More than a mentorship
An enduring alum-student relationship proves the power of the Violet Network
When the graduates of the Class of 2018 walked across the stage at the Barclays Center to receive their degrees, most shook the hand of the Dean and immediately descended the steps to join their classmates. Pablo Najera, however, took a detour, turning back to the seated professors and dignitaries to offer a bear hug to Board Member Charles Hinkaty — a spontaneous move that might have briefly flummoxed those behind him, but one that belied the strong relationship between the two.
That relationship had gotten its start, fortuitously, at an NYU mentorship event the previous year. The University had matched willing mentors with interested students, and those pairs were scheduled to meet that afternoon. At one of the tables reserved for Tandon, they sat eagerly waiting — until it dawned on them that Hinkaty’s assigned mentee and Najera’s assigned mentor had each failed to appear. Making the best out of being stood up, they started to chat and quickly decided that they would pair up instead.
“Charlie was so warm and down to earth that I immediately felt comfortable,” Najera recalls. “It wasn’t even until our second meeting, when we shared more details about our lives, that I realized I was speaking to the former President and CEO of Del Laboratories. He has had an amazing career and has sat on numerous Boards, but the first impression you get is not what an important person he is, but how genuinely kind and caring he is.”
The two started speaking by phone every Saturday morning, discussing what had gone on in Najera’s classes the previous week and planning for the week ahead. Coincidentally, both lived on Long Island, making it easy for them to meet in person, and they began to do so regularly, in addition to their phone conversations. “It was immeasurably helpful to me,” Najera explains. “While it’s impossible to overestimate the impact of their support, my parents did not benefit from college educations and have limited insight into the corporate world. Charlie gave me practical career guidance and provided constructive criticism when it was needed, without ever making me feel judged.”
The mentorship, Najera asserts, changed his life in a very concrete way. “When it was time to start looking for work, Charlie helped me prepare for interviews and took me to networking events,” he recalls. “I really can’t describe how it made me feel to stand beside someone of Charlie’s professional stature and hear him refer to me as a friend.”
That reference to friendship is wholly apt, since the mentor-mentee relationship ultimately morphed into something even more meaningful, especially after Najera met Hinkaty’s wife, Kathy, with whom he quickly bonded over a shared love for photography. “She was every bit as warm and caring as Charlie,” he says. “Here I was, someone she didn’t even really know, and she welcomed me as though I was a family member.” That reference to family is also quite apt: one Christmas, during a Hinkaty family outing to Manhattan (a decades-old tradition that now requires them to rent a bus in order to accommodate the growing pack of grandchildren), Charlie and Kathy’s three-year-old grandson mistakenly thought Najera was his uncle, so seamlessly had he been embraced by the entire clan.
It was natural, then, for Najera to introduce the Hinkatys to Kendy, the woman he had decided he wanted to marry, to see what they thought of her. They wholeheartedly approved — and even ended up being the witnesses at the young couple’s wedding in January 2020.
“Pablo is now climbing the ladder as a software developer at his company, MSC Industrial Supply, and he’s showing real leadership skills,” Hinkaty concludes. “More importantly, he’s a wonderful person, and Kathy and I feel very enriched by knowing him.” Najera, who has himself become a mentor to a current NYU computer science major, says simply, “Kathy and Charlie have made an incalculable impact on my life. There’s no other way to put it.”