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By ERNEST HOOPER, Times columnist
Published January 16, 2008
Take the entry level job. Bank of Tampa executive vice president Henry Gonzalez III gave that advice Tuesday to a group of University of South Florida business students likely to enter a market strained by recession.
Yes, that ugly R-word.
The advice was part of Gonzalez's new role in the USF College of Business' corporate mentoring program. Students hearing those words may think starting at the bottom is easier said then done, but Gonzalez speaks from experience.
In 1990, he was a bright-eyed USF graduate searching for a job, and people had no qualms about saying the R-word back then.
"There were just no jobs, especially in banking," said Gonzalez, who started at Bank of Tampa as a teller. "Everything hit the fan. I think the same thing is going to happen this time, so I told them to take the entry level if they could, or take a part-time job, to get a foot in the door.
"When the economy gets better, companies are going to look internally before going external to promote."
I'm just glad to hear the economy is going to get better.
Gonzalez, slated to become chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce in 2009, also offered resume tips and interviewing advice to the students. Although he has been involved with the program for only a few months, he also has a mentee, USF senior business major Christina Jones.
The two quickly established a rapport, and now Gonzalez is comfortable taking her to chamber functions and meetings with bank customers.
"She's a bright girl. She can handle herself," Gonzalez said of Jones.
"What I want to do is show her how important networking is in financial services, give her an idea of what a typical day looks like, let her know how important the community is to the bank.
"It's not all about approving loans and trying to get new accounts."
The college attracts more than 70 executives to participate in the program each year, but could always use more business leaders, especially from the hospitality industry.
It matches executives with students who share a common career interest, and is particularly helpful to students who don't have access to high-level executives through their own families.
Most of the mentors find the interaction with students to be mutually beneficial.
Brian D. Lamb, the 31-year-old chief financial officer for Fifth Third Bank's Tampa Bay affiliates, knows both sides of the program. He learned as a mentee while playing basketball for the USF Bulls, and immediately became a mentor after graduating in 1998.
"I try to talk to them about what's next," Lamb said. "It's a good exchange to better prepare themselves for life after college. That's really the bottom line of the program."
What I find most refreshing is that after all these years, folks like Lamb and Gonzalez are still relying on mentors. Even though his career has blossomed, Gonzalez leans on others like Bank of Tampa president Jerry Divers.
"I use them now more than ever," Gonzalez said. "Why not use the knowledge of people who have already been there and done that? I would rather learn lessons the easy way than the hard way."
I guess on Jan. 25 - Thank Your Mentor Day - Gonzalez will give out some gifts, and receive some gifts.
That should boost the economy.
That's all I'm saying.
[Last modified January 16, 2008, 10:23:59]