Alan Foster, mentor & employer partner: Unlocking the door to successful leadership

Alan is a partner at ghSMART & Company, and a true believer in the power of mentoring for helping young people succeed. Some of Alan’s most important life decisions have been guided by a mentor, and he is pleased to have seen over half of his team instantly sign up to mentor when 1MM launched in London this Autumn.

Please can you tell me a bit about yourself?

I grew up in South London, my mum was a social worker and my dad was a civil servant.  I studied Economics at university though I found its portrayal of hyper-rational people frustratingly unrealistic.  After graduation, I was a consultant with Bain & Company in London and New York (which means I have finely honed PowerPoint skills).  About 10 year ago I had the realisation that I was much more drawn to solving ‘who’ problems than ‘what and how’ problems, and set out to find a company that did just that.

Today I head up ghSMART’s European business – we are a mix of business consultants and psychologists who help our clients solve their most challenging leadership problems with confidence. About half of our work is helping boards and investors to appoint the right CEO. Our clients today are concentrated in the private sector but we try to spend about 10% of our time helping clients, pro bono, in the social sector.

Why did you want your company want to get involved with 1MM?

From the moment I learned about 1MM I knew we had to get involved. When I mentioned it to our team the response could not have been better: over half of the team signed up with 1MM.

I am fortunate to have benefitted from strong mentors growing up and across my career.  I only took some of my bigger career decisions like relocating my family 10,000 miles to start up our company in a new market, after getting advice from my mentor.

We recently completed a ten-year study on what the best leaders do differently.  Interestingly the most successful CEOs came from a background that emphasised teamwork and mentoring.

When we looked at the data in more detail, those who get ahead and those who are more likely to get picked are those who stand out not necessarily because of powerful mentors, but early on in their career, their lives and sometimes even in school, they become mentors to others.  1MM offers a way to help us all become such a mentor to those we are unlikely to otherwise be connected with.

What challenges do you see facing young people/our future workforce?

In our line of work, we get to hear stories from senior leaders about their childhoods and careers.  It is striking to hear how some have been coached and guided from a young age on how to succeed professionally while so many others are drifting along while trying to figure it out without help. Both groups can be equally talented but end up with widely different career outcomes.

What would you say to someone who is considering partnering with 1MM?

Based on our experience this year, we would absolutely recommend partnering and engaging with 1MM.