At Blackstone, we believe that mentorship is essential to helping our employees grow in their careers – all the more so when many of us are working remotely. In the coming months, the Blackstone Women’s Initiative will be sharing a series of conversations between mentors and mentees that provide insight into how we’re building the firm’s next generation of leaders. We’ll begin by highlighting stories from women across our business who have benefited both personally and professionally from their mentor-mentee relationships.
Global Co-Head of Real Estate Kathleen McCarthy (left), based in New York, speaks over video conference with her mentee, Younghee Choi (right), Managing Director in Institutional Client Solutions in Hong Kong.
As Global Co-Head of Real Estate, Kathleen focuses on all operational aspects of running and growing Blackstone’s Real Estate business, including primary responsibility for capital raising and investor relations. Prior to being named Co-Head in 2018, Kathleen served as Global Chief Operating Officer of Blackstone Real Estate. Kathleen joined Blackstone in 2010.
Younghee has also been at Blackstone since 2010, and focuses on institutional capital raising efforts for Blackstone’s private funds.
Younghee Choi: Our mentorship relationship started very naturally. We never really said, "Oh, I'm your mentor, you're my mentee." With Kathleen being in New York and me being in Hong Kong, we were geographically apart. But ever since I first took on my role in Real Estate Institutional Client Solutions, Kathleen has been one of the more active people in giving me advice and guidance. I truly value this, because not many people gave me advice unless I really asked for it. Sometimes, you don't even know what to ask for feedback on.
Kathleen McCarthy: I remember how within days of Younghee joining Blackstone and meeting us in New York we thought, "Wow, this is a person who is really smart, has strong language skills, knows real estate and could be a huge asset to our investors. So, we asked if she would transition from her role at Merrill Lynch, which was a hybrid of asset management and client services, into a full-time role working with clients. She was so enthusiastic and positive about it. She had a similar reaction again more recently, when we asked her to step out beyond real estate to represent Blackstone in Korea across all of our businesses. This is part of what I love about working with Younghee and serving as a mentor to her. At every turn she is everything you want in a mentee; her approach is "I want to be successful. I want to maximize my opportunities here. Just let me know what I need to do to do that." If that means taking on a new challenging opportunity, she exhibits trust in me and in the firm and says, "Okay, I'm in."
One of the most important things that Kathleen taught me at the very beginning of my career at Blackstone is simply to be nice. It sounds simple, but sometimes when you have to balance your external investors and people internally, you can forget to be patient and appreciative. There was one project where I was pressing our people in New York, and, to be honest, I wasn't doing it in a nice manner. Kathleen called me and said, "Younghee, you can't do that. You have to treat people nicely so you can be treated nicely, and then get recognized and be respected by others." It was an eye-opening comment that I remember still, even nine years later.
I vividly remember one conversation with Younghee, where I was sitting at my desk at home and she was explaining how a particularly demanding client was insisting on something that we couldn’t possibly get for him. Up until that moment my approach to Younghee had been, "Younghee, you just have to say no and stand up to him."
However, in talking it through with her and speaking with the client, I recognized that Younghee has a really hard job where she has to navigate different stakeholders from different cultures, whose expectations are sometimes at odds with one another. She has to seamlessly work in differing environments, namely within Blackstone and among our clients in Korea, and make everyone happy. During that conversation I suddenly had this moment of clarity and grew to respect enormously how she has to get things done in a way that works for different atmospheres.
I think this experience opened up a new chapter in our relationship. I recognized that this is part of my job with Younghee as someone who wants to be her mentor: I have to help her succeed in both environments, recognizing that sometimes, she’s going to know more than I do and I’m going to be the one learning from her. Not all these conversations and moments of working together and supporting each other are easy. Interpersonally things have always been positive and constructive between the two of us. But in a way, these bonds were forged in moments of challenge. Whether that was Younghee taking on a new or bigger role, or me growing accustomed to working more globally versus just in an American context.
People ask, "How do you form mentoring relationships?" I actually think that for many people this is how it happens. Mentorship often comes from being in the thick of something together, and it’s the mentor's role to guide the way and help the mentee through it.
As a mentee, you also have to be able to take feedback from your mentor. You have to be open-minded to take it, really make it yours, and use it to improve yourself. I think that's very valuable because sometimes you hear feedback and you'll think, "Oh, that person doesn't really know me." But whoever gives me any kind of feedback, I try to think about it and see why that person thinks in that way, and then how I can do better the next time.
I get tough feedback too, and I try to remind myself that it's hard to hear but important to know.
I hope if one day I become a mentor to somebody, I will be able to be really direct about comments. You’re giving that feedback because you really care about that person. I want them to know that.
That’s right – we give feedback because we do care! Many of us at Blackstone saw in Younghee more than I think she even saw for herself in terms of her capabilities, the influence she could have, and the career path she could achieve. I remember, probably more than five years ago, how the Younghee I spoke with was someone who thought of herself as the junior woman on the team, with limitations to what she could do.
But I have noticed a real transformation in Younghee. Over time there's been an incredible evolution in her confidence, her approach and ownership of her business. I think that is her growing and maturing professionally, but I'd like to believe that I and others who recognized her talent were part of it. Younghee has had a huge positive impact for the firm as she has taken on more senior roles. She's opened up many more relationships for Blackstone in Korea across our businesses. I think it's the job of a mentor and sponsor to push a person along and create opportunities, maybe even before the mentee sees it in themselves.