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Mentoring at Haileybury: Cross-sector match leads to career advancement

Keen to gain a clearer sense of direction in her career, OH and marketing professional Maria Vittoria Busani applied to the Haileybury Leaders programme. She was paired with mentor Prabhakar Rajagopal, Haileybury parent and successful business leader with over 30 years of experience in the IT and Telecom industry. 

We caught up with Prabhakar and Vittoria to learn about their experiences in the programme. 

Maria Vittoria Busani (Allenby, 2016)
Global Marketing Professional at leading Italian consumer goods brand, Barilla Group

Why did you decide to apply for the Haileybury Leaders programme?

MVB: When I got the email about the programme I was just starting a new job and wanted to improve as a professional, gaining a clearer sense of direction and identifying and achieving career goals. I immediately thought that the Haileybury Leaders programme would be the perfect solution to this!

Was the experience what you expected?

MVB: This has been my first mentoring experience so I did not have a benchmark, but my experience definitely exceeded expectations. Before starting the programme, I thought that this might develop into regular calls and questions on my progress, with the mentor doing all the work in the relationship. What I soon realised, is that mentorship is a give-and-take journey, supportive relationship that has challenged me into new stages of development. 

How do you feel you’ve benefited from having Prabhakar as a mentor? Was it a good match?

MVB: I consider myself to be extremely lucky to have started my mentorship journey with Prabhakar. During the application process, I specified I wanted to be matched with a mentor from a different industry than mine to learn from different experiences. I particularly appreciated the diversity Prabhakar brought to the table. Coming from a different industry, his unique perspective added a fresh dimension to our discussions. Moreover, his global experience, having lived and worked internationally, enriched my understanding and broadened my horizons.

Do you feel the programme has helped you progress towards your career goals?

MVB: I am thrilled to share that my mentoring journey with Prabhakar has been incredibly rewarding. With his guidance and support, I not only achieved all my set goals but also secured a promotion at work. This new position aligns with my aspirations and also includes an exciting international opportunity, fulfilling a long-held ambition. The mentorship experience has undeniably played a turning point in my professional growth.

Mentorship is a give-and-take journey, a supportive relationship that challenged me into new stages of development

– Maria Vittoria Busani (Allenby, 2016)

What has been the best piece of advice you received from Prabhakar? 

MVB: It is very hard to just narrow it down to one, as each piece of advice has been truly eye-opening. One of the first things I remember comes from a phrase Prabhakar told me: “Doing things right vs doing the right things”. This prompted me to consider not only how tasks are accomplished but also whether those tasks align with broader objectives and contribute to overall success. This helped me change my mindset and shifted my attention to focus more on strategic thinking, decision-making, and goal alignment to ensure that my efforts contribute to the overall success of my organisation. 

Why do you think having a mentor is important?

MVB: Having a mentor is important as they provide invaluable guidance, share expertise, and offer constructive feedback. Their support helps you to grow professionally and personally, to build confidence, and to inspire continuous learning. In my case, I sometimes felt that the many complexities and dynamics of the workplace could cloud my perspective. Prabhakar offered me a clear and experienced viewpoint, helping untangle challenges, providing insights that may not be apparent, and offering a steady hand to overcome difficulties. 

What advice would you give to OH’s considering applying to the programme? 

MVB: If you’re considering the programme, go for it as it will be an invaluable journey! My keywords for you are: open-mindedness, curiosity, energy, enthusiasm and honesty. 

Prabhakar Rajagopal (Haileybury parent) 
IT and Telecom expert with more than 30 years of leadership experience

What made you decide to volunteer as a mentor on the Haileybury Leaders programme? 

PR: There were two things. I was quite taken by the outreach programme and liked the idea of increased connectivity among the Haileybury community, providing OHs with wisdom and advice to guide them in their careers. Secondly, I truly enjoy the opportunity to be connected with the young leaders of tomorrow. I think it gives me a better insight into what is going on in the world around me.

Why do you think mentoring is so important?

PR: I believe we are constantly learning and developing. Mentoring is something that helps to clarify your aspirations and goals. It also gives you a sounding board and a safe environment where you can feel confident speaking openly about your doubts and fears. Of course, a mentor also provides the mentee with a voice of experience that can give you both suggestions and advice, as well as asking the right questions enabling you to get the best out of yourself.

Tell me a bit more about your partnership with Vittoria. Do you think it’s been a good match? 

PR: I think it was a brilliant match. I feel what really made it work is that we invested the time to get to know each other before jumping into what she wanted to get out of the programme. This created a rich foundation for developing plans for Vittoria to be able to achieve her goals. Most importantly, it created a sense of trust, which meant we could both be open and ask good questions. I think it is that initial investment that I think ended up paying dividends later.

Did you see any specific changes in your mentee’s performance? 

PR: I was very impressed by Vittoria’s self-awareness and energy from the very beginning. I feel she had a real ability to embrace her fears and face challenges head on. I think she grew enormously during the course of the programme. Her progress was also recognised by her own company, with a promotion and increased global responsibility. I was able to help her connect with other marketers around the world as well as other women in senior roles, which broadened her perspective. She really grew as a leader but her own self-awareness was a key part of that journey and success. 

What advice would you give to others thinking about joining the programme?

PR: It’s a free gift right on your doorstep! Having a strong network and good partnerships is so important for building the infrastructure for your life and career. Mentors are just part of the scaffolding helping you build out some capabilities and confidence at a specific point in time.

What do you think are some of the most important qualities that a mentor should have?

PR: A mentor should be a good listener with a strong sense of empathy. They need to be able to create a safe space for the mentee, one where both parties can be open and honest. The other important thing is being able to listen to the mentee as a whole person. You may be doing a certain job at a certain time but you also have a personal life, you have other interests, there’s a whole person on the table. So, respect that whole person and mutual trust will follow.

 “Mentors are just part of the scaffolding helping you build out some capabilities and confidence at a specific point in time”

– Prabhakar Rajagopal 
(Haileybury parent)

Is there anything else that you would like to share about your experience or mentoring?

PR: I want to give credit to Haileybury for the organisation of the programme. I am glad that the School didn’t sit back passively and launch a mentoring programme. The tools and resources provided were fantastic. Of course all mentors and mentees are at different stages in their own journeys, so to be able to give them some assets, touch points as well as personalised communications, has been excellent and I would encourage that this to continue. Mentoring is such a great way to build connections within the community and enrich the experience of pupils, OHs and parents alike. 

The application period for the 2024 cycle of The Haileybury Leaders programme is now closed. If you are an OH and would like to join the waitlist or express interest for next year, please click here

If you would like to learn more about the Haileybury Leaders Programme and how you can get involved, please email Philanthropy Manager, Marika Ison: m.ison@haileybury.com.