Meet the 31-year-old who mentors the CEO of a $44 billion company

Skype mentoring session BNY Mellon

Mentoring programs at banks are pretty standard. Every year, a new wide-eyed class of analysts and associates start their graduate and post-graduate programs with goals to change the world (or at least make a lot of money). They get paired with a mentor, usually a senior executive, who can show them the ropes at the firm.

BNY Mellon however is a bank that does things a little differently. Three years ago, they piloted a program called “reverse mentoring.”

Darah Kirstein, a young employee at the company, was asked to mentor a senior executive of the firm. Not just any senior executive though. The then 28-year-old was asked to mentor CEO Gerald Hassel, the head of the $44 billion company.

“It was a little intimidating,” she admitted. “At the time, 1 Wall Street was our headquarters, which is a very historical building. Bank of New York is also a very historical bank, and here I am walking into the CEO’s office.”

Kirstein graduated from Penn State with a degree in information sciences and technology and took her first job at BNY Mellon in the technology leadership program, a rotational program with exposure to different areas of the business.

Kirstein and Hassel meet once a quarter, either in person when she is in New York or via Skype when she is in Pittsburgh, where she is based.

Hassel has a “Darah List” and often uses the millennial as a sounding board for ideas. He wanted to downsize the bank’s real estate footprint and asked her opinion on desk sharing. He wanted to know where people her age were investing, how they were investing, and how the next generation consumes information.

He also had more role specific questions. Kirstein helped him download apps that could keep him organised and increase productivity. Flipboard was one such app that allowed him to keep track of all notifications of BNY Mellon in the media. She also set him up on Google Alerts and helped him brainstorm keywords related to the bank, so that he could always be in the know. She helped him maximise use of his iPad and learn the latest SharePoint techniques.

One of the biggest challenges for Kirstein is not knowing in advance what questions Hassel would ask. Sometimes, she wouldn’t know the answer immediately and became confident enough to ask if she could get back to him after doing some research. Other times, they would figure stuff out together.

Hassel is the one who pioneered the program and specifically wanted a program geared at mentoring senior executives around technology. The bank’s Chief Information Officer, Suresh Kumar, selected several employees from the firm’s technology leadership program for a one-year pilot. That was three years ago. While other relationships have fallen by the wayside, Darah and Hassel’s relationship has evolved.

After 9 years with the company, Kirstein was at a cross roads in her career. She emailed Hassel to schedule a meeting for career advice and he responded, “It was about time I helped with you something.” The CEO blocked out an hour and a half out of his schedule to discuss Kirstein’s short-term and long-term career objectives and the path she should take.

“It has always been a two way street,” said Kirstein. “Every time I step into this office, I learn something. He is a very curious person. A lot of our conversations would be begin with, ‘so tell me about….'”

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