Dan Page

When Michael Sauri, a musician, started TriVistaUSA, in Arlington, Va., eight years ago, he knew little about the remodeling industry. But it didn’t take him long to see that there was no reason to reinvent the wheel. “I was used to learning from other people, and it makes sense to me that if you want to learn something, you sit next to someone who’s better at it than you are.”

Sauri began talking with people about growing his business. One was a former guitar student who was also a successful home builder, another was a singer/songwriter whose day job included managing a $1 billion cell phone account. “At first they were paying me for my musical expertise, and then I was asking them business questions,” Sauri says. Once he got further along with his company, Sauri sought out veteran remodelers. At a local National Association of the Remodeling Industry meeting he connected with Dave Merrill, owner of Merrill Contracting & Remodeling. After a year or so of taking them to breakfast or lunch, Sauri says, he realized these people were his “mentors.”

Meaningful Connection

For Sauri, becoming a “mentee” was nearly happenstance. But it’s worthwhile to make it a formal process. There are several important attributes to look for in a mentor says Kathy Kram, Shipley Professor in Management at Boston University and the co-author of The Handbook of Mentoring at Work. A mentor should:

  • Have good emotional intelligence. The ability to know one’s own feelings and empathize with another and build healthy social relationships.
  • Have a desire to be helpful.
  • Know your occupation well. “They should have experience that you know you’d benefit from hearing about.”

It’s important to know yourself and what you want, Kram points out. Personal development or career advancement? “Start with a self-assessment,” she says, “so you can look at characteristics and say this or that is more important than something else.”

Pay it Forward

Mentors get “no direct or immediate payback,” Merrill says. “It’s just nice to help people and to help raise the level of professionalism in the industry.” Merrill had met a more experienced remodeler at NARI when he first started out. “He was extremely generous with his expertise and contacts. I thought, ‘If I were ever in the position to do this, I would.’”

Merrill helped Sauri find a bookkeeper and encouraged him to enter the REMODELING Big50 (which he did; he was in the class of 2011). Sauri appreciates the time his mentors have given him. “If you show up and think you know it all already, then don’t bother,” Sauri says. “A mentor is someone you need to ‘earn.’” —Stacey Freed, senior editor, REMODELING.

More REMODELING articles about mentoring:

From Surviving to Thriving: In moving your company from survival mode to thriving mode, don't feel you have to go it alone. Coaches and mentors can make all the difference for affecting change

Training Ground — Mentoring interns is good for you and for the industry

Mentoring Lessons: What one remodeler learned from spending time with a new home builder