We’re back with part two in our three-part series showcasing the phenomenal administrative professionals that keep things running at our Portland, Maine office, and our global company.
Ted Wirth is the CEO & President of Diversified Communications (Global). Michelle Roberts is the Director of Office Support Services, and, his Executive Assistant. This is a peek into their partnership.
Michelle, how did you come to this work, and what was a special moment for you?
I was hired sixteen years ago as the Executive Assistant for the President & CEO and the COO at Diversified Communications. Previously I worked in college administration. Eventually, I proposed that I become the Director of our Office Support Services team. Recently I managed a huge office renovation project that was very successful.
Those must have been big leaps. EAs and administrative professionals often have to step outside their comfort zone. What did you learn from it?
Growth for me, has never come from feeling “ready” for something. Growth has come when I’m willing to seek out information and education to learn along the way, assess and adjust throughout the process, and tap friends and colleagues for information or help. Each time I challenge myself in this way it leads to professional growth, builds my confidence, and establishes trust.
Ted, what do you think are the top skills and attributes that make your executive assistant (& Operations Director!) successful?
There are many skills and attributes to be a successful executive assistant. You are often the first impression of the company so a positive, friendly demeanor no matter what stress you are under, is important. I can be rather impatient and particular, so attention to detail and time management are very important. It is important to understand what is trying to be accomplished with every presentation or meeting so strong listening skills are important. Finally, being proactive and responsive builds trust and appreciation that makes both of us shine.
What has helped shape your working relationship?
Ted: Michelle had worked for the prior CEO for some time, and I am very different from the prior CEO, so we had to learn how to work with each other. Each project or experience we took on was a chance to see how each other operated. As we got to know each other better, it also built our trust in each other. With Michelle’s positivity and curiosity to understand, it did not take very long.
Michelle: Paying close attention to how my executive responds to circumstances has given me insight into his approach to leadership, expectations, and values. That insight has informed my style, processes, proposed solutions, etc., which has kept us in sync.
Ted, what are the most important things that you rely on Michelle for?
Preparing presentations is very important. Public speaking is a critical part of my job and what I present and how I present it is important to me. Michelle is very good at taking my scribbled notes, asking me what it means, and pulling together creative and professional slides.
Pulling together meetings is very important as well. The look, the feel, and the set-up can help make a meeting more effective. Making meetings feel professional yet personal shows that we care about attendees. One example is our annual International Week during which division heads and selected aspiring managers visit our home office. It is like running a week-long event: starting with gift bags in hotel rooms to a wrap-up dinner with guest speakers and outings in-between. It takes a great deal of planning and effort, but the appreciation and motivation it instills in our leadership is priceless. Michelle makes it a special week every year.
Finally, taking care of the board of directors is another important task. They are essentially my boss, so I want them to think highly of me and Michelle helps make that happen. Sending out materials, testing technology, making last minute changes, and being attentive to the needs of a family-run business are always done with professionalism and a smile. Everyone has their specific needs and Michelle makes sure they are all met.
Ted, how have you seen Michelle grow professionally?
Michelle has taken on the management of our Office Support and Services team. This requires management of people which also means managing conflict. In addition to bringing her passion and energy to the team, she has applied many of the leadership skills she has witnessed over the years. She has helped evolve the team and aligned their goals with the company’s, to meet and exceed my expectations of our office environment and the needs of our staff. As she has grown as a leader, her team has become more nimble, which is a credit to her.
Michelle, what are you focusing on for development right now?
Through unconscious bias training, reading current and historical accounts of bias and systemic racism, attending webinars, and becoming an active member of Diversified’s DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) Committee, I am committed to becoming informed and engaged so that I may support and help foster a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Diversified.
Ted, what could Michelle teach others about skillfully managing up?
I have always preached that people are valuable when they add value. That means listening and understanding the purpose, and then making it the best it can be. It is better to ask more questions in the beginning than to present a poor product because you did not understand what was asked for. Michelle is also very good at managing time and being responsive. If I give her a project, she will tell me when I can expect to see it and she delivers. It is very impressive and comforting.
Michelle, finally, what is the most rewarding part of your job/career?
As someone obsessed with efficiency and making sure systems are in place that are user-friendly for back- and front-end users, I am often making incremental changes which I find very satisfying. Most rewarding however is when our staff thank me for a hosting a great event. Diversified is in the business of producing exhibitions and conferences, so their praise is the ultimate compliment.
~Heidi Souerwine, CMP, executive director, ASAP