In 1980, while serving as branch manager for IBM in Philadelphia, I had the occasion to visit a senior executive at one of our customers — The Campbell Soup Company in Camden, New Jersey. I don’t remember who I met with or what we talked about but I will never forget the executive’s secretary who was sitting at her small desk in the executive’s office. This is how it was for all the executive secretaries at the company. I thought it was a bit strange then and increasingly over the years thought even the term "secretary" was outdated. Over the last twenty-five years the title has mostly been replaced by "administrative assistant". In some companies they call the role "admin". Whatever you call them, their responsibilities have changed dramatically.
In the early days a secretary might take dictation, type letters, arrange the bosses desk, and pour coffee – even make coffee. Today’s administrative assistant performs information research and retrieval, plans and books travel, collaborates with colleagues to optimize the use of their principal’s time, anticipates the needs of those they support, handles inquiries from inside and outside of the company, prepares presentation materials, and takes online courses to improve their skills. That is just a sampling. Administrative assistants are invaluable assets that leverage the scarce resources of the organization they are part of. These are just a few of the reasons that I have always had the greatest respect for administrative assistants.
Once a year I am privileged to spend an hour in an interview with Lillian Davis who is responsible for Site Administrative Services at IBM in Austin, Texas. That is her day job but she also serves as the doyen of the Senior Administrative Council. This group of 100+ administrative assistants from all parts of IBM serve as the thought leaders for thousands of other assistants and they share their expertise as well as make suggestions to the company for improved procedures. Aside from all that, when you hear Lillian on this podcast you will think she is a major network news anchor.