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The Celebrity Mentors Behind Mark Zuckerberg

How do you get to run one of the world’s most popular websites and be worth more than $25 billion, all before you’ve turned 30?

You need skill, creativity, motivation and a lot of other qualities, of course. But having a mentor also helps.

In Mark Zuckerberg’s case, make that several mentors. He’s connected with some of the biggest names in technology and media, and learned crucial lessons from each of them. Here’s the story of his mentors, and what we can learn from his example.

Passing the Baton

Mentoring is a great tool for individual self-improvement, but it’s also a mechanism for passing skills and knowledge down from generation to generation.

In Zuckerberg’s case, he learned from one of the greatest tech innovators of the previous generation: Steve Jobs.

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The two used to go for long afternoon walks around Palo Alto, and developed a strong friendship despite their business rivalry. One of the things that Zuckerberg learned from his mentor was how to hire good people. He even adopted a technique Jobs had used in his early days at Apple, getting to know new recruits by taking them out for long walks in the woods near the office. He also modeled Facebook’s f8 conferences on annual Macworld conferences.

As we saw in a previous post, Jobs himself benefited from the help and advice of various mentors, and was happy to pass on the benefits of mentoring to Zuckerberg and other protégés like Google’s Larry Page.

After Jobs’s death in 2011, Zuckerberg posted this moving tribute on his Facebook page:

“Steve, thank you for being a mentor and a friend. Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world. I will miss you.”

He also spoke about his mentor in a television interview, saying that the two of them shared similar values, and that Jobs admired him for not “selling out.”

“I know that’s one of the ways in which — in which we saw eye to eye on kind of what we were trying to do in the world,” Zuckerberg said.

Reverse Mentoring

Zuckerberg also developed a mentoring relationship with Washington Post chief executive Donald Graham, almost 40 years his senior.

The exchange here was mutual: Graham taught Zuckerberg about running a company, and in a classic example of reverse mentoring, Zuckerberg introduced Graham to the world of social media.

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They first met when Facebook was just a dorm-room business, and Graham was so taken with the idea that he wanted to invest immediately. Although the investment never happened in the end, the two became close.

When Facebook expanded in 2007, Zuckerberg emailed to say: “I’m a CEO now, and would like to shadow you and see what you do.”

Graham agreed, and invited his protégé to spend a few days going to executive meetings, exploring the newsroom and attending an investor conference. Zuckerberg learned about life as a CEO, and came to value Graham’s advice so much that he invited him onto Facebook’s board of directors.

After that, they continued the mutually beneficial relationship, gaining insight into each other’s very different worlds.

“Don will have ideas and questions that he’ll want to bounce off Mark and similarly Mark takes counsel from Don,” said a person close to the Graham family. “They have a very close relationship that focuses on business issues and dilemmas.”

As well as Jobs and Graham, Zuckerberg has also taken advice and guidance from many different people over the years. One venture capitalist said that in addition to money, Zuckerberg asked for an introduction to Bill Gates. He was always looking for opportunities to connect with and learn from people he admired, whether as part of a long-term mentoring relationship or for one-off advice.

What It Tells Us

Here’s what we can learn from the mentoring of Mark Zuckerberg:

⊕   Successful people often seek out the best mentors, and listen to advice from many different sources.

⊕   It makes sense to have different mentors for different areas of your life and career. Zuckerberg learned about being a technology innovator from Steve Jobs, and about being a CEO from Donald Graham.

⊕   Your mentor doesn’t have to be from your own industry: successful partnerships often involve people who appear to be very different.

⊕   Reverse mentoring has powerful benefits, giving both parties the chance to see the world from a very different angle, and recognizing that young people have plenty of valuable experience to share.

This blogpost was originally published on the Everwise blog. Everwise uses workforce science to reinvent the way organizations develop their people – starting with mentoring, connecting employees directly to the people and insights that can help them be more productive and successful at every stage of their career.