From Norwegian Blunt to Chinese Blunt: My Mentorship Journey

By Matt Burgess

My Grandpa Sig was a blunt guy, and he had an expression, “No one will look out for you as much as you need to look out for yourself.” I’m the type of person who remembers things when they strike a chord with me, and I took Grandpa Sig’s expression to heart. But as much as we need to look out for ourselves, we inevitably rely on others to guide us.

I’ve been fortunate to have had a great run of mentors and select mentees who have guided me, and I’d like to call them out.

Bob Barrie, one of my partners at Rise and Shine and Partners and an absolute icon, has taught me the importance of possessing a finely tuned eye and ear. He misses nothing, and thinks about the meaning of everything. He’s incredibly circumspect.

The late John Olson, namesake of the OLSON agency, personified creative, wide-eyed enthusiasm and the belief that anything is possible.

Svengali-like mentor Tracy Wong, my former boss at WongDoody would admonish me with the expression “Doggy, Piggy, Horsey” emphasizing the importance of clear thought and direction. Tracy practiced a particular brand of what he called “Chinese blunt.” Much like my Grandpa Sig, Tracy had a way of cutting through the noise to convey the truth I needed, not necessarily wanted, to hear.

Pam Fujimoto, who hired me at WongDoody and at the time served as Executive Creative Director (ECD),  reinforced, like Tracy, the need for clarity of what we were trying to do and how to do it with great attention to detail.

Anthony Capetta, who I was excited to hire as an OLSON intern, has gone on to become a great creative force and entrepreneur and I couldn’t be prouder of him.

Colin Hodges, who I hired at Wong Doody, became an incredible addition and someone I was excited to see and work with each day.

I can’t say enough about Dion Hughes, a longtime fixture in the Twin Cities advertising community. It was Dion who told me, over a coffee and doughnut in Uptown, that I needed to accept the position at WongDoody, even though it meant uprooting two young children and a wife with a thriving career and moving to LA. Six years later Dion told me the opportunity to return home and join Rise and Shine and Partners was too good to pass up.

It was the strength of my partner Kevin DiLorenzo’s character and my implicit trust in him that reinforced my decision to join Rise and Shine and Partners. Kevin demonstrates daily how you can be resolute about doing things that grow the business while truly letting people know you care.

My eyes are wide open to the reality of this business and I’m willing to do and say and do the hard things – what I like to refer to as “Norwegian blunt,” in honor of both Tracy Wong and my Grandpa Sig.

To me, mentorship isn’t about providing specific direction; it’s a matter of setting up the opportunity so the mentee can realize it for themselves, the company, or the client. Some people focus on being happy professionally; I believe that’s wrong. Happiness is fleeting. A better aim is to be needed. That’s where the real satisfaction comes. Being the person that everyone at the agency wants on the account.

Yeah, I name-dropped a bit in this post. But I wouldn’t be where I am today without the people I noted, and more than a few that I didn’t. I’d be interested in hearing about mentors and mentees who have helped shape your career. Please drop their names in the post comments!

Pictured: Grandpa Sig and the print ad for Minnegasco that featured his Norwegian work ethic, reliability and blunt directness.
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