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Access to those who came before you: An interview with mentor Bruce Gilmore

Bruce Gilmore

Bruce Gilmore

In addition to serving as a mentor to ASU Full-time MBA students, Bruce Gilmore (BS Purchasing/Materials Management ’89) is a W. P. Carey School of Business alumnus and faculty associate in the highly regarded Department of Supply Chain Management.

“Many of the incoming students that I talk to tell me that the Executive Connections program was one of the key reasons they chose ASU,” he says. “How many times in someone’s life do they get access to people who have gone before them, have demonstrated successes, have overcome challenges — and to build the relationship, so they can learn from that person.”

The W. P. Carey School interviewed Gilmore to learn about his early experience as a mentee and now as a mentor, how Executive Connections mentors influence the career journeys of Full-time MBA students, and why he cares about connecting with future business leaders.

Q&A with Bruce Gilmore

What is it that makes Executive Connections so unique and impactful? Mentors, alumni, and current students know best. This conversation with Bruce Gilmore has been edited and condensed.

Question: Tell us a little bit about your journey. What brought you to ASU?

Answer: When I got out of the Air Force, I became a reentry student at ASU. I studied supply chain management, it was called "purchasing" back then, and began my career in the semiconductor industry after I graduated in December of 1989.

It wasn't until I retired from Intel in 2016 and joined the faculty at ASU that I discovered the Executive Connections program and became a mentor. I've been doing this for several years now and really enjoy it. Engaging with our students encourages me every day. It's a great program. I believe it is a differentiator for the Full-time MBA at ASU. Getting to work with the future of industry is inspiring.

Q: What stands out about the Executive Connections program, from your perspective?

A: Executive Connections is a key, strategic part of the Full-time MBA program. I have been very impressed by the caliber of the mentors and students that I get to know. I benefit from mentoring, in addition to building a network of all these people with impressive backgrounds.

The types of mentors that are interested in this program come from diverse backgrounds and are interested for various reasons. There are those that have a tie to Arizona State University. Maybe they're involved in different facets of the university. Others have gone through their career experience, and someone in their life gave back to them so they want to give back to a university to impact students' lives and the next generation of business leaders.

Mentors share a wealth of experience and knowledge with students. It's a broad swath: from middle managers to CEOs or business owners, business entrepreneurs, industries from airlines to health care to manufacturing to services and financial industries, and more. A lot of the mentors have, after their professional careers, become consultants as well. That's a huge plus for students to learn — not only what it might be like to work inside of a corporation, but also then to be involved in a consulting role.

Q: What's the best piece of leadership advice you've given to your mentees?

A: I always joke that if you go to the book section of Amazon and type "leadership," you'll probably return 60,000+ leadership books, right? I think they can all be boiled down to a few key concepts. The first and foremost is you need to love the people you're leading.

Does a business school teach love? Well, we should. If you don't love the people you're leading, you don't care about them. You don't care about their future, their family, what their aspirations are, and how you can help them. So that's something that I've always brought to my Executive Connections mentees. And I do this with my employees as well. It's important that they care about who they're working with.

The other part is humility. None of us are irreplaceable. We can all be replaced. And I think oftentimes going through business school, it's like strive, strive, achieve, achieve. "I've got to be the CEO in five years." I hate to tell you, but you're not that important. So do the best you can! Love others, do a great job for your employer or for yourself if you're starting your own business.

Q: What do you think is the most important aspect of the Executive Connections program for MBA students?

A: The MBA program is intense. Some students come from a specific work environment; some international students are visiting the United States for the first time. Even though it's collaborative, they're competing at the same time, whether that's competing on teams or competing for jobs and internships.

The one-on-one relationship with the mentor is a safe relationship. Students can have a conversation with someone who is not judging them, not grading them, not going to give them a job or not. It really creates an environment where, once that trust is developed, some pretty in-depth life conversations can occur.

I've been involved in conversations not only about career, the professional aspect of the MBA program, but family, parenting, marriage, other things. I look at the person in my professional life with my staff and my employees as the whole person. I think the mentor relationship works best when we look at the student as the whole person as well.

I think the relationships that Full-time MBA students build are key. How many times in someone's life do they get access to people who have gone before them, have demonstrated successes, have overcome challenges — and to build the relationship, so they can learn from that person. This helps students build facets of their own skills and leadership capabilities, making them a better employee for the future, or a better business owner if that's the direction they're heading in.

The nice thing is that we have enough frequency of interaction over two years, in a one-on-one environment and group settings, where they're getting access to a lot of different people to learn from. And again, I think it's a huge differentiator for W. P. Carey.

Q: What advice do you have for future Executive Connections mentors? How about future students?

A: I would encourage anyone who is considering becoming a mentor to reach out and learn more about the program. I would tell them that they're probably going to get more back than they're going to give to this, because the relationships you build and getting to know the next generation of business leaders is critical.

You're going to build a network of people that are from varied facets of industry, the world of business, and you're going to be able to bring that together – and give back to a university that has one of the best business schools in the world. And what an honor to be part of that.

If I were to give a student advice about how to really leverage the Executive Connections program, I would say engage. This can be a lifelong relationship. I love when I get a call or email checking in from one of my former mentees, "Hey, I just got promoted." Or sometimes it's, "I've got a problem. Can we talk about it?"

Make sure that you invest, participate, and engage with your mentor and other mentors in the program. The benefits and the payback will be huge.