Tim Talk: Freely mentoring to pay it forward | October 4, 2019 | Pleasanton Weekly | PleasantonWeekly.com |

Pleasanton Weekly

Column - October 4, 2019

Tim Talk: Freely mentoring to pay it forward

by Tim Hunt

When it comes to touching lives of businesspeople, Joe Cristiano of Pleasanton may have reached more entrepreneurs one-on-one than anyone I know of or have met.

Certainly, professional speakers or authors have reached thousands or more through their media, but you can find Joe's fingerprints on owners and their businesses throughout the Bay Area. His Northern California Mentoring Group has involved 453 people over the last 16 years.

He started the group after retiring from Kelly Moore Paint after 45 years in the business starting as a stock boy and rising to president and CEO. He spent 23 years with Sherwin Williams, the largest paint company in the world, running its national sales before being recruited as president of Kelly Moore.

His mission was to grow the regional paint company. Mission accomplished over 16 years: revenues went from $80 million to $350 million as the store footprint grew to cover the West Coast.

The mentoring group was one of three core activities after retiring. He launched a paint-consulting business that had clients across North America and in Europe at its height and served as chairman of the board of the Bank of San Francisco.

Joe recalled that "he almost cried" after the first night of the entrepreneur adult education class through the Pleasanton schools when only four guys showed up: Kevin Comerford (who he already knew), Joe Rodriguez from Valley Catering, Mike Vincent from the tech world and Jeff DeBernardi of DeBernardi Development. After the scheduled classes were finished, the guys asked if they could keep meeting, so they continued to meet monthly.

That's grown into meetings with 50 or more at Service Champions in Pleasanton, the company Comerford co-founded and grew with Joe's guidance. When I attended last month, both Kevin and Joe were there, starting their 17th year.

Joe stays quite busy with the mentoring -- 29 one-hour meetings in May.

When asked why he runs the mentoring group, he wrote in an email, "My 45+ year business career was blessed with hundreds of very special individuals at all levels who coached, constructively criticized, mentored, motivated, encouraged and assisted me in climbing the ladder of success from a stock boy in a small paint store to CEO and president. I always felt that when I eventually achieved my goals and was in a position to repay them, I would pay it forward by helping others as they had helped and guided me.

"Once I became involved in mentoring, I realized that this was the best path to achieve this objective. Along with that came the realization of the pure joy I was receiving personally when I helped another mentee achieve what they were capable of while asking for nothing in return.

"Their personal messages and thank-you notes has helped fill my 'Joe Feel Good Book' and that is all the payment or reward I ever needed!"

The mentee that has known Joe the longest is Comerford, who met him while dating his daughter when they were attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. After graduating, Kevin came home and joined his parents' heating and air conditioning business as general manager. He reached out to Joe and asked if he could come visit him at Kelly Moore's headquarters and plant in San Carlos.

Kevin said he went expecting to learn how to run a $400 million business, instead he got a lesson in working with people. Joe took him on a tour of the plant and Kevin was blown away to see how much Joe knew about each employee. When they got back to Joe's office, his secretary had a box of 3x5 cards waiting -- one for each employee where Joe kept notes on what he had learned.

Joe recalled, "He was a cocky kid. I convinced him that his real mission should be to show his people he cares for them."

Joe said one of his key roles is holding the mentees accountable. They leave each meeting with three to five goals to accomplish over the next month. Miss them and Joe is disappointed.

Matt Richert, who has taken over operating Richert Ace Hardware in Pleasanton from his dad and company founder Tom, recalls how he hit all his goals except one. He'd delegated it to his dad who didn't get it done. Joe's reaction -- delegated to the wrong person. Matt was responsible.

That fits with the tagline on Joe's email signature: "Friends love you the way you are; Great mentors love you too much to leave you that way."

Editor's note: Journalist Tim Hunt has written columns on the Tri-Valley community for more than 40 years. He grew up in the valley and lives in Pleasanton. His "Tim Talk" blog appears twice a week at PleasantonWeekly.com.

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