Guest Mentor Spotlight: Jay McNaught | VP Mentor Development at Starfish Initiative

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Dr. Jay McNaught is the Vice President of Mentor Development for Starfish Initiative. In this role he is responsible to recruit, engage and develop mentors for this world-class program.

Prior to Starfish Initiative, Jay directed global learning and development for Harman. In this position he oversaw the operation of three academies: the Business Academy, the Function Academy and the Leadership Academy.

Previously, Jay worked on leadership development for executive leaders at Walmart. As the Director of Global Leadership Strategy and Development, he focused on the development and delivery of leadership curriculum for leaders at the top of the organization.

Jay has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Indiana University. He has an MBA and a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership from Indiana Wesleyan University. His dissertation research focused on how leaders make decisions. Jay has an ICF Coaching Certification from Columbia University.


Share a little bit about yourself!

I live in Carmel with my wife, Jan. She works at the Village of Merici as a coach for adults with disabilities. My son is an Investment Banker in Chicago with William Blair. My primary pastime is cycling. A buddy and I try to do a major cycling tour every year in a different state. We plan to eventually ride through all 50 states. My other passion is eating pizza. (We have written two books about our cycling adventures and eating pizza: “Pedaling for Pizza”)

Based on your career path, leadership development seems to be your area of expertise! How did you get started in the field?

I began my career in education. I taught English at Center Grove Middle School. At that time, schools were just beginning to understand the impact of personal computers, and I became the computer coordinator for the school. Businesses were just beginning to roll out PCs for their employees, and they needed help teaching employees how to use them. This seemed like an opportunity to combine my educational background with my interested in computers. I took a position at Anthem Blue Cross, teaching employees to use computers. Eventually, I took a similar position at Public Service Indiana (PSI – now Duke Energy) where I launched their personal computer training program. Eventually, while at PSI, I began teaching more than computers. I began to focus on staff development and was able to design and deliver a leadership development program. Ultimately, I found that I enjoyed the leadership training more than the technical training and moved in that direction – doing leadership development and coach training at Pfizer, Zoetis, Walmart and, most recently, Harman.

Tell us more about your role at Starfish Initiative as the VP of Mentor Development. What’s the best part about your job?

My wife and I were eager to move back to Indianapolis when I learned about the position at Starfish. The position seemed like a great opportunity to use my knowledge and skills to help mentors be more effective. While I view mentoring, leadership and coaching as distinct disciplines, they share many common skills and practices. I have enjoyed leveraging much of what I did in the corporate world to better equip mentors at Starfish.

Besides developing our existing mentors, I am also charged with recruiting new members. We have a huge need for additional mentors as we plan to double Starfish’s impact by 2022. I had no previous experience with recruiting, but it has turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the job. I am amazed at how people are so willing to share their lives with others, and how much they care about making an impact. I love meeting and interviewing our new mentor candidates.

What role has mentorship played in your development personally or professionally?

Fortunately, I’ve had some excellent mentors at different times in my life. When I was working with Cinergy (PSI), a senior leader in the Cincinnati office took me under her wing and encouraged me to further my education. Even though I had a Master’s Degree in Education, she helped me see that if I were to advance in the corporate world, an MBA would unlock a lot of doors. This was at a time in my life when it wasn’t easy to think about going back to school. But because of her encouragement, I persevered and completed the degree. Interestingly, I had a similar experience with a different mentor later in my career which provided impetus to finish a doctorate degree. Both of these mentors did more than inspire my education – they took an interest in all parts of my life and career. They helped me navigate the landmines and find good paths forward.

What do you wish you knew when you were just beginning your career?

I wish I hadn’t tried to go it alone! It wasn’t until later in my career that I began to understand the value of having mentors. In my younger mind, asking for mentorship or coaching was a sign of weakness – that I couldn’t do it on my own. I now see the importance of seeking out mentors and NOT trying to go it alone. Mentors are a strategic way to multiply your own effectiveness.

What is one piece of advice would you give to today’s young professionals?

I would encourage young professionals to be deliberate and purposeful in seeking out strategic mentors – and in being a mentor to others. The experience can be both so rewarding and so helpful.


Starfish Initiative inspires, encourages, and prepares promising, economically disadvantaged students for college and career success. To achieve this goal, Starfish pairs economically disadvantaged high school students one-on-one with college-educated mentors. Interested in making a difference as a Starfish mentor?