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News & Media
Nov 5, 2019

Finding Your “Fit” with the Board of Mentors

On Oct, 25, four special Kenan Scholars program mentors – Adam Mersereau, Bill Bell, Caroline Lindley and Mike Norona – shared advice and wisdom with junior Kenan Scholars.

The four mentors discovered commonalities in their journeys to find “fit” in their careers.

Caroline Lindley, vice president of sales and marketing at Lindley Mills, found her fit with her 10th-generation family-owned business, which was established in 1755 in Graham, North Carolina. A Kenan-Flagler alum with both a B.S. and an MBA degree, Caroline said her journey included an internship at the Biltmore Company. Never thinking she’d enjoy sales, and having been supported by her family over an initial decision not to join the family business, Lindley was surprised to discover a love of sales at Biltmore, which she then turned into a career with Lindley Mills. She advised the scholars, “Don’t do something just to do it. Do something you enjoy.”

Adam Mersereau, professor of operations at Kenan-Flagler Business School, jokingly described how his fit as a professor came from an unexpected love of the subject he teaches. “I never thought I would be teaching business stats,” said Mersereau. Yet after several career twists, it turned out to be a great fit for him.

Former Durham Mayor Bill Bell had a similar experience. He recounted early advice from a mentor not to “ride two horses at one time” and to choose between an existing career with IBM and politics. Bell decided to devote himself to the public welfare and opted for political service. He ended up serving as a Durham County Commissioner for 25 years and as the mayor of Durham for 17 years.

Kenan Scholar and moderator Nikita Billman commented on what she learned from Bell’s story, saying, “The mentors really shed light on how your skill set can be applied in various ways, and how experience in one sector can actually shed light on another sector. For example, Mayor Bell had experience at IBM and applied what he knew about organizing people to his role as mayor of Durham.”

For each Kenan Scholar, finding his or her fit in the public sector, private industry or a combination of both is a critical part of the journey. Mentor Mike Norona, a retired Fortune 500 CFO and member of the Kenan Flagler Board of Advisors, however, said the lines are blurred. “There are a lot more similarities in the public and private sectors than we give credit to,” said Norona.

Discovering how the public and private sectors can work together to solve real-world challenges is what Kenan Scholars strive to do, whether it’s in healthcare, affordable housing, gender pay equity, corporate responsibility, environmental sustainability, financing small business ventures or something else. Having a mentor who thoughtfully discusses the relationship between sectors and shares how they found their fit is a great help. As Billman said, “I wouldn’t be here today without my mentors. They are my rock. [They] tell you the tough stuff that you may not want to hear but know is good for you, and they celebrate you when you achieve. Having someone who has been in your shoes before and is successful gives me confidence that I should listen to their advice too!”

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