The Lessons That Reverse Mentoring Offered to Abrdn CEO Stephen Bird

Not too long ago, Abrdn CEO Stephen Bird spoke at a CEO Summit event from Citywire. It was an opportunity for 21 executives from asset management firms across the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe to share insight, offer advice to those in attendance, and more.

During this event, he told a story about a period of his life early in his career that he spent in New York City. One of his young colleagues at the time, who happened to be African American, went into great detail about how it felt to be pulled over by the police while driving when you’re someone in his position. He explained that the number one priority was not to do anything that could be interpreted as threatening.

This was eye-opening for Stephen Bird, as it was a concern that likely would have never entered his mind under the same circumstances. It was then that he realised that there were scenarios in life where he enjoyed a privilege that others weren’t lucky enough to have, and many of those instances had to do with the colour of his skin.

Why Reverse Mentoring Matters

All of this is a perfect example of a concept called reverse mentoring. Under normal circumstances, a senior employee would mentor someone below them in the corporate hierarchy. They would take this person under their wing, show them the ropes, and teach them many of the invaluable lessons they’ve learned in their career – some of which would have undoubtedly been learned the hard way.

Reverse mentoring, as the name suggests, is the exact opposite of that. It’s when junior employees mentor someone who is above them. Again, it’s an excellent chance for junior employees to hear their voices and share their unique perspectives on their organisational roles. But, as with Stephen Bird, it can also be an eye-opening experience for someone who may be less familiar with certain aspects of a person’s day-to-day life.

When executed correctly, a reverse mentoring situation can be a hugely compelling way to continue developing both parties’ skills – especially the senior one. In virtually any industry you can think of, continuing education should always remain a top priority. The moment that someone feels that they’ve developed enough – that they’ve done enough to become the best version of themselves that they can – is the minute that they’ve lost a game they never truly understood in the first place.

Reverse mentoring can also be an effective way to create closeness and a connection between multiple generations. This, too, is important given the diverse nature of the average workforce. It will also be helpful to develop further the type of talent that most businesses will need over the next decade.

About Stephen Bird: Breaking Things Down

Stephen Bird was first appointed to the board of Abrdn in July 2020. As stories like the one above illustrate, he brought with him a career filled with examples of how he creates an unusual amount of value on behalf of his clients. He’s become adept at building high-quality revenue and earnings growth, even in complicated financial situations. He also has a wealth of knowledge that he can draw from on how to effectively transform a business during technological disruption, competitive change, and everywhere in between.

Those last two qualities are essential, given everything is going on now with the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Just a few short months before Stephen Bird assumed his role, the Coronavirus began to sweep its way across the globe. Entire industries were upended overnight. Consumer behaviours changed rapidly, as did the competitive landscape that most companies were facing. At the same time, a new generation of technology has created an opportunity for those in many industries to make a significant competitive advantage for themselves. Stephen Bird and the rest of his colleagues at Abrdn have become masters at helping as many people as possible accomplish both of those things simultaneously.

Stephen Bird joined the board first in the position of Chief Executive-Designate. He became the Chief Executive Officer a few months later, in September 2020. Things were going so well that just a year later, he became an Abrdn representative director to those fund boards in the United States, where Abrdn currently acts as the appointed investment manager.

Before joining Abrdn, Stephen Bird proudly served as the CEO of Global Consumer Banking at Citigroup. He held this position from 2015 until 2019. He had a hand in all consumer banking in 19 countries at that time. Industries he was a part of included retail banking, credit cards, mortgages, and more. He also helped lay the technological nation needed to support these efforts in the future. Stephen Bird joined Citigroup back in 1998.

Indeed, Stephen Bird’s career has taken him to many places, and he’s learned a lot of invaluable lessons – with the example mentioned earlier of reverse mentoring being chief among them. This is not a perspective he ever would have obtained naturally. Even when he was told by his colleague what that person’s own experience was like, it initially came as something of a shock to him. Yet after being exposed to that story, they positively changed his outlook.

That’s why reverse mentoring is so important in so many different situations. It exposes us to thoughts and ideas that we might not otherwise have access to but can make a positive impact. That’s why, in the opinion of Stephen Bird, all organisational leaders need to be willing to listen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. You always need to find out what type of insight you’ll be able to obtain and take back with you to the job.