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February, 2024

Mentorship rewired: Why ex-GroupM chief, McDonald’s and ANZ CMO Mark Lollback is creating a ‘global village’ to build more successful modern execs – big hitters on board

What you need to know:

  • Former CMO of ANZ, McDonald’s and CEO of GroupM, Mark Lollback, has taken the wrappers off his new venture, Global Mentorship, a play at upending traditional one-to-one mentoring in order to better equip modern executives.
  • According to various global sources, as well as The Marketing Academy scholars and CMO Fellowship hopefuls, mentoring is one of the most valuable learning and development vehicles available to executives today, stretching from Gen Z to the c-suite and CEO level.
  • Global Mentorship launches with 28 mentors from across the globe, including both CMO and marketer-now-board executives, but is also pitching at a broader array of executives and has recruited mentors from many industry categories as well as strategy, HR, technology and publishing backgrounds.
  • With an emphasis on confidentiality and trust, as well as an external, commercialised approach, Lollback is hoping to provide the “global village” modern executives need to be more successful as well as provide a mechanism to better retention and productivity of staff.

Bigger network effects

It’s rather fitting a marketer and executive of Lollback’s standing and stamp would take the old African proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ and flip it on its head to create a new business that proclaims ‘It takes a global village to raise a successful modern executive’.

This power of collective wisdom is exactly what Lollback is promising to deliver under his latest venture, Global Mentorship. The culmination of research conducted over the past six months, the new business model is based around a platform connecting a handpicked, global assortment of experienced leaders and executives – initially from Lollback’s Filofax – with mentees wanting to find someone willing to advise and support them professionally with discretion.

Global Mentorship officially launches this week with 28 mentors boasting 200+ company logos under their belts. Unsurprisingly, several Australia-based marketing chiefs and agency leaders feature in that mix including former Coles CMO, Lisa Ronson, ex-Google VP marketing, Aisling Finch, ex-Vanguard Investments CMO, Louise Eyres, former GroupM chairman, John Steedman, and Boomtown chief and former SCA sales chief, Brian Gallagher.

With places in The Marketing Academy’s APAC CMO Fellowship Program providing mentoring, coaching and executive development understood to be significantly oversubscribed first time around, and mentoring highlighted as the most valuable element of its flagship scholarship program, there’s clearly pent-up demand for this kind of connection across the marketing, media and agency fraternity.

But equally, Global Mentorship has a wealth of global executives with board, CEO, technology and strategic experience signed up. These include award-winning HR leader, Cindy Grass; former strategic guru, Jon Steel; crisis reputation expert, Robbie Vorhaus; and VC advisor, George Thomas. Lollback says his first client in fact isn’t from the marketing sphere, but looking for technology executive advice. All are being paid for their time.

The twist on mentoring Lollback is striving for is to open up a model historically grounded in one-to-one interactions that are driven by mentors, and instead empower mentees to choose multiple mentors on their own terms.

“If you really want to be a successful executive today, you really need access to a global network,” says Lollback. “This is about how we turn one-on-one mentoring, which is traditionally done on an individual level, into something more powerful for the mentee.”

The problem with mentors

Lollback quotes a whack of stats to back up the premise of growing demand for mentoring in executive leadership and development and why it’s so useful. Here’s one: Mentoring has become the fourth-most highly regarded learning and development strategy for HR executives globally, up two places in two years, and was the number one program area in LinkedIn’s 2023 Learning Report.

“All the science says if you have this concept of your own personal board outside the company, you’ll make better, more creative decisions and you’ll have more impact on the business – no questions asked,” he says. “My intent is simple: How do I increase the incidents of mentoring and how do I increase the impact of mentoring. It is so powerful – the data here is really strong.”

An extensive Sun Systems study between 1996 – 2009 across 7,300 mentoring pairs contrasted with a test cell of unmentored employees found mentored staff five times more likely to get promoted. They also performed at 2X the rate of the general Sun employee population, experienced more salary increases, were happier, and even stayed slightly longer (72 per cent versus 49 per cent). Sun calculated the ROI on mentoring to be 1,000 per cent or greater.

Bringing it to younger generations, Oliver Nazarene University figures quoted by the Harvard Business Review show 79 per cent of millennials and 76 per cent of Gen Zers believe mentoring is crucial to career success.

The problem, Lollback says, is mentoring hasn’t been done well. While more than seven in 10 US Fortune 500 companies have mentor programs, program failure is rife. According to Lollback, a common problem is many mentor initiatives are internal programs that don’t inspire trust, or involve mentors who either don’t want to be mentors, are not chosen by the mentee as suitable for their needs, lose momentum, or lack training and process.

“That’s why many of the people I’ve talked to said they hate mentoring,” Lollback says. By contrast, Global Mentorship’s focus is on “real people and real execs as mentors, not the theorists”.

“Most mentors – and I’m not being dismissive of them – are professional mentors, have written books and never worked practically in these jobs. They’re very focused on people, which is great, but they can’t share war stories. They can’t talk about how it was to manage the board, chair, staff, teams and culture,” Lollback continues.  

“What we’re building is a network of diverse leaders that have scars, real experience, depth, knowledge. And they want to be mentors – that’s key. The network is by invitation only, they’re being screened and interviewed. Some CEOs I’ve spoken to have said ‘Mark, I have to be honest with you, I’d be a fucked mentor’, and I agree. But some people really believe in this, are passionate about it, and genuinely want to pay it forward.”

Other criteria for mentors includes proven leadership in the field, plus deep industry knowledge and experiences across diverse companies, sectors, role types, responsibilities and geographies.

“I don’t believe age or tenure is the definition of experience – a 25-year-old who’s run a startup has more experience of running a startup than a 50-year-old who has never done one. It’s more about experience,” Lollback comments.

On top of his curated network, Lollback has devised frameworks, a mentor’s code of conduct, documentation, summaries of the latest mentoring theory and a product structure and matchmaking capability oriented around a mentee-first approach.

“The world is nuts, globalisation has changed everything, technology is changing everything and there’s a massive issue with talent around the world. If ever there was a time to invest in people, and to help your people be more productive, now’s the time to do it,” he says.  

All the science says if you have this concept of your own personal board outside the company, you’ll make better, more creative decisions and you’ll have more impact on the business – no questions asked. My intent is simple: How do I increase the incidents of mentoring and how do I increase the impact of mentoring. It is so powerful – the data here is really strong.

Mark Lollback, founder, Global Mentorship

Lollback’s battle scars

On a personal level, and two-and-a-half years on from leaving his role as CEO of GroupM, Lollback says he wanted to do something that “was a lifestyle job, is about paying it forward, is really people focused, and is something that could transform and have a positive impact.”

There are some real war stories from Lollback’s background fuelling his desire to bring a practical lens to executive mentorship and build trustworthy connections. He admits he’s “gone to hell and back in the process of reinventing myself” over the course of his career, and knows the power of sharing such stories with others.

Lollback has been the through the experience of being fired, losing his CMO role at ANZ more than a dozen years ago before going on to become the CMO of McDonald’s Australia, then CEO of GroupM. He attributes his brutal departure from the bank to a case of looking for confidential internal advice on a difficult work environment and finding his trust misplaced.

“Having a code of conduct is a big thing – one of our key tenets is confidentiality and how to manage that,” he says. “As a mentor, I have to explicitly get your permission to share feedback forms or any notes I may take for another mentor you’re seeing.

“One of the most important things you want to believe is if you’re going to be so open, I can trust you. Trust is the backbone of this – building trust and not breaking it. Because that’s another problem with so many internal programs.”

People, products, pricing

Global Mentorship debuts with six programs, leading with the flagship ‘Senior Executive Personal Growth Program’. Mentees choose 8, 10 or 12 sessions with the ability to select multiple mentors. An initial discovery session with Lollback or his nominated ‘sponsor mentors’ will provide recommendations, but mentees can choose from the pool of mentors directly and online profiles. Lollback suggests there’s a sweet spot for mentoring of 6-10 sessions and adds the critical thing about mentoring is “it’s not forever”.

“You have to have closure and most of the research says you should work on two or three key things,” he says. “In my mind, and from talking to lots of people, the sweet spot is eight. If you’re more senior going through a massive change you may want to 10, but do them closer together.”

There are also two ‘High-Flyer Mentorship Program’ for mid-level executives of three or five sessions, plus a quarterly CEO/C-suite one-on-one sharing sessions offering.

“In my conversations with CEOs, many said they don’t want to talk to someone they necessarily know in the industry nor can they talk to the boss or their peers. We know more than anything they want to talk to another CEO and have nothing to lose by talking to them and ask questions,” Lollback says. 

“I used to do with this another senior executive myself – we had a confidential agreement to meet a couple of times per year and we’d just vent.”

A ‘Transition mentorship One on One Sessions’ program is pitched at those going through redundancy, career change or who have been fired from a role. Lollback additionally has his sights on delivering an outsourced version on the mentorship program, white labelling his digital platform and offering to help select a combination of external and internal mentors (80:20) for client organisations.

Pricing starts from $5,000, with the flagship program and 12 sessions costing $15,000 and other 8-10 session configurations sitting at $10,000-$12,000. Lollback expects up to 90 per cent of mentees will be corporate funded under learning and development budgets.  

“We have attacked pricing in three ways. Firstly, what we believe is acceptable in the market but not expensive – I can’t create a movement if it’s inaccessible and this is not meant to be a rich man’s game,” he says. “We’ll work with someone, make it easy with instalments if they’re really proactive. The second thing was comparing our service relative to what’s out there. It’s good value. It costs $12-$15k to do the Australian Institute of Company Directors [AICD] course and you get a piece of paper. It’s a lot of theory – you don’t get access to people like this.

“And out of respect to the mentors, I’ve done it bottom up based on their daily rate consulting. If they are going to do this, there’s an opportunity cost and these guys usually have a day rate. If we’re chewing up hours, it needs to be acceptable. And in our conversations, we’re right in the sweet spot: It’s a level where mentors will make the tradeoff to benefit the program.”

Lollback further contrasts the value of mentoring against having to constantly recruit unhappy executives. “When I was at GroupM, we had 4-5 full-time people plus headhunters, recruiting 300 people per year. Every time I replaced an MD – someone wins a big account and everyone is ringing everyone to recruit them – it was always for a salary of $30,000+ or more or otherwise it’d cost you $20,000+ to replace them,” he comments.

“Every study I’ve seen says the number one thing that keeps people is feeling they’re truly being developed and have a future. I could give you more money but you’d still be miserable and leave. It’s the company investing in people that motivates people and drives their happiness.”

It’s rather fitting Lollback brings its back to a Peter Drucker quote: “The last competitive advantage on the planet is people.”

“The human side of business is much more important than the commercial side. And the commercial side will be better for it. I’m a big believer in starting with the people,” he adds, “and the rest will come”.