Caitlin Sykes

Your Business editor of the NZ Herald

Small business: Mentoring - Riaan Schmulian, Gravity Bureau

Riaan Schmulian is the Auckland-based CEO of creative advertising agency Gravity Bureau, which has offices in Auckland and Los Angeles.

Riaan Schmulian, CEO of Gravity Bureau.
Riaan Schmulian, CEO of Gravity Bureau.

How did you get involved in being mentored? Why?

Our global leadership team recognised that in order for us to meet the high performance goals we established with Gravity Bureau we needed multiple perspectives outside the industry to drive us towards our vision. We are a group of directors who believe wisdom comes from opening our doors and minds to new experiences. We worked with an international mentor, and then through my membership with the Entrepreneurs' Organisation we were able to become involved with another mentor here.

One mentor's primary track record involved an elite level of success in global finance and accounting. This mentor provided clear observation about maintaining fiscal growth and escalating our profit margins. Our second mentor provided a world-class level of expertise in systems thinking and leadership discipline, based on principles espoused by Peter Senge at MIT. This mentor provided one-on-one teaching with each director and with our growth officers to help shape the future picture of our organisation while making daily advances in our action planning.

What has being mentored done for you and your business?

The benefits have come in two forms. The first is in application - we can directly be inspired by the knowledge of our business mentors and immediately apply their advice or guidance to our operations. A key differentiator for our company is the weekly measurements in place for all departments to pinpoint stress points and areas of progress. The knowledge we gained from our mentors was able to be organised in a way that made us a stronger and healthier organisation on a weekly basis, rather than via the usual quarterly or annual assessments.

Mentorship has also helped our growth. Our organisation and the team members inside are specialists in design, branding, advertising and creative direction. So applying any broad strokes in leadership or operations can take much longer than expected and not impact growth immediately. With our implementation strategies and solid mentorship we have seen growth overnight. You have to commit to these new agile strategies and believe they are a part of the vision for growth. This commitment builds confidence. We have more confidence in our overall vision and the strategies we execute to realise that bigger picture.

It's been an eye opener for our organisation to be involved with two mentors with such wisdom and experience. We feel more capable of taking action and measuring success or failure and changing course. Having great mentors has enabled us to give room to experimentation and new forms of thinking that we may have avoided or been uncomfortable with.

How has the process challenged your thinking?

The primary challenge our mentors have offered is to rise above the day-to-day operations and have a clear perspective on the horizon. Vision can be discussed and hashed out to the point of boredom, but our mentors made vision-systems thinking apply to decisions we make every day.

Transitioning from being a reactive to a proactive organisation has been a daunting task that we enthusiastically bust our asses on achieving.

What factors do you think make for a good mentor/mentee relationship?

A good sense of humour, having a sense of trust that allows you to share things openly and honestly and a willingness from both parties to hear their experiences and current business' state of affairs.

I also think it's important the mentor understands that we are seeking counsel to make change and that they harness a belief in what our team is building and that their experience can influence our operation.

What advice would you have for other small business owners considering taking on a mentor?

The mentor isn't an employee; the mentor is a guidance counsellor. Take a moment and think about a time when you had an amazing teacher or coach; your mentor should be a championship coach for your business. Our mentors have offered invaluable reflection and motivation for our operations. And it's nice to get an outside point of view from a person who sees the world differently. My membership with the Entrepreneurs' Organisation has also been invaluable in this respect, teaching me to embrace alternate opinions and new ways of thinking.


Coming up in Small Business: Yahoo's Marissa Mayer may have been down on it, but remote working - or teleworking - is becoming a more viable option as technology improves. So how does it work in a small business? If you've got a story to share, please get in touch via the 'Read more by Caitlin Sykes' function below.

- NZ Herald

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