Natalia Kolotneva is currently working at LaSalle Investment Management as Head of Alternatives and Residential, having graduated with an MSc in Corporate Real Estate Finance and Strategy in 2007. Natalia has a history in professional mentoring and joined the Alumni Mentoring scheme in September last year, she hasn’t looked back since! We spoke to Natalia about her career to date and her definition of a mentor.
Tell us a bit about your time at the Business School.
I did my Masters in Corporate Real Estate Finance and Strategy back in 2007 – it was the most international course I’ve ever been on. It was absolutely fascinating – the calibre of people coming from different backgrounds, different countries, some with quite extensive experience in the professional world and some straight out of uni and we were all thrown together. I was fortunate because it was all ages, on campus, and really interactive. It was all about teamwork learning from each other, which for me was the main driver and why I chose the course. It was just fascinating, and now 15 years later, I am still in touch with a group of friends from my time at the Business School.
How did you first hear about the professional mentoring scheme? What inspired you to join the scheme?
It is funny actually but my mother-in-law liked a post about the scheme on LinkedIn, so I saw it and thought, “Hold on, I still have a week before the deadline. That’s brilliant”. I couldn’t think of a better scheme to join because I have been doing mentorship for a while, within the industry, and had two existing mentees. This was also a perfect match because as an alumna I have a personal vested interest in the students and the Business School. For me this was a great opportunity – the whole professionalism and structured approach to it is fantastic.
How long have you been part of the mentorship scheme?
About eight months now! I signed up early in the year, and now my fabulous mentee is just finishing his exams.
In your opinion, what is a mentor supposed to do? / What are the positives of having a mentor?
I am not going to give you what Google or another script might say about what mentorship is and what a mentor is supposed to do. However, I can tell you for sure that anyone can be a role model and they don’t have to look like you. Being in the same industry does help tremendously because you understand straight away what the challenges are for your mentee. But what does a mentor actually do? They teach and nourish a less experienced person, that’s the basic definition really. Although, a golden rule of mentoring is not under any circumstance to offer a job. This should not stop you as a mentor, from recommending and keeping an eye on opportunities. Another tip of what a mentor should do is ask the right questions, challenge their mentee and guide them wherever they can.
What do you wish a mentor had told you when you were studying? What was the best thing a mentor told you when you were studying?
I never had an official mentor in my life nor in my career. Starting my life in the UK at the age of 16, as an international student, leaving family behind, building relationships with people along the way was the most rewarding and valuable gift I have ever been given. One person who stands out though is a very prominent real estate veteran, who was there for me in the early stages of my property career and he is still here 14 years later! For me, the most important thing has not been one single piece of advice, but their reliability over the years. It’s one thing is to give good advice, but the real benefit is knowing that you can get that opinion when you really need it. The most priceless thing is listening, responding and remembering.
What has been one of the highlights of your time as a mentor?
I am really proud of my mentee. I think he has really progressed so much from when we initially started talking. I was so excited when he got multiple job offers, especially because of how tough it is for students post-pandemic. This was sort of a pride moment when he said “I have got few job offers”, and he called me to brainstorm which one would suit him better. It was really gratifying that he still needed me as a sounding board to advise him. I believe mentorship is a two-way street and is not just you, working to help them out, it’s also a great tool to learn about yourself. I have been in the sector for 15+ years but every time he asks me a question, I have an answer. It can be a great confidence booster and a chance to test yourself – making sure you practice what you preach!
Could you share some of your key career or life advice?
I always push myself to take risks and always encourage others to do the same. Mistakes and failures don’t define us and are simply inevitable. I will say to every one of my mentees that taking risks only deepens your confidence in your ability to learn, be bold and respectful.
Focus on the good, by remembering the positives and writing them down. Remind yourself when times are tough or when you doubt yourself, go back to that notebook and read through what you have accomplished.
And finally, work hard on everything within your control and be your best possible self.
What would you say to someone who wants to get into mentoring?
I would say that you are always going to question whether you have the mental or time capacity to become a mentor. You might also think that it is against your character, maybe you are someone who does not like to guide people. Nothing wrong with trying though. It gives you an incredible opportunity to impact on another person’s life, as they let you in and it is a privilege and trust you need to cherish. It also means you get to learn from different generations. Even if you have never had an opportunity to have a mentor, there is always an opportunity to do something now and make that difference.