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The Value of an Executive Assistant with Bonnie Low-Kramen

George Grombacher July 28, 2022

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The Value of an Executive Assistant with Bonnie Low-Kramen

LifeBlood: We talked about the value of a personal assistant, the skills required to be great, erasing the associated stigmas, compensation potential, and how to get started, with Bonnie Low-Kramen, Global Trainer, CEO, Speaker and author of The Ultimate Assistant. 

Listen to learn why you should start saying the quiet things out loud!

You can learn more about Bonnie at BonnieLowKramen.com, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.

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Our Guests

George Grombacher


Bonnie Low-Kramen

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:00
Come on Bob Leffler This is George G. And the time is right. Welcome. Today’s guest is strong and powerful body low crave. And Bonnie. Are you ready to do this?

Unknown Speaker 0:18
I’m totally ready, George. All right, let’s

george grombacher 0:21
let’s go. Bonnie is a global trainer. She’s a co TEDx speaker, and she is the author of be the ultimate assistant. Bonnie excited to have you on. Tell us a little about your personal life smart about your work and why you do what you do.

Unknown Speaker 0:35
Thanks, George. Well, I’m a Jersey girl. I live in Florida now with the man who was my high school boyfriend. True Story of living in a place called Ponte Vedra, Florida. needed to go to my happy place, which is the beach, a man in the warms. I’ve got a 34 year old son, and two stepdaughters and three. Well, two granddaughters with one on the way. And they are my why, totally. They’re in New Jersey, so I have to travel to go see them. I have to tell you that I’m obsessed with the workplace and the world as it’s spinning. It’s I always think like, who needs fiction when real life is just so interesting, and maddening and infuriating. I spend most of my waking hours thinking about that. But when I take a break, I am a film addict. I love movies. And I love live theater. I’m headed to London next week to speak at a conference and I’m going to theatre. So I’m so happy the pandemic is mostly over so that we can go gather in rooms again, to enjoy theater. I love the ideas of that.

george grombacher 1:59
Yeah, well, wonderful. I have long heard that, like grandkids are the best thing in the world. I’ve got a five and a two year old and and they are certainly wonderful, but sort of Treadmill exhausting, infuriating, wonderful, all sort of at the same time. So

Unknown Speaker 2:19
Boy, you’ve got your hands full. They, it is a it is a joy. And it is exhausting. You’re so right about that. But don’t blink, don’t blink, George they’re going to be 34 Before you know it.

george grombacher 2:34
So the story goes, I certainly do try. So. And truth is stranger than fiction. And the workplace is fascinating. Because there’s people there, Barney, there are people in the workplace, and we are humans.

And you spent so your your your love. It wasn’t is the theater. And I believe it was your goal to get into the theater. And that led you down a different path. You spent 25 plus years as the executive assistant for Olympia, Dukakis. And that’s sort of what what that’s sort of what brought us here.

Unknown Speaker 3:13
Yeah. I, in the work I did with Olympia, I found that there were so few resources for the work early on in the work with Olympia, I remember thinking to myself, How can I possibly be as good an assistant or as great an assistant as she is an actress? How does that happen? And so I went looking for books and classes and found next to nothing. And so I really literally thought, well, you know, I could spend the rest of my life complaining about this, or I could create them myself. What I found was, you know, my mother was a secretary, a legal secretary. And what I came to find out is that there are millions of assistants in the United States, and 93 to 97% of them are female. The domination by females has has been the same through the years it’s gotten. There are more men now, but not many more. So it is a profession dominated by women. And in part that has been a contributing factor to what has happened to the role and how it’s evolved. These are some of the most resourceful, creative people who many of them don’t even have a college degree. But what they do have is tremendous emotional intelligence, and a hunger to learn what they don’t know. And so I wrote a book for us, be the ultimate assistant and I created a class by the same name. And for the last 11 years, I’ve been traveling the world not only teaching assistance, but also bringing together the leaders who they support. And I call that building the ultimate partnership. Because in this workplace that has been so changed by the pandemic, there’s a real need to revisit what that partnership looks like it, you know, because after all, these leaders are tasked with leading multimillion dollar billion dollar companies, and they can’t do it alone. Everybody knows you need those people who are the owner of the company, and their right arms. Well, those people need nurturing and support and training.

george grombacher 5:43
Damn, well said. There’s a lot of really, I think, fascinating things. The skills, the traits that go into becoming, or being a great executive assistant, strike me that’s the same skills, tools and traits that make a good CEO.

Unknown Speaker 6:01
You are 100% Correct. And in fact, true story, one of my students actually in an in an in an emergency situation. Her CEO, actually named her, the acting CEO of the company. And that happened that she did that for six months. And it was it spoke to the the level of trust, and that they had between them. And the leadership team, you have to know came to the CEO and said, Why her Why did you name your assistant, the CEO of the company, and he said, Debbie understands my, my goals, and she is completely inside my head and in my inbox, and I believe she will implement what I need to be done over this this next period of time. And they’re still together. This happened in 2016. And it’s a such a cool story. I mean, it’s rare, that doesn’t happen a lot. But it just speaks to the level of responsibility that so many C suite assistants hold.

george grombacher 7:07
Yeah. And so there’s a million interesting conversations here. I think that if we, if we just flash forward, you know, 20 years from now, I think there’ll be so many more female CEOs, and probably a lot more male, executive assistants. And so, but that’s a whole nother podcast. As the shift is happening, as as people are viewing executive assistants differently, I imagine that there’s still stigma, I’m just imagining, there’s still people have assumptions.

Unknown Speaker 7:43
Yeah, yeah. And mass media doesn’t do us any favors. You know, when, when we think of any profession, we often think of the images that we see in on television and in film, and as much of a film buff as I am, I remember watching the movie nine to five, which is hilarious. But if that’s all you’re, you know, working girl, or if that’s all you’re seeing about the profession, then then it’s a very warped profession. perception of the Devil Wears Prada, for example, that you know, the, the executive from hell. And, you know, Miranda Priestly, played by Meryl Streep. And those are warped and extreme perceptions on the drum of extremity. They are at one extreme, you know, in nine to five, the abusive executive is strung up in his office. And of course, in real life, that would never happen. And it is a comedy. But those images and those perceptions linger. The reality is that these women are formidable. And they are literally helping their executives run companies in 2022. And it’s no longer profession of you know, just answering the phone and filing their nails and filing, you know, folders kind of thing. It’s it’s so much more complicated than that, but in large part driven by the technology that they need to know, you know, we have this plethora of gadgets that we all walk around with, but as you correctly pointed out, you know, the, as long as the workplace is populated by humans, I keep up there’s going to be a need to pay attention to the, to the individuality of these of these people, you know, everybody was hired at a company for a reason. And I’m sure more than one reason, but for that fact alone, they’re deserving of respect and to be treated professionally. And so we To start there at that baseline. And so for me, the issues of workplace bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace are simply unacceptable. There’s just no room for that there’s so much at stake in this workplace to, for leaders to tolerate those kinds of toxic behaviors that are chasing people away. There’s not anybody who hasn’t heard about the great resignation. Well, toxic work environments are a big reason why?

george grombacher 10:28
Yeah, yeah, certainly. It strikes me and I’ve been thinking about this for for some time, that there’s will exist a need and an even greater need moving forward, to help navigate modern living and to help not navigate technology to help navigate interpersonal communication, as we get less good at that. And we have fewer interactions that we still we will always need, for lack of a better term, a Sherpa, or Sherpa has to sort of move everything together and continue the conversation. And sometimes that’s the CEO themselves. Sometimes that’s the executive assistant. I just think it’s immensely valuable. And I’ve never been to law school. I’m going to really change gears on your fast Hereupon. I’ve never been lost. But but but my perception is that part of going to law school is they teach you sort of the decorum and how to act and conduct and comport yourself as an attorney that lends to respect and reverence. And so if you don’t have that idea of how do I conduct myself so that I am presenting myself respectfully, or in a way that will be respected. And that’s perhaps what you part of what your course and book works to do. Well,

Unknown Speaker 11:51
I mean, it’s really good points you’re making. So in law school, for example, to use your example. They teach comportment, in a room and with clients. And, and people theoretically learn how to be men and women learn how to be talented lawyers, they learn the law, what’s not being taught in business, in law school, and in business school, by the way, is how to manage a staff. They’re not teaching how to comport themselves with the team who are working with them. And I couldn’t agree with you more that we all need those Sherpas are some people refer to them as mentors, teachers guides, where does the CEO learn that? You know, at its very basic level, we all are you you learned, I learned around our kitchen table in our in whoever raised us, right? That how to behave, how to be people how to function in the world around us. And as we grow older, I’m a big fan of that, quote, you can’t be it if you can’t see it. So if the man or woman is lucky enough to be raised by people who teach respect, and professionalism, and caring for other people, then that person grows to be an adult and hopefully knows how to deal with takes those behaviors right into the workplace. But if they didn’t, and they didn’t have education, in school to teach them another way, then then, you know, we emulate what we’ve learned. And I see it evidenced, everywhere I go, I’ve been in 14 countries. And there’s a lot of poor leadership going on. And I feel like we could do a much better job generally in educating our future leaders for managing people.

george grombacher 14:07
Yeah, I certainly couldn’t agree more. That was I appreciate you expanding on my on my law school. My law school analogy because you’re 100%, right. I mean, just because you know how to conduct yourself in the courtroom and everything else and with client doesn’t mean that you’re not going to be a terrible tyrant or whatever.

Unknown Speaker 14:26
With it’s not it’s not logical. When I talk to rooms of assistance. I say it’s not logical that just because somebody is a great accountant, does not equate with being a great manager of people. Those are two separate skill sets. Same thing with being a doctor or a lawyer or podcaster. You know, it and just because somebody is a great salesperson, doesn’t mean they’re a great teacher of salespeople. I was a great assistant. Yes, I’ll say that, it didn’t mean that I was automatically talented to manage other assistants. That’s a whole other thing. And so now we’re seeing in this post pandemic world, many assistants, the ones who have that skill to manage others are becoming Chiefs of Staff. So there’s a movement happening in the global workplace, because now my goodness, we have remote workers, we have some people are coming into the office, when we have a hybrid situation where we have a combination of all of those things. And who sort of leaders didn’t get training to begin with for how to manage people, they certainly didn’t get training, to how to how to manage people who are partially in the office partially at home, how do you keep humans connected when they’re so fragmented? And that’s a challenge that we have, that still remains to be seen the solutions for that. And I want to be I’m a part of that conversation. You know, I believe assistance can be very integral essential in helping move that bring order to that kind of chaos.

george grombacher 16:12
Yeah, I think there’s no question about that. There’s a huge opportunity there. What to what, what is the financial compensation potential these days,

Unknown Speaker 16:22
you know, the great resignation, happily, has sent salaries upwards. And I’ll just say it for a very long time, assistants were pitifully underpaid. In large part, the majority of assistants are female. And females in general, the statistic bears it out, are not great at negotiating for themselves. And they, we don’t ask, women don’t ask as much as men do. So it’s very much a numbers game. But recruiters are celebrating and assistants are celebrating that finally, the salaries are coming up to a more fair and equitable rate. So it really does depend on geography to an extent, of course, you can it make sense that New York and LA and Chicago, K more than other more suburban cities, however, generally speaking, if you’re in a, if you’re looking for an experienced assistant, it’s going to be around at 60 to $80,000. And then the more C suite, you get, you know, to support a CEO or the C suite executives, it’s going to be between 80 and $100,000. And then if an assistant has direct reports, people recording to her or him. So they have supervisory responsibilities as well. That sends the salary up even further into 125 to 150. And an upwards from there, depending on levels of responsibility. Sometimes they’re traveling. These people are smart and resourceful. And, and they are, they’re wearing a lot of hats, George. So it’s a happy thing, that salaries are increasing. And there’s the pandemic created a heightened awareness of how much these women actually do in the workplace because they simply weren’t there in the office. And so all of a sudden, the leaders realized, oh, my gosh, I don’t know how to manage the technology. I don’t know how to do so many of these things, because my assistant did them for me. So now, assistants are finding that they’re very effective doing the work from home. They, they have figured out how to pivot. It’s taken a while, but it’s happening and jobs are plentiful. Thankfully, and salaries are increasing. Honestly, if we can get to fair, there’s still too many that are underpaid. We need to get to fair compensation, the wage gap is still too big.

george grombacher 19:08
I appreciate that. Well, Bonnie, people are ready for that difference making tip? What do you have for them?

Unknown Speaker 19:16
You know what, George? I think the tip is simple is to say, to say the quiet things out loud. What I observe with my students with my audiences is that there’s there’s a lot that’s not being said in the workplace that needs to be said that leaders need to know about what’s really happening. You know, an extreme example would be when there’s bullying when there’s sexual harassment. If If staff is not talking to leadership, then they don’t know there’s a problem. We need to say the quiet parts out loud And I know it feels like a risk. And it takes courage. And it most definitely does. But the shame would be if we get to 2023 or 2024. And we haven’t addressed some of the big problems and the big issues that need to be fixed in our workplace. That’s what I would have to say.

george grombacher 20:22
Well, I think that that is great stuff that definitely gets come up. Bonnie, thank thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? How can they engage? Where can they get a copy of the book be the ultimate assistant and where can they find the class?

Unknown Speaker 20:36
Yeah, my website has it all on the low creamin.com. The new book, The current book is be the ultimate assistant. And by the end of 2022, the new book is called staff matters. And which is not only about assistants, although it certainly is, but it’s about leaders and HR and recruiters. And I believe they’re, I’m trying to practice what I preach, which is to say the quiet parts out loud and in writing. And with you, George, thank you so much for the opportunity.

george grombacher 21:09
That was lovely talking with you. As much as I did show Bani, your appreciation and shared today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas go to Bonnie Lowe. craven.com. It’s bonnelowkramn.com and pick up a copy of the of the book be the ultimate assistant and find everything else and we look forward to the new book as well. Thanksgiving, Barney. Thank you, George. And until next time, keep fighting the good fight. We’re all in this together.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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