"Lessons Earned" by John Sanderson: Prioritize Great Mentors

by John Sanderson, CPA, CIMA® Sep 26, 2023 Lessons Earned

In this series, we share some of John Sanderson's favorite insights and anecdotes from his book, “Lessons Earned.” Throughout the book, John shares dozens of lessons he has learned, starting as a young boy and culminating with his leadership as founder and chairman of Sanderson Wealth Management.



When I graduated from Niagara University, Pat McGowan was the partner in charge at Arthur Young. He was the smartest tax practitioner in Western New York. If Pat told you something, it was right—he was simply that brilliant. Beyond his renowned intellect, he was ethical beyond reproach. Pat didn’t lie.

I was the top accounting student at Niagara University, and as such I had numerous job offers to consider as I approached graduation. Arthur Young offered me the lowest salary. But they also had the best boss in Pat. So I happily accepted a position with them.

Growing up, I was extraordinarily fortunate to have many different great role models and mentors, including my Grandpa, my Scoutmaster, and coaches all throughout high school. When you’re younger, you don’t typically get to choose your mentors. But when you’re looking for a job, you’re in the unique position of being able to pick who your mentor will be. It’s one of the most important decisions you’ll make.

Obviously, you’ll learn more from the right mentor, which means you’ll likely be happier working for them. But it’s not just about the technical skills of your craft. The right mentor will be a daily example of how to act in and out of the workplace. They will model how to manage people, resolve conflicts, treat clients, and, hopefully, enjoy a fulfilled life.

Think about who you want to be in five, ten, or 20 years—and look for someone who is already there. (And yes, in the second half of my career I’ve worked hard to be an exemplary mentor to others.)

You don’t have to limit your mentor search to your specific workplace, of course. For example, while I’ve mentored my son Justin, he has also found exceptional mentors and role models in other organizations and networking groups. That said, the people you work with side-by-side (or screen-by-screen, in some cases) will have the most consistent influence on your life, and your career.

When you’re considering different job opportunities, put a premium on having a role model. In my opinion, you should value it extremely highly—certainly more than your raw compensation, especially early in your career. Look for opportunities in organizations where leadership has a history of developing successful people. Your mentors will shape you, guide you, and vouch for you. By aligning yourself with them, you are building your reputation on top of theirs. So choose wisely.


Reprinted with permission from "Lessons Earned: Stories from a Lifetime Spent Fully Invested," copyright © 2022 John R. Sanderson.

This story reflects the author’s present recollections of people and experiences over time. Some identifying details have been changed and some dialogue has been recreated. While the author has made a concerted effort to provide accurate information, neither the publisher nor the author shall have any liability or responsibility for any adverse effects or loss caused, or alleged to be caused, directly or indirectly, by any information included in this story.