One of the most indispensable assets in my life is my mentors. I’ve had and still have several mentors in life. Like the late Luis Walter who paved the way for me into the Spanish society. Like the late Horst Rietmüller, my godfather at Rotary International. Or, Ralf Beunker, my former boss at KPMG. Today I call him one of my best friends. When I reflect on all the gifts of wisdom I received from these people, I feel nothing but blessed.
The one mentor who probably had the biggest impact on me as a person that I am today is Prof. Dr. Peter Wesner.
“Mr. Mueck, would you like to accompany me for a while?” Those were his words. “Yes, I’d love to,” was my answer.
Back in 2001, Dr. Wesner – the Professor came later – was the big boss of our business unit ‘Financial Advisory Services’ at KPMG in Germany. He was tall, charismatic, and a chauffeur drove his black Mercedes-Benz S-Class limousine. I was 28 years young and from the moment I said ‘Yes’, I felt this huge and heavy pressure on my shoulders.
My brain turned into a carousel of question marks. ‘How will it be? What exactly is the role of a technical assistant to the Board? How on Earth can I handle all these mountains of work? What if he doesn’t like me?’
It took me five months to gain Dr. Wesner’s trust. Together we rocked a conference in Berlin for our 700 people. After 2.5 days of constant adrenaline shock, all I needed was a bed. The big conference hall was almost empty when Dr. Wesner and I had the last beer. Standing at a cocktail table, he looked at me with his sharp eyes and said the most soothing words in my life, “Well done, Mr. Mueck!”
After five months I could breathe calmly again.
In 1990, right after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Dr. Wesner, whom everyone calls PW, moved to Leipzig to rebuild the Eastern German practice. Five years later, he became the youngest board member ever. Dr. Wesner, whom everyone calls PW, was not the typical leader of a Big Four accounting and advisory firm. He is artsy and empathetic and visionary. He is more pathos than logos. At the same time, he had no problems with making tough decisions like kicking out one of the top partners of the firm. This whole package makes him such an intriguing person.
Looking back at my 1.5 years with my mentor, one of the things I love the most about him is his soundbites, his sparkling one-liners. Here’s an assortment of his expressions. All five of them are symbols for important lessons learned in my life.
The rolls in the oven
After a couple of weeks as his technical assistant, I felt that the time had come to ask Dr. Wesner about my new salary. We hadn’t touched this delicate topic. Going through some paperwork, he shortly looked up and said, “Mr. Mueck, we talk about the rolls when they are baked.”
Today, as a professional speaker and trainer, when a client asks me for a proforma invoice or wants to do a down payment before my gigs, I use PW’s words. I never send an invoice before the buns are baked.
One of PW’s favorite quotes is by Voltaire. Well, almost. He paraphrases the words of the great French philosopher who, himself, had picked them up in Italy. Originally, it’s an Italian proverb. Voltaire says, “The best is the enemy of the good.” My mentor says, “Better is the enemy of good.” Personally, I like this one much better.
During my time with Wesner I learned never to settle for a good solution. I always strive for more, for a better solution. ‘The best’ is fake news. But constantly going for the better I gradually become excellent in what I do.
A typical situation. I’m sitting in the lobby of the InterContinental hotel in Frankfurt. Dr. Wesner approaches me, hands over the keys of his car, and says, “Mr. Mueck, take care of this.” And off he goes.
I had no idea where the car was parked, but I knew he wanted it in the garage. Find it, park it, drop the keys at the reception desk.
When you work with a board member, these guys don’t want more questions, more trouble. These guys want a Mr. Wolf. Someone who takes care of their problems. Today, I still take care of this. Every day.
Once I had to contact and arrange some important meetings for Dr. Wesner. I will never forget his diamond of advice. “Mr. Mueck, always go right to the top.”
It is so true. Middle management is a swamp. You sink in slowly. You face breaks and blockage. It’s time consuming, frustrating.
Today, I coach CEOs and I have to admit that it is easier when they want to talk to you. But, in general, this attitude of always going right to the top has helped me many times save a lot of time.
I turned 28 when I started to work for PW, and I left the position when I was 29. My mentor was 20 years more experienced and the big boss. But once I had gained his trust, do you know what he did on a regular basis? He would ask me, “Mr. Mueck, what do you think about this?”
Dr. Wesner applied reversed coaching!
In the beginning, I thought, ‘Who am I to give him advice?’ At a later stage, I felt more confident about it. It motivated me. It gave me a great feeling of acknowledgment.
Today, as a corporate trainer, I always participate. I give speeches, and I get feedback. Whether the merchant is old and wise or young and wild – feedback is gold. And it is similar to reversed coaching.
In 2020, 17 years after our shared adventures, PW and I are still in contact. Once in a while we have a chat and talk about the past, the present, and the unknown. What I know for sure is that I will be eternally grateful for all those lessons I learned thanks to PW’s great mentoring. And when I really think about them, they are not indispensable assets.
They are indispensable treasures.