You Have To Have This To Succeed- Why We All Need A Justus In Our Lives


Justus died the day before I was to have lunch with him- about three weeks ago. His death really struck me. Not only because I’ll miss him. But because I realized how lucky I had been to have him in my life, for one year, 15 years ago. Here’s why, and there’s a  powerful  lesson for us all in this story.

When Justus came into my life, I did not want him in it. He was appointed my Chairman, with a brief to keep me under control. He was a tough, opinionated, seasoned former big time CEO. A Dutchman. He asked questions I did not want to answer. I deeply resented his forced intrusion into my world.

But then I began to look forward to being with him: I began to long for it. Because Justus listened to my answers. And then made suggestions- not directly, but by sharing his experiences in similar circumstances. I began to look up to him; to want to impress him.

When I decided to resign from that role and phase of my career, it was Justus I told first. He understood. He embraced me. And we kept in touch ever since. Justus had been for me, for that one tough year, the most valuable asset we can have. He was my:

Mentor- a wise and trusted counsellor and teacher

Mentors are different to coaches- a mentor is an influential senior sponsor and supporter. A coach gives instruction and advice, and is usually well experienced in your industry. A mentor can come from any walk of life. Both have a role. But today, I want to share insights on the power of mentors.

What Is A Mentor and What Do They Do For Us?

Houston’s Stuart O’Brien: “A mentor recognizes something in you that reminds them of themselves at your age. They keep good people on the right track. They shape you without you knowing it.”

John Hurst from Cannings: “The magic comes in their ability to shift focus and for 30 minutes focus entirely on you. They help you face reality, but do it in a careful way.”

STW CEO Mike: “My key mentor at STW always seemed to know when to pat me on the back- when I needed that positive feedback. It lifted me when I needed it.”

STW’s John Nicholl: “I am reminded by my friend Chris White, a manager of elite athletes, who says: ’I am the only one telling them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.’ That’s what a good mentor does, tells you what you need to hear.”

TMS CEO and former Singleton Ogilvy & Mather CEO Chris Mort: “A mentor is a great teacher- mine taught me many things- how and when to take short cuts, how to make tough decisions, how timing was everything. He never did it for you- but he showed you the path.”

Mentors Evolve- You Can’t Select Them

I went on a corporate event once where we were paired with sports stars from a national sporting team- and were to become their ‘mentors’ (for those who know this sport, I got Wendell Sailor and Lote Tiquiri- oi vey!). But that does not work. You can’t ‘select’ a mentor in my view. I get requests ‘to be my mentor’, and I always say ‘no’.

You often don’t even realize someone is and has been a mentor to you until the time has passed. Looking back you can see the influence and role they had. And often you know it while it is happening.

Nurture and Celebrate Your Mentors- While You Have Them

If you have a mentor, celebrate. Nurture them.  Relish in it. I have found mentoring relationships have an end date…you evolve, or the mentor moves on. New mentors materialize. And that’s ok.

My key mentors, in chronology: my Dad, my brother Greg (a constant), my brother-in-law Pete, Stuart Maxwell-Wright, Paula Gaber, Peter Kingsbury, and then Justus Veeneklaas. In recent years I have sadly not had one- and I miss it.

Two final questions for you:

1. Who have yours been? How did they help you? Who are your mentors now?
2. And who do you mentor? Who can you add value to- through wise and trusted counsel?


When I decided to resign from my Burson-Marsteller career 15 years ago, Justus gave me gift …a bottle of Grange Hermitage with, handwritten on the label “In friendship…Justus.” Justus fell ill soon afterwards, and battled cheerfully for 15 years with a debilitating health regimen.

We caught up once a year or so. I was to set a date at our lunch three weeks ago to share the Grange, as promised. It was not to be. I will never open it. But will keep the bottle in view. In friendship. Justus- thank you.

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23 Responses to You Have To Have This To Succeed- Why We All Need A Justus In Our Lives

  1. Daniel April 24, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    Thanks for sharing Chris, a really nice story although I’m sorry for your loss, I find good mentors quite hard to find but as you said you can’t select them, I’m sure one will appear when the time is right

    • Chris Savage April 24, 2012 at 10:53 am #

      Thanks Daniel. They do evolve, often when you most need them.

  2. Hannah April 24, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    thanks for sharing UC – touching blog post. I don’t know if I have a mentor! Can you have one, and not know it?

    • Chris Savage April 24, 2012 at 11:52 am #

      I think you can, Hannah. Sometimes as you look back you realise the role someone played in your life was in fact a genuine mentoring role. As you get a bit older, you tend to be more sensitive and alert to it so recognise these roles and their effect earlier. That’s my experience anyway. Chris

  3. Claire Mclennan April 24, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    Nice post! It’s made me think a lot about who my mentors have been and as coincidence would have it, you were one of my mentors (perhaps not conciously) when Justus was yours. And funnily enough as I type this I am sitting waiting to have a coffee with a lovely lady who sees me as a mentor.

    • Chris Savage April 24, 2012 at 11:53 am #

      Wow. Claire- that’s great! I never realised. Hope you are well and happy. Chris

  4. Lance Blockley April 24, 2012 at 11:55 am #

    I too will always remember Justus for his unique decision-making matrix (outlined at the beginning of most meetings) and for the dog in the office.

    I still trot out the matrix today (probably 20 years later), but am glad not to have dogs in my office!

    Justus was truly a “one off”.

    • Chris Savage April 24, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

      Thanks Lance- I did not realise you knew him. Glad to be contact again. Thanks for reading the blog. Chris

    • Ike Levick February 5, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

      HI Lance!
      I am Justus’ daughter – you comment made me laugh!
      Thanks for sharing,

  5. Leigh April 24, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    I was just speaking with a colleague about this the other day – I have been blessed with great mentors in my working & personal life – some I didn’t realise were mentors until they had left and I was able to better gauge their effect on my life.

    My greatest mentor in my life was my father. I lost him earlier this year and you know you have lost a mentor when you discover some info and think “I’ll just ring (insert mentor here)” and then realise that you can no longer do that. You are spot on Chris, you can NOT choose a mentor – that way madness lies.

    My first work-life mentor was someone I didn’t get along with – a regional manager that was old-fashioned and stuck-in-the-mud (from my 19 year old prespective) and we clashed heads for the next 10 years. Once I left that industry and moved into recruitment I started to discover all that he had taught me, directly & indirectly, that has made me the person I am today.

    In my experience the best mentors are the ones that are subtle about it – you don’t even know they have offered you advice until you act on it and then reflect on how you came to that decision.

    Great stuff mate – keep it up, your blog is most often my Third Place (I am still too busy being busy to find a physical Third Place, but I am working on it 🙂

    • Chris Savage April 24, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

      Thanks Leigh. Very much appreciate the insight, and the feedback. Chris

  6. Lizzy April 24, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    Thanks for sharing Chris!
    I’ve been lucky enough to have 2 mentors in my life: my mother, who taught me life lessons and set an inspiring example and one taught me how to get along with difficult people again, by setting a great example – both invaluable.
    Thanks again!

    • Chris Savage April 24, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

      Thanks Lizzy- appreciate the input. Chris

  7. Stella April 24, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

    So beautifully expressed. I am sure he would have been delighted by this post. Whether you know it or not, you were an “influencer” in my life, so a “passive mentor” – if there is such a thing? But more importantly you are my friend. I’m sorry for your loss Chris.

    • Chris Savage April 24, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

      Thanks Stella..appreciated.

  8. Wendy Novianto April 24, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    I almost shed tears when I read it. Now I should treasure those moment while it last.

    I realize that having a mentor is teaching me to be humble and kept me in place to be a learner all the time. I really shouldn’t take it for granted for all the people that had crossed path with me in the past; and not to mention the time they had invested on me.

    Thanks for the reminder Chris!

    • Chris Savage April 24, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

      Thanks Wendy. See you in Jakarta in a couple of weeks. Chris

  9. Sven April 24, 2012 at 7:46 pm #

    Thank you Chris, thought provoking as always.

  10. Sandra Renowden April 24, 2012 at 8:31 pm #

    Thought provoking and emotional…I fell sad after reading your blog. My dad is my mentor and I feel sad as I watch dementia slowly claim the intelligent, funny and caring mind that I’ve always relied on. There won’t be another like him….I hope one day I will mentor someone as successfully as he has mentored me.

    • Chris Savage April 25, 2012 at 10:36 am #

      Thanks Sandra. That must be incredibly tough. I cant even imagine it. Chris

  11. Jean-Michel April 24, 2012 at 9:20 pm #

    Thanks Chris, great article.

  12. Paula Gaber McNulty May 2, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

    Chris – I thought we were always too busy in Hong Kong to really teach/learn very much! We just got on with things. Glad to hear that wasn’t always the case and I played a role as your mentor then. What I do remember is once when we were discussing some problem with a client or other and I said, “Well, let’s call and discuss it.” And I picked up the phone right then. You said you would procrastinated (aka, thought about it some more) instead of calling and striking while the emotional iron was hot. Sounds from your blog that this is something you’ve certainly mastered and I like to think has contributed to your success.

    • Chris Savage May 3, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

      Thanks Paula. I remember it well. Also about sweating the details… Lots of things. Totally shaped me. Chris

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