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Grooming the next generation for leadership roles

Rochester Business Journal
November 9, 2012

A Boy Scout is on his way to earn an Explorer badge by helping to design and construct a bridge. For Allen Rossignol, mentoring this boy and developing his leadership skills is important, because he represents the next generation.
Rossignol, a principal at Edge Architecture PLLC and a 2011 Forty Under 40 honoree, says project management training and providing opportunities for leadership are the answers to developing and mentoring talent.
"I do one-on-one meetings with each of our project leaders for young professionals to review where they might be and make sure they're getting the balance that they need to grow," Rossignol says. "What I've also implemented here is monthly continuing education; I let them focus on what specialty area they want to learn more about. I empower them to drive the process."
He is not the only up-and-coming business leader in the area who is intent on grooming the next generation for key roles. Other young professionals also believe mentorship is vital to the city's and the nation's success.
Maria Thomas Fisher, who just started at the University of Rochester five months ago as operations manager at the Warner School of Education, already has begun to mentor others. She joined UR Young Leaders, the Student Bridge for Community Engagement Committee and the Warner School's Diversity Committee to connect with others.
"It's so important to join committees and groups that span the department and the organization," Fisher says. "This involvement can lead to opportunities to be mentored and to mentor."
Outside of the workplace, Fisher serves as board president for the Rochester Children's Scholarship Fund, which provides stipends and connections for students. The 2009 Forty Under 40 honoree also is the founder of NextGen Rochester, a young professionals giving circle of the Rochester Area Community Foundation.
"My hope is that I have a positive impact on city of Rochester students," Fisher says. "As a first-generation high school and college graduate, I assign great value to higher education and know how challenging it can be without professional role models."
Sanjay Hiranandani, vice president of information technology operations at Paychex Inc., spends a lot of time formally and informally mentoring managers at his company.
"I have relied on a lot of mentors to get to where I am over the last few decades, so I like to give back," he says. "I like to take time to understand, so I mentor folks from around the community."
Hiranandani says the payroll processor is in the process of mentoring people companywide at the mid-senior management level.
"We selected a couple of dozen key individuals who we see as potential leaders as opportunities open up in the senior leadership team," he says. "We are pairing them up with other leaders to get advice and provide them with 360-degree feedback."
Formal sessions with coaches help these individuals work through their successes and challenges while identifying their strengths and driving forces, adds Hiranandani, a 2002 Forty Under 40 honoree.
The work environment today is vastly different from when he was coming out of college, calling for new skills to develop and grow, Hiranandani notes.
"Agility is a key value for a lot of leaders today," he says. "They need to be able to lead situationally, to lead an environment where things are changing rapidly.
"Being able to manage a very diverse employee base is key; we are in an environment where we are bringing together a lot of different characteristics to build successful products and service."
Hiranandani also says integrity-knowing yourself and making sure you do what you say you will-is a key value to any leader.
In its effort to cultivate the next crop of leaders, the Summit Federal Credit Union fosters community involvement. It encourages staffers to volunteer time on boards, says Twanda Christensen, marketing manager.
"We even track the number of hours that each of our employees and managers spends in the community and report that to our board," Christensen says. "From the top down there is a really strong push for those hands-on opportunities."
Christensen herself serves on the board of Wilson Commencement Park, a local organization that helps single-parent families become self-sufficient. A member of the 2010 class of Forty Under 40 honorees, she also is involved with the Rochester Chapter of the Credit Union Association of New York, works on its communications and often puts together social and networking events.
She says being positive and proactive will create the next generation of leaders.
Christensen advocates "being willing to do something out of your area, something you feel a little uncomfortable with but are willing to try, because you never know whom you are going to meet or what you can bring to a different organization unless you try."
According to her, Rochester is a great place for young professionals because the community as a whole is philanthropic.
"There are so many opportunities to get involved in organizations here where you can come to a company and maybe start off in a lower position and work your way up," Christensen says. "Here at the credit union we like to promote from within. So a young professional here may start as a teller and rise up the ranks to a manager or vice president at some point."
Fisher believes in the concept of servant leadership demonstrated by integrity, empathy and humility.
"As leaders, we should strive to serve our co-workers, our subordinates, our organization and our community," she says. "Service is so much more important than personal gain or notoriety.
"One great thing about this community is the plethora of leadership opportunities available through (young professionals) groups, non-profits and professional organizations."
That diversity is what attracted Hiranandani to Rochester.
"You have the urban environment with a lot of art and culture here," he says. "You have a pretty big spread in terms of what you can do here.
"There is a very large number of higher education institutions, so there is a lot of talent coming out of here. You've got key companies that are going through large transformations right now. It's a great place to raise a family."
Adds Hiranandani: "When you look at other Upstate New York cities, you don't see that type of congregation coming together, so Rochester in that way is an amazing place."

Megan Goldschmidt is a freelance writer and a former Rochester Business Journal intern.11/9/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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