In the spring of 2002, a small committee of individuals invested in the education of Cameron’s students started something truly special that has since blossomed into something extraordinary.
Building on an idea that first originated in 1999, Skip Jones and Dick Verrone - Cameron School of Business (CSB) Executives in Residence and instructors - along with a handful of area business professionals and a few CSB faculty members, founded the Cameron Executive Network (CEN).
CSB students were in need of professional council to better facilitate the transition from academia to the world of work. Having recently retired from business careers, Mr. Jones and Mr. Verrone recognized that Wilmington had a wealth of excellent professional resources in their own backyard.
Initially, the program was intended to be fairly small, comprised primarily of retired business professionals in the area.
To quote from a 1999 email from the committee: We envision a retired executive program that will attempt to tap the talents and resources of the substantial retired executives in the Wilmington area. It will be limited to 15-20 selected executives, as yet unidentified, to serve as an advisory group working directly with students and faculty. The initial executives group would undertake such activities as: guest lecturers, career advisors, one on one mentors, comprise a speakers’ bureau, teaching in classrooms, fund raising, internships and advisors to student organizations.
Dick Verrone and Skip Jones served as the program’s first co-directors. They created the initial framework of CEN, assisted by three original executive members: Spencer Everett, Neal Curry and Steve Michael. These original members and about a dozen students formed the first class of CEN in 2002.
Fifteen years later, the network has grown in size to nearly 250 experienced business executives, both active and retired, and these executives have collectively mentored approximately 3,000 CSB students during this time.
Over the years, there has been a number of talented executives who have served as program co-directors, putting their stamp on the organization and growing the program into what Cameron students benefit from today. These individuals include Bruce Gibson, Charles Schaefer, Allen Patrick and Bob Pious.
The network today is an integral part of the Cameron School. Approximately 25 percent of students admitted into the CSB are CEN mentees. The program offers students access to experienced business executives who assess strengths, help to develop professional and personal skills as team players and leaders, coach students in interviewing and networking, evaluate resumes, and guide in mapping out a job search and career plan.
Current CSB senior John Owens believes he has been given a great advantage through his involvement in the program and often encourages his peers to consider participation.
"Joining the CEN program was one of the most valuable decisions that I have made during my college career. My mentor has given me a wealth of knowledge that far surpasses anything that I've learned in any single course,” he said. “I highly recommend the CEN program to everyone I know in the business school. I truly would not be the person that I am today without my mentor and this program."
CEN mentors have an incredible opportunity to pass on insights and leadership skills to the next generation, and the advice they offer can guide students toward making informed decisions as they enter the business world. Many of these relationships continue long after graduation, and former students often update mentors on their successes and reach out for additional guidance from a now trusted mentor and friend.
Kathy Behr, CEN mentor of four years, certainly sees these mutual benefits.
“The impact of being a CEN mentor is that it is a two-way learning process. As a mentor, you are giving a gift but getting an even bigger gift back from the mentee. It is a privilege to enter into a relationship based on trust and honest exchange of information, and to uncover the student’s interests, background, key gifts and skillsets to help these mentees position themselves in the job market to land spot-on to their ideal career match,” she said. “This to me is the most important goal of CEN – coaching the mentee to self-discovery of their key gifts and breathing life into their quest for a fulfilling and successful career match. I found the ideal place to be, and made some wonderful new relationships along the way.”
Mr. Verrone, who is still instructing CSB students today, has been able to watch the expansion of CEN closely over the years. Having been a part of the program’s origins and vision, he has been astounded by the overwhelming growth and impact CEN has had on Cameron’s students.
"The Cameron Executive Network mentoring program has exceeded our wildest dreams of what we had envisioned it could become, thanks to the full support of the CSB deans, faculty, staff, executives and, most of all, the CSB students,” he said. “It is my hope that the program will continue to thrive and that countless future students will benefit from these mentors."