We kick off Women’s History Month by featuring this inspiring episode with Lynn Sontag and Missy Chicre. Lynn and Missy will share their powerful stories of how they came to Menttium. They will discuss how Menttium has thrived for over 32 years and why mentoring is needed more than ever in this current environment. They will also reflect on what it means to lead a woman-owned business and share their vision for the future of Menttium.
Brown: Welcome to the Menttium Matters podcast, where we talk about leadership, life, and the transformative power of mentoring. This is Solveig Brown, and I am thrilled to be joined today by Lynn Sontag, Menttium’s Owner and Chairperson of the Board, and Missy Chicre, Menttium’s new CEO. We are going to cover many great topics including why mentoring is so important to people, why it’s more important now than ever, what it’s like to be in a women -owned, women-led business, and lots of other great things. So welcome Lynn and Missy. I’m so happy to have you as guests today.
Sontag: Thank you. We’re excited to be here.
Chicre: Happy Women’s History Month. This is a great kickoff to Women’s History Month.
Brown: Lynn, let’s start with you. We are here because of Menttium. You came to Menttium twenty-seven years ago, ended up buying Menttium and leading Menttium. Can you tell us more about the journey? How did you end up at Menttium? What is your story?
Sontag: I will give you the short version of my very long story, but I would love to say that I had my life planned out and my career planned out in my twenties.
But one of my favorite sayings is “life is what happens while you’re making other plans,” and that certainly happened to me. But let me just step back for a minute and just talk about what was happening in the corporate environment back then. I graduated from college in 1980, and I was a single mom living with my parents.
Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem were just getting some momentum around the women’s movement, and there were very few women in management and supervisory positions back then. In fact, three years after I started at 3M, the first woman was promoted to a supervisory role at 3M at that time. And so that was big.
I had a four-year degree, but it still took me eight years to move from receptionist, which was really the only position available at that time, even with a four-year degree, to an exempt position. But then I was able to move over to the executive development area and there was a woman there and she was doing the same thing trying to grow her career.
I only reported to her six months over those seven years. But she saw the potential in me, she believed in me. And over the next seven years, she was the one to get me four promotions over that time. I’m so grateful that she saw what she did in me. And then, in 1995, after my fifteen-year career at 3M, they announced that they were spinning off five divisions into a new company.
I was so fortunate at that time to have a Menttium mentor, Tony Rotondi, many people know Tony, and he said to me, why don’t you look at what your options would be to stay around at 3M. My area wasn’t being impacted, but what else did I want to do? And why don’t you look at what it would take to go with the new company. And by the way, you seem to really enjoy mentoring. Why don’t you go talk to Gayle Holmes, founder of Menttium.
And so, I did, and after a couple conversations, a lot of angst, I took a leap of faith, and I made the move. So that’s how I got to Menttium, and that’s the short version. Then from 1996 to 2002, I ran the consulting side of our business, so I built and developed the mentoring programs that organizations could run internally.
Mentoring was very new in the nineties and early two-thousands, and so there weren’t a lot of structured mentoring programs. Menttium was one of the pioneers, even at that time, for helping organizations set up their internal mentoring programs. Then one spring day in 2002, Gayle called me into her office, and she said to me, I’m ready to move on to other adventures.
I sat there in a bit of shock and thought, what am I going to do and what does this mean? I had a lot of deep knowledge about mentoring at that point and I was a very experienced facilitator. But I knew nothing about running a small business of that size. So, it was a little daunting to then think about, would I want to buy Menttium?
I love this work. I really, in my heart, felt this was where I needed to be. But that was not in my purview when I started at Menttium. I went home and I talked to many people and my husband, of course, first. Saying, if we don’t make it in a year, is it okay if I file bankruptcy? Because it was a tough time right then, there was a downturn in the economy. The organization was not financially in a solid position, so it was a bit of a risk at that point. He was on board with me, and like I said, I asked many people.
It was late in the game, and I thought, I should call my mentor. Back then we didn’t really have cell phones, or not many of us, if there were. He was traveling internationally, and I didn’t get ahold of him right away. But by the time he called me back and we were able to talk voice to voice, I had already agreed to purchase Menttium, but I didn’t tell him that right away. I asked him, do you think that I could lead and run Menttium?
There was this pause at his end, and then he said, there is potential. We’re still friends, by the way, but there was potential. Here I am twenty plus years later and I’ve never looked back.
Question around why did I buy Menttium? Well, first, I needed a job. But more importantly, I saw the impact that Menttium could have in the world, especially for women. I couldn’t think of anything better to do that went straight to my heart.
Brown: Your story illustrates how far women have come. When you think about when you started, to thinking about the mentees today, they’re in a very different climate as far as the potential and the possibilities that they have opened to them.
Missy, what about you? How did you come to Menttium?
Chicre: I love hearing Lynn’s story. I’ve heard it many times, but every time there’s a new piece of information or a new piece of wisdom or something about her story. I think Lynn is very humble and doesn’t give herself enough credit for the trailblazer that she is in her journey, the obstacles she overcame, and then coming to Menttium and being able to sustain this women-owned, women-led business for over thirty years. It’s just really inspiring.
Brown: I love your story though too, Missy. I love your story of how you ended up taking the leap of faith as well. Can you just give us a quick overview of that because I think that’s really important to hear how other people made those big decisions when nothing was guaranteed.
Chicre: Absolutely. It’s funny because Lynn and I have talked about her story starting in 1980 and then my story starting later. But there are analogies of things that she went through or decisions she made that really resonate with me and are similar to the language that I use about coming to Menttium and why this was such a great fit for me.
So going back in my story, I actually thought I was going to become a professor, believe it or not. I had pursued a Master’s in Hispanic literature and thought I might become a professor. In the meantime, I had done internships in the business world. I had one foot in academia, one foot in business, and then I came to a crossroads where I either had to commit to the PhD or make a different decision.
When I got to that point, I just decided, I’m not sure if this is for me. There’s not a lot you can do with a PhD in Hispanic literature if you don’t want to be a professor. So, I decided to pursue my business career at that time. I started in change management consulting because I thought that would be a great way to just get exposed to different businesses, learn a lot, have wonderful training, and then from there I could figure out what I wanted to do next.
The change management approach was really my foray into HR. I didn’t necessarily have a plan to be an HR professional, but because I started a change, it really got me into the people business. It fits so well with my passion around how do you develop people; how do you help people thrive, how do you help people live up to their potential?
From there, I learned about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and I always say, I wasn’t walking around at college thinking I want to be a diversity and inclusion practitioner. I didn’t even know that was a thing. But the work of D&I at the time resonated so much with me in terms of my personal passions and convictions, and how I live my own life, which is very much interfaith, bilingual, bicultural.
So, I fell into HR because I got a role in diversity and inclusion at Best Buy, and that was really the start of my corporate HR career. From there, I stayed the path in diversity and inclusion for a while, was able to move over to Cargill and do it on a global basis, which was just fascinating and allowed me to travel all over Latin America.
Imagine having conversations in Venezuela one month before the election when Chavez was still alive about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and doing it all in Spanish. I just had some incredible experiences for my own personal growth and professional growth, and I’m so grateful for those opportunities.
Then as my career was progressing and I was getting more and more opportunities to lead and grow, I became a mom. A lot of my path was that reconciliation of motherhood and career. How do I navigate the career I want, my career aspirations, and at the same time have the time and space I want to be a mom.
That was really hard. It was also surprising because I had always seen myself as a career woman and nothing prepares you for motherhood until you’re in it. So, there were a lot of reflections at that time, and again, a lot of hard decisions.
I think when I was younger, I saw the path as linear. You just keep growing, you move up, you do more, and that’s the way it works. You work hard and grow. Once I became a mom and started thinking about how I navigate this, how do I continue with my career aspirations and at the same time be a mom and be present.
I consider myself a risk averse person in some ways, but when I look at my career and some of the decisions I’ve made, I’ve actually taken a lot of risks. Some of those have been taking a leave of absence, stepping into a role that was a lower level than the one that I had, leaving without a job, leaving a job without the next thing planned. And those were hard moments, and there were highs and lows like everyone has in their career and life.
But in some of those moments of making hard decisions, I lost my confidence because of various circumstances, and the stage of life and career and motherhood I was in. I felt like a failure in some moments of am I negating all the hard work and everything I’ve worked for by taking a step back? Is this going to stall my career going forward?
There was a lot of questioning. There were a lot of moments of self-doubt, and I really credit mentors who helped me along the way. My family, my husband, people who supported me and believed in me and helped me work through those tough moments. And at the time when I left my previous employer without a role, I had a newborn and a five-year-old, and I knew that there was something different out there for me.
When I was at Cargill, I did a lot of work around working mothers. I sort of took this passion I had around navigating motherhood and career and started a network there for working. It started as a focus on how we create a safe space for working moms to talk about how you navigate development, camaraderie, and network. And then it turned into, how can we influence the organizational culture? When I started doing this work, which was really for fun, it was my side job, if you will, I discovered a passion for developing and advancing women. I discovered a passion for how you help people thrive in amazing moments and in the hard moments, and that’s part of why I knew there was something else out there for me, in terms of how I turn this into my day job, so to speak.
I had spent my career in corporate America, large corporations, many amazing experiences, and incredible people. I just knew it was time for something different, and I didn’t really have the time or space at that moment with a demanding job and a newborn and a five-year-old to really think. So again, I took a leap of faith, Lynn talks about taking a leap of faith. I resigned from my job, and I took some time to reconnect with my network. I got really clear on what I was looking for and what I wanted. And then I started meeting with people I admired, people I had worked with previously, people who were doing work in the spaces I was interested in.
Those conversations led me to Lynn. And similar to how she talks about getting connected with Gayle, I got connected with Lynn. We started having conversations and we knew there was something there. We just weren’t quite sure exactly what it would be. And over the course of several months, Lynn ended up creating a position for me to join Menttium.
I was immediately fascinated by the mission and the vision. Women-owned, women-led business. Long history and tradition of developing and advancing women through mentoring and the fact that it was a mission driven organization. Lynn says that spoke to her heart, that spoke to my heart and my purpose. Just the impact I want to make as a human in the world. So, I came to Menttium. Big change, coming to a small organization, and that leap of faith has turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.
I always talk about the art of possibility by Ben Zander because I have found in my life that when you open yourself up to what’s possible versus just what is around you, doors open, and you find amazing opportunities that you didn’t even know exist.
Brown: I love both of your stories and tandem with each other because they really do have a lot of parallels. They do have that leap of faith and that belief that there was something else out there, and the mentors that were important to you in expanding your network. Missy, you mentioned how great it is to be working in a women-owned, women-led business. Can you both talk more about that and why do you think Menttium has been so successful all these years? And as there’s been so many fluctuations in the economy Menttium has stayed afloat thirty plus years. Can you talk more about that?
Sontag: It may sound a little cheesy, but we strongly believe in our mission to make a difference, one partnership at a time, and you matter. And I think people really understand that. Menttium is built on strong relationships. We maintain those relationships with our mentees, with our mentors, with our clients.
We are known for excellent customer service. Each individual that we come across matters to us. Our clients know that we have the knowledge, we have the experience, and we have the structure to help them be successful in developing their talent. I think that’s what’s really special about Menttium, is that we are there for you, and our clients know that.
Chicre: When we say mission driven, we truly live the mission and our team lives the mission, our mentees, our mentors, our clients. We have the most incredible community of people, and that is one of the things I love the most about Menttium in my job, because the people I get to interact with on a daily basis, they’re inspiring, they’re doing amazing things in the world.
They’re committed to development, and we hear everyday stories from mentees about how a mentor has changed his or her life. I feel that when I talk about coming to Menttium and feeling like I came home. There was just this fit. When Lynn talks about bottling, she saw something in me, and she helped me live into my potential.
That’s what our mentors help our mentees do. And I think that’s why we’ve been able to sustain, because we have an outstanding mentor network. We have individuals who are so smart, so talented, so accomplished. Even take away the accolades of what they’ve achieved, they’re just amazing humans who truly believe in human connection and how you create authentic relationships to help people grow, and you can’t fake that.
We have something just really special in terms of how we deliver on our programs, the people who are associated with Menttium, and I think that has sustained us all these years.
Brown: You feel that mission driven piece when you consult for Menttium, when you talk to the mentors, when you talk to the mentees. Lives really are being changed and people are so happy and proud to be a part of it.
You have created that container where people can meet and get to know each other and mentor. I love it when the mentees decide they want to become mentors and keep it going and keep paying it forward. This has been a big transition for both of you, yet at the same time there’s been so much ease about it.
Lynn, how did you know it was time to think about having someone else take leadership?
Sontag: When I look at Menttium, the organization is thriving three decades later, because again, we have an awesome team, and we believe in the work that we were doing. We really do to the core of who we are.
I’m very humbled to have worked and led this organization for over two decades. We all know in our hearts that at some point we’re going to have to let go. I knew that five years ago. I was aware of that, and I was like, I got to start figuring this out. It was very uncomfortable as anybody might have in their career as they think about what’s the next phase.
But I really wanted someone who would be passionate, who knew the ins and outs of the organization, who really believed deeply in the mission, and who could lead the team. I call them “Team Awesome.” We’ve worked really hard to make sure that we’re not the shoemaker’s kids, that we are walking our talk, and that people feel totally supported at Menttium. If it wasn’t for the team, we wouldn’t be where we are. I was looking for someone that I knew the team respected and trusted and would take the team forward as well as the organization forward.
So, as I was watching, Missy was getting better. I remember that when she first came in and she wanted to change everything. Why we do this, we got a lot of why questions back then. And over time she just really settled in, and understood where to make a difference, and where she could, and she started making a difference very fast.
I could see the passion that she had for the work. Then I realized a year ago that it was time to start getting more serious about what this transition needs to look like. Missy had done the hard work of stepping into her authentic self, of being vulnerable, of being an excellent listener, and really understanding and paying attention to what was needed for the organization from a client perspective, from a mentee perspective, mentor perspective, and a team perspective.
It was right about a year ago that I was like, yep, she’s ready. I kept telling her she was ready, and we started working toward it at that point. I feel good about it. I feel really good that the timing is right, and the bonus is that I’m here. So, I’m going to be chairwoman of the board and I’m here to be the executive mentor. We’re going to walk our talk and I’m going to be the executive mentor for Missy over the year ahead. So very excited.
Brown: I love that. Talking about walking the talk, Missy, what’s the transition been like for you?
Chicre: It’s hard to put it into words. We’re in week two here, so we’ll talk again. I would say the word that I keep using when people ask me is it’s just a tremendous honor for me to step into this role.
I have so much respect for Lynn, for our mission for the business. I care so deeply about what we do, and I care deeply about the team. I care deeply about our mentors and our clients and mentees. There’s just this genuine care and being able to step into this position now. And having a different level of influence, both internally and externally, is so humbling and exciting.
I think back to ten years ago, being in a co-active coaching training and having the conversations about creating your mission statement, creating your purpose, and the whole tenant around co-active coaching is your creative, resourceful, and whole. And really taking the time to reflect on what is the impact you want to make.
How do you want to be in the world? A big part of my mission statement was related to being able to inspire women and girls to be confident, to grow, to pursue their dreams, to overcome obstacles, and not be deterred by them. Stepping into this role gives me just an incredible platform to be able to do that in a different way. I’m excited to join forces with the incredible “Team Awesome”, as we call it, and it’s really stuck because every single person on the Menttium team cares deeply about our mission, and anyone who interacts with our team can see that in every interaction. I think we just have so much possibility. We have a strong foundation of three decades as leaders in the mentoring space.
I think there’s much more we can do in the world, especially as we go through so many shifts in the workplace, in the world, and so how we as Menttium can show up and make a difference for people is really exciting.
Brown: It really is. Missy, I just wanted to say that I loved your first day LinkedIn post where you were with your daughter, Eva, and it just brought this joy to my heart because you really do inspire that next generation.
About five years ago, I was at a women’s leadership conference on International Women’s Day, and the keynote speaker said, show me by a raise of hands, how many of you aspire to become a CEO? Not one person in that whole group of 250 powerful women raised their hand. And I love that you are being a role model for the next generation.
That you’re including your daughter and her friends and all these aspects that you can be this strong woman. I just think that is so inspiring. Because that’s what it’s all about, empowering the next generation. We hear Lynn’s story of where she started and then you think about where your daughter will begin.
And it’s because of mentoring, it’s because of the mission of Menttium and the kind of way that people pay that forward. We’ve been in such an interesting time these last few years, since 2020. Why do you think Menttium is needed now more than ever.
Chicre: It’s interesting because mentoring is always relevant across industries, across businesses, across roles. It’s one of those topics where it’s not new per se, but I think the sort of definition of mentoring and the role it can play has changed based on how the world has changed so drastically. And if we look even just at the last couple of years, we’re in a time of disruption on so many different levels and people are struggling. People are navigating very demanding careers. They’re navigating a pandemic. They’re navigating political and social unrest, and the lines of life and work are blurred. I think this work-life balance is really outdated at this point because it’s one life.
I had a mentor who told me that many years ago, and it always stuck with me where she said, you have just one life. How do you want to live it? I think with the pandemic and so many other things that have happened, the lines have been blurred even more and people are really looking at how do I design the life I want? Work is one component of that. And it’s not easy.
People have different challenges right now. Some are the same, some are very different. Acknowledging that everyone’s in a different space and that we only see certain parts of people when they show up in the workplace. We don’t know everything they’re dealing with in their personal lives. If you look at studies right now, even from McKinsey and Catalyst, that people are burnt out, people are looking for purpose.
When Lynn and I talk about coming to Menttium and finding that purpose, I think many people are looking for purpose in the work that they’re doing, that sense of belonging and inclusion, career opportunities to grow with remote work that has opened a whole host of different opportunities and challenges for employers.
I think in this time of disruption, people need mentors more than ever to navigate. We talk a lot at Menttium about emotional safety. Our mentoring partnership gives people that emotionally safe space to be vulnerable, to be authentic, to talk about the real things that matter to them, and then you have someone in your corner providing hope and stability and recognizing your potential.
So having that relationship with a trusted guide, I think is more critical than ever, and people are leaning on their mentors more than ever during this time. We can look at it from an individual perspective and an organizational perspective. I think from the individual, of course we have a focus on career growth and development, but again, it’s not separate.
We always say at Menttium, it’s whole person mentoring. We want to help people thrive personally and professionally. So, getting into this very authentic relationship with a mentor who truly cares about the mentee, it is just amazing what a mentee can accomplish through that experience and how a mentee can walk away with increased confidence in a way that they didn’t have before and a different lens.
Having that opportunity to look at things from a different perspective because a mentor can help provide that. I know that mentors have played such a critical role for me. Honestly, I wouldn’t be sitting here today in this role if it weren’t for some of my mentors because they helped me see things so differently.
Earlier in my career, I had a vision of how I thought things should happen, right? It’s the should’s; you should follow this path, you should do this, or you must do this to get to the next level. And in a lot of cases, my mentors shattered those myths for me, and that opened the possibility of there’s a different way to go about this path.
There’s a different way to define success. And I think for our mentees right now, having that mentor in their corner makes such a difference personally and professionally.
Brown: I couldn’t agree more. Lynn, what is your vision for the future of Menttium?
Sontag: Back when we had our 25th anniversary, I talked to the mentors. We had a big celebration and we had 200 mentors there and I was so amazed at just even looking around the room. I shared a few stories about the mentors from their mentee’s perspective. About how they helped them look around the corner, how they helped them prepare for ways they didn’t expect to even need to be prepared for, shared their wisdom in so many ways, and helped them build their confidence. And that’s a big thing, help them build their confidence.
Every time I just think about that we’ve impacted 80,000+ people across the globe. It wasn’t just anything that I would’ve imagined when I started at the organization. One of the things that I see going forward is yes; more and please, more of this! It goes back to the mentors being willing to give their time. The other thing that is so relevant about Menttium and mentoring is that the mentors learn as much, if not more than the mentees in the process, and that’s why they come back year over year. For them to be vulnerable, for them to look at themselves a little bit differently through the eyes of their mentee, somebody outside of their organization, is beneficial to them to be able to then go be a different leader in their own organization. I want to see Menttium grow for another thirty years.
I want to see even more people impacted around the globe and continue to have the impact that we’ve had up to this point. So, I just want more.
Brown: What about you, Missy? What is your vision for the future?
Chicre: We’ve been very intentional all these years to stay in our lane of mentoring. There are a lot of other leadership development sort of interventions that are related, but distinct, and we get inquiries about those sometimes, and we’ve been very intentional to stay in our lane.
Our core competency is mentoring, and we’ve been the leaders in this space for more than three decades, so I see us continuing with our core competency. I think there are ways that we can really enhance the experience. We know that the mentee mentor relationship is really the crux of the experience, and we have lots of ideas around how we can innovate around that experience to enhance it and accelerate it.
I’m excited as we start to explore different ways to add on to the Menttium mentoring partnership experience. The other big opportunity I think we have going forward for the future is we talked earlier about this Menttium community – mentees, mentors, clients, our team, we have an incredible community at our fingertips.
I think there is a world of possibilities in how we connect our mentees and mentors into the broader Menttium community. We talked about how mentors are needed more than ever; people are craving authentic human connections and relationships. I think we can provide that to people. I think it’s building on our really strong foundation, staying in our lane, and then finding ways to connect into the bigger, broader Menttium community in meaningful ways and adding on to the experience so that mentees walk away transformed by their mentor and other opportunities to connect with peers, to grow and learn in different ways and continue to innovate around our strong brand.
Brown: I just feel so energized and excited listening to both of you talk about your vision for the future, and it just is amazing. I thank you both for joining me today. It’s such a wonderful way to kick off Women’s History Month. I love Lynn that you’re going to be mentoring Missy as she takes on this new role.
So, I’m wondering, would you both be willing to come back in six months to do a check-in to see how everything’s going?
Brown: Thank you all for listening to this Menttium Matters podcast. We have many great episodes lined up for you, so be sure to come back and don’t miss an episode.