Game, set, perfect match: five top mentor and mentee partnerships

03 July 2015 -


Questions over tennis ace Rafa Nadal's reliance on his uncle as coach have highlighted the importance of mentors in management and leadership

Jermaine Haughton

Tennis star Rafael Nadal’s crushing and unexpected defeat at the hands of Dustin Brown at Wimbledon this week spurred calls from former champion John McEnroe for the Spaniard to drop his uncle Toni from the top of his coaching team. Crashing out of SW19 in four sets, the loss extended Nadal’s fall from grace, with the player winning just two tour titles this year and failing to surpass the quarter-finals at any Grand Slam.

Nadal’s dip in form has coincided with a number of younger, fresher players – such as French Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka – pushing their way into the upper reaches of the world rankings, and McEnroe says it’s time for Rafa to enlist a new coach and arrest the decline. Speaking on his BBC Radio Five Six-Love-Six programme, the onetime brat of the circuit said: “[Toni] has done a magnificent job since [Nadal] was a little kid and told him it was a good thing to go left-handed – but clearly at this stage it would appear that some fresh ideas would be in order.”

Whether or not he chooses to cut Toni from his crew, Nadal’s time with his uncle has yielded an exceptional 14 Grand Slam wins during a largely stellar career. But on a wider level, Toni’s mentorship reflects the value of role models and coaches in elevating protégés to superstars across all areas of life – especially management and leadership. Here are five examples of killer mentor and mentee combos that have shaken up the business world…

1. Sid Sheinberg and Steven Spielberg

Long before Saving Private Ryan or Jurassic Park appeared on the big screen, Spielberg was a fledging amateur filmmaker – that is, until then-MCA/Universal chief Sid Sheinberg discovered and mentored the Cincinnati native to box-office glory. The 1968 production of Amblin – a short film about two hitchhikers – proved a watershed moment, with Sheinberg offering Spielberg a seven-year contract after watching the film. An active presence throughout Spielberg’s career, Sheinberg defended his protégé when Jaws ran over-budget in 1970, and was rewarded with a £302 million-grossing blockbuster. Sheinberg also alerted the filmmaker to Thomas Keneally’s Holocaust novel Schindler’s Ark, which led to the director to win his first Academy Award with Schindler’s List. (Source)

2. Jack Welch and Jeff Immelt

Not only had Welch’s direct, aggressive management style driven General Electric to be the world’s most valuable firm by market capitalisation by the time he left in 2001 – it also spawned a number of future industry leaders. Immelt, handpicked by Welch to succeed as GE chief, is a prime example. Joining the firm as a Dartmouth College graduate in 1982, Immelt was soon taken under Welch’s wing and moulded into an eloquent, decisive and driven leader. Rising above the shadow of his predecessor, Immelt has restructured the firm to revive its technology and manufacturing arms, as well as expanding General Electric internationally, with around 55% of its revenues now coming from abroad. (Source)

3. Warren Buffett and Ben Graham

While a teenage Buffett was churning through books on the stock market in 1949, he picked up a copy of Benjamin Graham’s new title The Intelligent Investor. He later called it the moment he “found a god”. When Buffet later studied under Graham at Columbia University, the pair formed a strong bond, which Buffett claims honed his grasp of the principles of putting money behind an enterprise – such as investing in the quality of a company’s products and services. Now the billionaire behind Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett owns Geico: the firm formerly run by his mentor. (Source)

4. Dr Dre and Eminem

Rapper and producer Dr Dre signed then-unknown Detroit rapper Eminem to his Aftermath/Interscope label back in 1998, and the pair haven’t looked back since – becoming one of the most recognisable mentor-mentee duos in music history. With Dre’s reputation in the Hip Hop genre consolidating in the years following his exit from pioneering rap group NWA, his industry relationships and marketing skills were essential for building Eminem’s sinister “Slim Shady” persona, giving him enough exposure to sell five million copies of his debut album The Marshall Mathers LP – and win a Grammy. Not content with being a recording artist, Eminem has followed his mentor’s lead by establishing his own label, Shady Records, with manager Paul Rosenberg – plus his own media channel, Shade 45, on Sirius XM Radio. (Source)

5. Philip Green and Simon Cowell

After Cowell scooped the illustrious Mipcom Personality of the Year award in Cannes last year, he credited his rise from jobbing record executive to one of the world’s most influential media moguls to friend, mentor and Arcadia boss Sir Philip Green. As Cowell rose to stardom on both sides of the Atlantic, he aligned his feel for the future of entertainment with veteran retailer Sir Philip’s cash-conscious business nous to set up SyCo Entertainment. In a joint venture with Sony, the company owns a series of high-profile television and music brands and formats generating millions in revenue annually, providing Cowell with a £300m personal fortune. (Source)

Find out about CMI’s mentoring programme CMI Achieve.

Image credits

Sid Sheinberg: Joe Seer, Steven Spielberg: s_bukley, both courtesy of Shutterstock.

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