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Scanning a newspaper recently, I came across a positive business story. It was about a recent Edelman Trust survey on global perceptions of institutions, which found businesses are the only institutions in society seen as being competent and ethical. On a scale of one to 100, business now holds a 53-point lead over government in competence and is 30 points ahead on ethics.

One concludes that in the age-old friction between state power and market power, or the public and private sectors, the market side is winning in the arena of public opinion.

Why? The reasons are complex, but they have a lot to do with the quality of relationships in business compared to other institutions. Business firms have incentives to cultivate good relationships with customers, employees, suppliers and investors. When they suffer, the level of trust undergirding any market transaction diminishes, along with the business’s bottom line and ability to meet payrolls and invest in the future. Consumers also have strong incentives to maintain good relationships with those who provide what they need to have full and happy lives.

Outside the market, these relationships are weaker. Good people are working at the Department of Motor Vehicles, but I have never felt as welcomed there as I do at Publix. Or consider the U.S. Postal Service—people who don’t rely on it may consider it simply a government program that delivers physical spam to our houses six days a week. Our relationships with the DMV and post office do not lead to improving outcomes.

Mentorships are relationships, too. To encourage them, the Florida Gulf Coast University Lutgert College of Business launched a new mentorship program to help ease our students’ transition into full, productive careers. Now in its second semester, the program has already fostered more than 50 student-mentor relationships. Given the needs of our students and the wealth of talent in our region, there’s no reason we can’t reach 200 students within a few years.

There are reasons for my optimism. We live in Southwest Florida with an abundance of highly skilled business people, many of whom I hear from weekly, asking how they can help and be part of our college’s mission. Aside from the retired professionals, CEOs and other leaders moving here every month, we are blessed with many extremely accomplished people in mid-career, living out vocations, many of which did not even exist in Southwest Florida 20 years ago.

Our mentorship program creates a new layer of relationships in the region, letting our students tap into this vast resource of human capital. Gulfshore Business readers can support this program by volunteering as mentors and encouraging the business students they know toward mentorships. Our mentors often volunteer because they had mentors and want to pay them back to a new generation.

Our recent mentees are a gritty bunch, having pushed through a pandemic and then a major hurricane while keeping their eyes not just on their degrees but also on the opportunities those degrees make possible. If the economy of the 2020s and 2030s requires smarts and resilience, then the disruptions of the past few years have served as an unintended master class simply by studying business in Southwest Florida. To the extent that their mentor relationships help ease the transition to meaningful, productive careers, their mentors will help influence our region and state for years to come.

Business is about risk and reward, relationships and service, and mentorship programs are about establishing intentional and strategic connections between our students and the productive class. To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, the Lutgert College of Business’ new mentorship program is fomenting some beautiful ones.

Christopher Westley, Ph.D., is dean of Florida Gulf Coast University’s Lutgert College of Business.

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