McMahon and Fohr: From Mentorship to Friendship
Next up in our series on mentoring is a story of how undergraduate teaching fostered a friendship beyond the classroom. National Mentoring Month may be over, but we still have stories to share!
Julius Fohr, BSBA’18, MBA’21, first declared an international business major because he intended to return to his home in Germany after earning his bachelor’s degree. He added a second major in marketing after a few introductory courses captured his interest.
Then, in his junior year he took a management class from Tim McMahon, PhD, associate professor of practice in the Heider College of Business Department of Marketing and Management. It would be the first of many undergraduate and graduate classes Fohr would take from McMahon, and the beginning of friendship that continues today.
Fohr was initially impressed with McMahon’s subject knowledge and industry experience. He liked the way the professor related to his students and says the feedback McMahon provided on papers helped Fohr not only come to understand his own management style, but also allowed him to get to know himself better and determine what kind of human being he wanted to become.
“I really took to heart the principle of servant leadership. Being a leader who serves his team and shows that he’s fully bought in was something that resonated with me,” says Fohr, who is an area manager with Amazon. “How could I ask something of my reports that I would not be willing to do myself? That kind of leadership allows you to empathize with others, creates trust and allows you to build strong relationships at work.”
McMahon recalls that particular class and its focus on how to channel personal gifts toward helping others be their best. McMahon defines leadership as “an influence relationship between leaders and followers who intend real change that reflects their mutual purposes.” This requires authenticity, which, in turn, generates trust. Fohr, says McMahon, was “so comfortable in his skin.” He recognized the foundation of a good leader in his student.
When Amazon reached out to Fohr about a management position, he discussed the opportunity with McMahon. It was more of a complete Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis than a simple conversation, Fohr owns, and after their discussion, he decided to accept the offer.
Conversations, in fact, are what Fohr values the most about his continued relationship with McMahon. The two challenge each other’s thoughts, ask probing questions, dig deep. It’s a connection that Fohr feels is unique to the U.S. higher education system, or at least is distinguished from Germany’s university system.
Most universities in his native country are public institutions, and contact between students and professors outside the classroom is rare, he says. It’s one of the reasons Fohr chose Creighton in the first place. He wanted to enjoy the benefits of small class sizes and meaningful connections with his professors.
“I would say that Professor McMahon is not only my mentor but also my friend. Those relationships simply don’t exist (in Germany),” he says.
But is he really the mentor? McMahon is not so sure. And he’s okay with that.
“I think that is what makes a great relationship,” he says. “When students seek my advice, what they really just want to hear is my perspective.” And like a good counselor, McMahon asks more questions than he answers so that his mentees arrive at their own conclusions, albeit guided by his experience and expertise.
McMahon believes that Jesuit institutions encourage faculty to meet students where they are and challenge them. When he engaged in the Spiritual Exercises while teaching at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, McMahon says he felt a connection to St. Ignatius who himself forged a path of self-understanding and genuine connection with God.
“It has served as a way of life, and of teaching and learning,” says McMahon.
Fohr is grateful that his relationship with McMahon has continued into his young career. Much of what he encounters at work is new. Being able to tap into McMahon’s experience and use him as a sounding board is setting him up for success, he says.
Plus, “having someone that sees something in you will increase your confidence,” he adds, “and that faith and belief in you is very powerful.”
For McMahon, teaching is a gift, one that is inextricably linked to learning. “I love teaching because I learn so much,” he says.
Similarly, McMahon considers mentoring – and, as in the case with Fohr, friendship – a two-way street, with both the “imparting and accepting knowledge as well as enrichment of self.”
This story is part of our mentoring series in honor of National Mentoring Month. Read all the stories in the series: Kracher and Taylor: Breaking Through to the Real, Wei and Ge: Shared Experience Academic Focus, Menzel Baker and Wright: Meeting of the Minds, Olson and Idra: Mentoring a Mentor, McMahon and Fohr: From Mentorship to Friendship and Parrish and Grad: Paying it Forward