The Voice Of Experience

November 23, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Huntington National Bank recently kicked off a mentoring program for West Michigan businesswomen that paired them up with senior executives from prestigious companies across the country.

The Menttium 100 program is an initiative of Huntington's 19-member Women's Advisory Board, a board established 18 months ago to help the company develop programs and opportunities for the promotion and advancement of area businesswomen.

"Internally, we're looking for ways to attract and retain and promote more women in leadership roles, and externally we're doing the kinds of things that position us to be the premier bank for women in business," said Michael Lindley, Huntington's marketing director for West Michigan.

"Another opportunity that we've seen in our work is the lack of really good mentoring opportunities for women, so that's when we partnered with the Menttium organization. We've been working with them about a year now to bring this program together."

Minneapolis-based Menttium Corp. matched the mentors and "mentees" and is overseeing the yearlong program. The company says its mentoring programs have assisted corporations in attracting, developing and retaining key talent.

Lindley noted that Huntington in Detroit has run a cross-company mentoring program for a number of years and now has more than 100 companies participating. Each Menttium 100 program runs formally for a year, and after that point the mentor-mentee relationship often continues informally, he added.

Huntington plans to repeat the program each year.

In the new Grand Rapids program, 80 percent of the mentors are from West Michigan companies. Sponsoring corporations for the first program here include Alticor, Huntington, Michigan Medical PC, Plante Moran, Steelcase, Varnum Riddering Schmidt & Howlett LLP, Warner Norcross & Judd, Wolverine World Wide and others.

The Menttium 100 program offers peer networking, one-to-one mentoring and a series of business education forums. The company does all the matching, facilitates meetings and oversees an ongoing curriculum of leadership development.

Its Menttium Virtual 100 program expands the reach by providing cross-geographic, cross-company mentoring partnerships without needing face-to-face contact.

Michelle Fanroy, vice president of business development at Menttium, said the company was established 15 years ago on the premise that women deserved a seat at the decision-making table. So Menttium set out on a mission to support women across corporate America.

"Our original founder saw that when women were reaching the mid-management level, they weren't breaking through that infamous glass ceiling," Fanroy said. "She decided to do something about that.

"Since then, we have placed over 50,000 women in the program and around the world. We are in 34 states in the United States and 21 countries outside of the United States with our virtual mentoring program, so we literally have women in every major market that corporate America operates in."

Lyda Wilcox, senior credit specialist in Huntington's business banking division, said she chose to have a mentor because she didn't have the kind of family connections that might help advance her career.

"I was looking to outreach to other areas where I could develop more contacts, and people who could really help me along in my career," she explained.

Shelby Reno, marketing manager with Huntington, said it's tough being a woman in business in Grand Rapids. She hopes to learn from the experience and success of her mentor, as well as other women in the program.

"The more women I can learn from, I know it will benefit me," she said.

Menttium has offices in Minneapolis, Dallas, Chicago and Detroit. The company set up an office in the Detroit market at the request of the Ford Motor Co., Fanroy noted.

Mentor Nancy Skinner, practice group leader with Varnum Consulting, said she decided to participate because she thought the program was well designed and especially good at matching high potential, upward bound women with mentors.

"It's proven; it's tried and true," Skinner said. "I think that many successful men and women have had people who have been their champion and have also been candid with their experience. I have benefited from that from men and women. I value the women who give me guidance today and really care about me."    

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