Forget everything that you've ever learned about mentoring, especially the idea of hitching your wagon to a rising star.

Ann Otero seems like an unlikely mentor - at least by the rules most companies apply. The 12-year Intel veteran is neither a star engineer nor a fast-track sales executive. She's a senior administrative assistant.

But Otero has rare gifts that Intel prizes. Among the 5,500 employees at the company's sprawling New Mexico plant, Otero is a master at tapping into the informal people networks that make the company tick. Need to know who to call in human resources about a difficult employee? Wondering how to decode the company's internal teams? Otero knows who to call and how to read the Intel culture. Her ability to navigate Intel is so refined that she's currently teaching her skills to an Intel manager who happens to outrank her. That's the Intel way of mentoring - and it has almost nothing in common with traditional, corporate mentoring programs. Intel's way is more democratic, more systematic, and faster paced. Most important, it has nothing to do with individual career advancement.

Started in 1997 at one of Intel's largest chip-making facilities in
New Mexico, the company's mentoring movement shows that an old-fashioned idea can be updated to work perfectly - even in an industry that changes with stunning speed. Traditional mentoring tethered an up-and-comer to an old hand for years of personal-development and career advice. It was an approach that seemed best suited for slow-moving industries operating in more stable times. Intel's version matches people not by job title or by years of service but by specific skills that are in demand.