Mentors are critical to getting ahead. Let multibillionaire Robert Smith tell you how he found his mentors.

OPINION: In this clip from our interview on "Masters of the Game," Smith says mentoring was critical to his rise to billionaire status.

Credit: Photo Astrid Stawiarz / Getty Images

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

One of the most important things you can learn from multibillionaire Robert Smith is how to create mentors. Being mentored was critical to Smith’s ascent. A mentor can help you learn real work skills that can help you rise. When you learn how to inspire someone to mentor you, then you are learning how to learn. The more you know, the more unstoppable you are. There are few who are better to learn from than Smith.

Smith grew up as a talented engineer, but when he got to Goldman Sachs, he realized that the place to be was the mergers and acquisitions department, aka M&A. That’s where Goldman advises major companies on how to purchase and absorb other companies. That was the place to get really rich. But, Smith said, the skills to be in M&A are not taught in business school so he had to figure out how to create a mentor who could help him. So how did he learn how to excel in M&A?

Creating a mentor can be simple. Find people who are older and more experienced than you and are far ahead of you in your field. Find a way to open up a relationship and then ask them questions that will give them a chance to share their brilliance. Many older people love to share game with younger folks, especially when the younger person is shaping the moment as a one way conversation based on their respect for the knowledge of the older person. 

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When Smith needed to learn about M&A, he created a weekly mentorship program. Every Friday at lunchtime, a leader in the M&A program would come through and talk to the less experienced team members about the deals they had completed, teaching them how to do M&A. Smith built a mentorship program that would allow experienced people to come by and get an ego boost from teaching their skills. The program seemed magnanimous — it would surely help everyone at his level — but, of course, it was ultimately to help him grow. 

By creating relationships and putting experienced people in position to tell him what they knew, thus stroking their ego, he was able to learn how to function in M&A and become a very wealthy person. Your destination may or may not be extreme wealth, but when you can speak to older people in your field in a tone of, hey, how would you deal with this challenge or how did you make that happen, you may find that they’re honored to teach you because from their perspective, they’re telling you how smart they are and everyone loves to lead that conversation. 

To learn more from Robert Smith, stream our very insightful conversation on “Masters of the Game” on TheGrio Cable Network.


Toure is a host and writer at TheGrio. He hosts the TheGrio TV show “Masters of the Game,” and he created the award-winning podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and its upcoming sequel “Being Black: The ’70s.” He is also the creator of “Star Stories” and the author of eight books, including “Nothing Compares 2 U an oral history of Prince.” He also hosts a podcast called “Toure Show.” He is also a husband and a father of two.