ESA’s Mentorship Program Placing Young People on Inside Track

While there are no shortcuts to success, a groundbreaking industry program is placing enterprising young people on the inside track. Participants share how they were enriched by the inaugural year of ESA’s Mentorship Program.

Perhaps more than any other high-tech industry, electronic security has been glaringly deficient in offering eager and capable young people a formalized program to hone their leadership skills and boost their professional career aspirations.

While many dealer/integrator firms have reasonably thorough internal programs and there are numerous external educational and certification opportunities available, the prospects of gleaning broader, company-agnostic managerial- and executive-level insights and guidance have been slim to nil.

“Traditionally in the security space, you were only able to learn from the people who ascended the ladder in your company before you. This can be a challenge for the next generation as you are only exposed to one company and the experience that is shared,” says Robert Few, director of regulation compliance at Charter Communications.

“Rising leaders need to be able to connect with industry veterans outside of their immediate network and be exposed to other ways of approaching challenges, and the lessons learned from mistakes already made and corrected.”

This dilemma is finally abating thanks to the efforts of the Electronic Security Association (ESA).

Last year, as part of its Young Security Professionals (YSP) group, the organization established the ESA Mentorship Program focused on the key areas of professional development, philanthropy and government relations.

In 2016, 15 mentors and their protégés were paired based on developmental goals and areas of interest indicated in applications submitted months earlier.

Eligible mentees had to be under 45 years old and mentors had to be senior managers or above with a minimum of five years’ industry experience. Both had to be employed by an ESA member company.

Participants agreed to the nine-month requirements of meeting for a minimum of two hours each month (either in person or via phone/ video conference) and in person at one of three ESA events during the year.

Having just wrapped up the first year of a highly successful launch that culminated at the first YSP Rising Leaders Forum held last October in Washington, three sets of ESA Mentorship Program “graduates” and “instructors” were interviewed to share their experiences and benefits of engagement.

The full listing of the class of 2016 can be seen on the last page of this article.

According to Few, those who have taken part in the program say the undertaking has exceeded expectations, and most have been surprised by how much the old dogs are also learning from the new pups.

Brandon Freedman and George De Marco

How did you learn of the program? Ever been in a similar one?
Freedman: I learned of the ESA Mentorship Program while attending ESX. [ESA CEO] Merlin [Guilbeau] mentioned they were focusing on the YSP group and asked if I would be interested in applying to be part of the inaugural year.

In my first job with Stanley Black & Decker, I was in the management development program, which was along the lines of a mentorship program as well.

De Marco: I heard about the program through ESA, specifically the YSP program. And I had never previously participated in an official program like this one.

How did you become involved, and what inspired you to do so?

Freedman: I became involved with the YSP group when I started attending ESX on an annual basis. [Wayne Alarm Systems President] Ralph Sevinor has always been a mentor to me growing up and it was fantastic always having someone to talk to about new ideas or challenges I was facing.

In addition to Ralph, I always enjoyed learning from the industry veterans as they have so much industry knowledge. The one thing I thought I was missing, however, was creating relationships with peers in the early stages of their careers.

YSP and especially the Mentorship Program gave me access to both.

De Marco: I was invited by ESA to consider becoming a mentor. I thought it would be a great way to pass the baton about my business experience and industry perspective to the next generation.

In addition, I wanted to learn from the mentees how they approached critical thinking, business strategy, management and leadership, and career and personal development growth.

I also wanted to understand what is important to them in life, how they make decisions, the best format for engaging them in learning, and how they send and receive information.

As the mentor here, were you ever mentored by someone else?

De Marco: I believe everyone is a mentor or mentee all the time. In other words, there is ample opportunity to learn from various experts who have expertise in every facet of the industry.

So being mentored is a frame of mind. If you are always inquisitive on how to be a better business or industry person and improve your personal life, you should be taking on the role of mentee frequently.

How did the experience mesh with your expectations?
Freedman: When I first signed up for the Mentorship Program I did not know exactly what to expect. The curriculum and events they put on was more than anything than I could have ever imagined.

The networking, events, and education were like a mini MBA program.

De Marco: It completely confirmed my expectations. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of sharing lessons learned, but unexpectedly became the mentee on how the next generation approaches business and personal life.

RELATED: Inside Scoop at the ESA 2017 Leadership Summit

What were the most valuable information and things you learned?
Freedman: For me, the most beneficial part of the mentorship program was the ability to talk to my mentor about how different strategies worked for him. Many of the challenges we discussed, George has already experienced.

This allowed me to really learn from his experiences and avoid some of the pitfalls I would have had to navigate otherwise.

De Marco: I learned that my mentee is passionate about his career and the industry, and that the world will be just fine with leaders such as him at the helm – very smart, articulate and a thirst for knowledge.

What practical “tools” did you gain to advance your career?

Freedman: My mentor and I talked a lot about technology you can utilize to be more productive and organized personally and professionally. Apps like LastPass and Wunderlist have helped me substantially.

What surprised you the most about the experience?

Freedman: How much time and effort all of the mentors put into making the program as great as it was. Pretty much all of the mentors have spent a majority of their careers in the security industry and want to see the next generation of leaders start to take on more responsibility.

The mentors were all very open and candid with mentees. It was incredible to see the passion they all had for the security industry and it really showed by how much time they dedicated to the program on top of their demanding jobs and other boards and committees they are part of.

De Marco: How I looked forward to spending time with my mentee. The sessions were engaging and provided a timely pause in our busy lives to take stock of a wonderful learning experience for both mentee and mentor.

Is there an amusing or memorable incident that took place you could share?

The culminating event in Oregon was the most memorable. I am a very hands-on learner and while it was great discussing leadership and management, the events they had us participate in made everything “click” for me personally.

The videos they showed us from the group training and trust exercises caused me to really think about the kind of leader I want to be.

Would you recommend this program to friends or colleagues?

Freedman: I would highly recommend the mentorship program to everyone I know. We actually are sending our service manager, Shawn Crocker, be part of this year’s mentorship program.

De Marco: Yes! Not only will you pass on valuable information to the next generation, you will become a better leader, manager and mentor within your own organization as you interact and learn from your mentee.

Read on to learn more about ESA’s inaugural Mentorship Program!

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About the Author


Scott Goldfine is Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher of Security Sales & Integration. Well-versed in the technical and business aspects of electronic security (video surveillance, access control, systems integration, intrusion detection, fire/life safety), Goldfine is nationally recognized as an industry expert and speaker. Goldfine is involved in several security events and organizations, including the Electronic Security Association (ESA), Security Industry Association (SIA), Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA), ASIS Int'l and more. Goldfine also serves on several boards, including the SIA Marketing Committee, CSAA Marketing and Communications Committee, PSA Cybersecurity Advisory Council and Robolliance. He is a certified alarm technician, former cable-TV tech, audio company entrepreneur, and lifelong electronics and computers enthusiast. Goldfine joined Security Sales & Integration in 1998.

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