual in business is indispensible, and Jill has been that person for me,” he says.

Waznik divided last summer among learning about the financial processes of a nonprofit organization at Washburn Center for Children; researching for the consulting firm EsseX Capital, LLC; and rotating through Meristem, a full-service wealth management firm that handles nearly $1.6 billion in assets.

“The Meristem internship program put me on a rotation type of schedule, which allowed me to work with people in the investment group, management and marketing group, client advisory area, and also the portfolio administration team,” Waznik says. “The opportunity to learn not only from upper level management but also from the client advisory personnel and senior associates was a huge benefit.”

Value for the mentor

A meaningful mentorship is not only a boon for students who are looking to get an edge on the competition. The relationships can also be valuable to the professionals who take time out for up-and-comers.

Johnson's love for mentoring young students comes from her own internship experiences.

“It’s all those big things — legacy and giving back on a personal level,” Johnson says. “When I’m sitting one-on-one with a student, it makes me reflect on who I was at that age and all of the dreams I’ve had — many of which I’ve manifested. Drake was a game-changer for me. For me to have that mirror back is a wonderful tool for self-measurement.”

Johnson’s approach to mentorship is broad as it is deep. For her, a mentorship can last a few minutes or a lifetime. It’s a positive relationship that can begin with a guest lecture in a CBPA class, a cup of coffee or a message on her favorite professional networking tool, LinkedIn.

“I believe you can be mentored by anybody you meet, if you’re open to it,” she says. “Sometimes, mentoring is championing. I’ve had a number of people who’ve been champions for me and opened doors for me over the years. This is my way of giving back.”