Mentor Series: Skip Stocks


I did an interview recently with someone who asked me about the importance of mentors. My answer was very quick to say that mentors have been incredibly important in my life, at home or in business, and that I am truly greatful for some of the wonderful people I have had the benefit of mentoring me.

I then realized - you know, I'm not sure if many of these great people even realized they were being mentors or that they had so positively impacted my life. I made myself promise to rectify that situation. This post is the start of that process.


Skip Stocks is a "Former Marine". Do not call him an "ex-marine", or you will learn about their comraderie that extends well past the bounds of the length of their service. He was my boss at Van Waters & Rogers. 

I should not have had the job I did at Van Waters & Rogers. I was 19 years old, fresh out of high school. I was successful getting a job interiew at VW&R because I had HTML in my resume. In 1996 this meant a lot, I suppose. Skip's predecessor Charles Rice happened to be a huge Star Wars fan. This was very fortunate for me as the only tie I had that I could wear to the job interview was a Star Wars tie. Needless to say, I got the job based on my sense of fashion. For those of you who know me this is not the ideal way for me to get hired.

Charles left shortly after I joined the company. I still remember the meeting invite to "Meet Skip" at a restaurant the day he started. I thought he was kind of odd, given that he had come from sales (I believed at the time that all sales people were one step below daemons).

Skip forged a team of younglings and built a web team that to this day I am still proud to say I was a part of - he was an amazing, pioneering leader in 1996. It is no suprise to me that he has gone on to do great things in his career (Skip's LinkedIn profile is here).

I remember Skip playing Quake 2 with us. I remember that he would let us play Quake 2 at lunch, until the rest of the IT department complained that THEY couldn't play Quake 2. I remember his fight to try to defend his team, and even though he lost the battle, we respected him for trying.

I remember Skip saving my life with corn bread after I "Met the Man" and foolishly tried some Louisiana Hot Sauce dished out a bubbling frying pan from a cajun cook. Never. Again. 

I remember Skip saying to someone in the car that "David is the quickest learner I have ever met, and I've met some quick learners in my time." I do not know if he knows that one simple statement has carried me through many times of self doubt. It was only an offhand comment in the car, but it has been a focal point of success for me. 

I remember Skip giving me a raise and then later witholding it because my performance was lack luster. I remember being very angry at him for this; I suspect he did it because of seeing the potential in me and not to be mean. I think Skip pushed me harder than some might have because he knew I was capable of more - and he was right. That didn't keep me from resenting it at the time.

I remember Skip telling me that in business the best dressed person in the room is assumed to be the boss - I have passed this advice down to others in my time; that doesn't prevent me from wearing T-Shirts to the office now and again, but I have learned there are times to look and act professional.

I remember Skip seeing a car at the side of the road stalled. I remember him calling 911 and reporting it. I probably asked why he would do that when someone probably already had done so. I remember him commenting that he hoped that if his wife Josie had a similar problem that some other person would call in for his wife. I now err on the side of calling and remember this advice. 

I remember suggesting to Skip that we should move our entire team onto the T1 line at the office. I remember him thinking that was silly. I remember Skip bragging about getting 3.6kps downloads on his 33.6k modem at home. I remember showing Skip a download on the T1 line, and him going to his office to get his computer switched to the T1 network once the speed hit 150kps download.

A few other Skipisms include:

  1. "It's not the years it's the mileagle" - I have often quoted this one
  2. "There will always be work" - still a lesson I have to learn
  3. "If you want to be a C-suite executive, you should do a stint in sales" - I never really understood this until recently but until you've worked a role that requires you to make a customer happy it is difficult to function at a high level strategic way in a company
  4. You need competition - good competitors make you stronger
  5. Profit margin is more important than revenue volume
  6. A corporate American express card - "With no preset spending limit!" could do magical things

Skip kicked my ass repeatedly (not literally, although I am sure some days he wished he could). He pushed me harder than I thought fair, and then pushed some more. He gave me great advice. He was a natural leader who earned the respect of his team. He is a wonderful human being.

In particular I remember his comment about me being the smartest learner he knows. It amazes me that one small moment like that can make a true impact in someone's life. 

You should always take any opportunity offered to you to help mentor someone. You never know when a heart felt comment, action or deed will positively imapct the outcome of someone's life, career or Outlook.

Posted via email from David Billson's Posterous