People come and go throughout life, but others have the power to influence us professionally and create inspiration and motivation in our careers. Dick Graeber is this man to me. In today’s 101 article – we cover 5 tried and true lessons learned from a mentor and how they can be applied in your business today.

Graeber was the General Manager in Southern California at Pepsi Cola, where I worked before I started my payments career. He was involved with two other creators of the “Pepsi challenge” marketing campaign. I began working for Pepsi in 1984, and Graeber assigned me the responsibility for public relations, advertising, and marketing. This was the year of the Michael Jackson sponsorship, just before Coke’s disastrous reformulation was introduced.

Graeber taught me a lot of valuable lessons. As a bold and charismatic man, his guidance helped me learn to be assertive and go after my goals. He pushed me to do my best rather than keep me focused on whether I was ready or not.

Lessons I learned from my mentor

1. Don’t be the first to bring up money.  In the negotiation world, Graber said it was best to let the other party bring up the topic of money first. Otherwise we lose the negotiation process. “If you say you want $50,000, they might have budgeted $100,000 for the sponsorship,” he said. Graeber also believed in creating win-win situations to benefit both parties.

2. Be classy and bold in your career. A lasting impression helps your company stay relevant. Graeber accomplished this by developing a balance of bold moves with classy gestures. Even though our company spent the money on a promotional campaign, we still thanked our sponsors, marketers, and media by saying, “Thank you for helping us make the promotion work as well as it did.” Then we sent 20 crates of Pepsi.

3. Don’t take things too seriously.  I remember a particularly difficult negotiation that seemed like a resolution was far from sight. Graeber diffused the tension by saying, “This is a simple business. We just make carbonated water with a little sugar and coloring that makes people happy for 15 minutes. Let’s have fun in doing this.” There was another time when Graeber lightened everyone in the room up. He entered midway through a negotiation, but this time he brought a friend; Major League Baseball player Steve Garvey. They sat down and talked about topics beyond MLB wheelhouse, then everyone started to laugh and enjoy themselves.

4. Lead by example. Graeber was a man of high ethics, values and standards. Even though he helped me develop my own leadership style, I continue to follow him. His lead taught me how build meaningful relationships between my clients with confidence.

5. Inspire and motivate the youth you mentor. We all start somewhere, and Graeber knew the value of looking out for his younger staff. He treated them with respect and offered plenty of encouragement regardless of their inexperience. With Graeber direction, his younger staff became more motivated to work and contribute to the big picture of our company’s agenda.

How Lessons Learned From a Mentor are Vital to Success

If Dick Graeber was a coach, then he led his team through a winning season. We overtook Coke after 2½ years when we originally projected our plan would take 5. Graeber gave me the opportunity of playing a lead role with the Michael Jackson sponsorship that ended up being a key position. We also had the advantage of our Southern California location being located in the midst of the entertainment industry. We sold Pepsi at major venues like SeaWorld and had product placement deals with several movies, including Top Gun.

Dick Graeber’s mentorship equipped me with principals in life that helped provide a solid foundation to pursue success. There’s no greater way to learn how to enhance your professional career than by learning from a mentor, and it’s not like a class. You don’t show up then it’s over, the process of learning is an experience. The greatest way to learn is by working alongside someone with the qualities you hope to embody in yourself one day.

Mike Ackerman is President of DigiPay Solutions Inc., which specializes in high-risk, high-volume, card-not-present and business-to-business merchant services. Contact him at