Mentor Interview: Mark Young


Mark Young, Upnotch Mentor, is the Executive VP and Chief Marketing Officer at GSTV, a data-driven national video network. An industry veteran, he’s held similar positions at Sysomos, Microsoft Advertising, and ClearChannel. He is an expert at directing communications, leading marketing teams, fostering brand strategy, and has mastered the ins and outs of B2B and B2C marketing.


What is your superpower & why?


I grew up in an era of jack of all trades, you kind of could do a little bit of everything well, but I would say marketing strategy is definitely my superpower.


How long have you been working with your mentor? How did you find each other?


I've been working with mentors, probably way too long. 30+ years. My first one was my boss at Wilson sporting goods. My second one was a senior person at Microsoft that I just happened to play hockey with, who really helped me understand as a consumer marketer how to get ahead and get the right things done at Microsoft. The third, who is the head of a large global advertising agency, was a partner of Microsoft. He's always been there to help me how to get the best out of an agency.


When was a time a mentor helped you accomplish a specific goal?


The first time a mentor helped me accomplish a specific goal was at Wilson with my mentor there. I was designing a new Golf Club. The CEO didn't like it. My mentor was very instrumental in helping me understand the CEO's point of view. I could reframe my argument as to why it was the right idea, in a way that would actually get it accomplished. Some of the best advice I've ever gotten was in that scenario actually. It was “it's okay to be right, but if you can't get the right thing done then who cares?”


When was a time a mentor pushed you further than you thought was possible?


The Microsoft mentor. When I was there, in the late 90s, it was a grind. You really couldn't work from home with internet speeds and dial-up. He pushed me in two different directions. One was to work out how I could accomplish what I wanted to accomplish, even if it was going to take a lot of work. And two, how I could do some of that work at home, so I could still spend time with my family. And of course, how to present that in a way to hopefully get the idea pushed through.


How has a mentor accelerated your career?


I believe all three of my core mentors have accelerated my career. They've helped me identify opportunities, identify strengths and identify weaknesses.


Any advice a mentor has given you that you can share with us today?


The best advice I ever got from a mentor was, if you're going to change careers, whether that's within the same company or a new company, make sure you can answer two questions:

  1. Do I love the job enough to do it for a new manager?

  2. Do I love the manager enough that if they asked me to do a different job, I would do it?


What is the most unusual thing you've had to ask a mentor?


The most unusual thing I've ever asked a mentor was at Microsoft. My career was going well. My daughter was in Chicago and I was in Barcelona, working. I needed to take sole custody of her and be a single parent. I asked all three of my mentors at one point or another, how do I maintain the pace I'm working at and be a single father?


How would you praise, give gratitude or show gratitude towards your mentors, if they were listening?


I would tell all three of my mentors that they've really helped me! Not just at work, they've helped me as a human being. They've helped me understand what I'm willing to give up of myself and what I'm not willing to give up. It's not the same for everybody. I think that's the best thing I could tell them. Minus buying them dinner and nice wine!


What makes a great mentee in your opinion?

  1. Be Prepared. Don't ask me for 30 minutes as a mentor, with no agenda. Give me time to prepare so I can help you efficiently!

  2. Be Honest.

  3. Be Really Good at Following Up. Sometimes as a mentee in the early sessions, you may feel a connection that may or may not be there. If you follow up though, I'm going to stay with you.


Why do you mentor?


Deep down, I always wanted to be a teacher. I think it fills a void in me. Within a company, I believe it just makes the company better. I believe in the old adage that 85% of the people you hire are good hires. But a lot of the times when it goes wrong it's down to the fact that they're in the wrong job or they have the wrong manager. You have a lot of attrition that you shouldn't have. Helping to resolve situations like that is another reason I mentor.


What topics do you like to mentor on?


I like strategy. Trying to understand the consumer/customer - take your pick of terms -and what their mindset is. Also, trying to give the mentee tools to solve the problem and not solve the problem for them.


What is the strangest thing that you've been asked by a mentee?


To find them a job in another company. Not that I didn't help them, I certainly did. But I just thought it was strange as they would admit to me that they wanted to leave the company.


How would your mentees praise you if they were listening now?


By saying I was always there. That I prioritize them. I think the most mentees I've ever had at one time was five. I prepared them for what was next in their careers. I'm proud to say that they're all successful.


Tell us about a time when you helped a mentee solve a big challenge?


One time, I helped by giving my mentee advice on how to present an idea, how to take feedback, and how to get their idea through the process. At Microsoft, I remember helping someone with game-changing ideas to pitch up the chain. I helped them prepare those decks and really work on their presentation skills.


What does success mean to you?


Success, to me, means really balancing a great personal life and a great career.


Creating an amazing vision and executing it doesn't always mean you're going to make a lot of money. One of the original CFOs at Microsoft was on a flight with me to New York... I didn't know him, I was way too Junior. He just said, “You're going to work as hard to fail as you are to succeed, so you might as well succeed.”


Which seems simple at the time, but not easy to do.


How do you help people succeed if they're going to work just as hard?


The best advice I got on success was to create a company or a product - take your pick - and create it as if it's the only place the next three generations of your family could work. Create a sustainable business, culture and environment that your kids, their kids, and their kids would want to work at, and be financially sound doing it.


When did you know you achieved career success?


I think if you believe you've achieved success, you haven't. I was fortunate enough to play hockey growing up and I get to spend some time with some NHL players and coaches. One of the coaches once said, “The minute you think you've caught the bus, it's because the bus hit you.”


What's the secret behind your success?


The secret to success is different for everybody. For me, it was one of my mentors that told me you can be smart, you can have an MBA or a PhD -take your pick of degrees - but if you're not willing to outwork everybody, you're not going to succeed.


What advice would you give somebody who's feeling stressed or overwhelmed?


We all feel stressed and overwhelmed, you're not alone. We saw it this week with Simone Biles. Health is health. Whether it's physical or mental, it’s health. If you're feeling stressed and overwhelmed, speak up. Tell your manager, tell your co-workers, tell your manager's manager, tell your friends and family. Don't try to just get through it yourself.


Did you ever have a moment, an embarrassing moment early on in your career where you were thought, “Oh my gosh, this could this could be the end of it.”


I think anyone who worked at Microsoft had several moments where you think you're saying something incredibly smart, but you're in a room full of really smart people and sometimes they just know more than you do! They come back with something that you just can't answer. So sure, all those moments rolled together. I could probably write a book of embarrassing moments!


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