So, there I was, having just joined the ranks of those in the start-up world, today was my first day on the job as an Executive Assistant working for two executives who I barely knew anything about. One of my executives was a very laid-back, grounded guy who was the VP of manufacturing. He was always positive, easy going and comfortable to talk to. My other executive was the complete opposite. He was the VP of Engineering and was a man who was driven, extremely detailed and commanded his engineering teams with an iron fist! He approached everything and everyone with intensity. I can remember in my first few days of working with him an instance where he asked me to ‘re-staple’ the papers I was about to hand out in staff – the staples had to be at a perfect angle on the left side of the page. He was detailed to fault!
He scared me.
I quickly learned that in a start-up environment one wears many hats. I was not only the executive assistant, I was also asked to spear-head getting a new phone system in for the office, manage the vendors, assist the new guy in sales and sit in for our receptionist when she was out.
I can candidly tell you that I was completely naïve back then as an executive assistant. I really didn’t know what our company manufactured, nor did I know what my two executives’ goals or visions were. I was just trying to make things happen every day in the best way that I could.
And then the bubble burst!
It started the day the company’s major investor walked in the door and asked to see our CEO. I was handling the receptionist desk that day and didn’t even know we had an investor! Our CEO was not there – ouch! Our Vice President of HR showed up in the lobby and he and the investor walked in to a conference room and were there for the rest of the day.
It was a serious conversation.
The major investor was pulling out his interests in the company and demanded we close our doors. Our CEO was missing in action and the news rippled through our small employee community like wild-fire. I lost my two executives that I was supporting and then instead of being an executive assistant, I was now “girl Friday”.
Our VP of HR asked me if I would be willing to stick it out and help him wind things down. I was in shock and saddened at what was happening to me and the company and really didn’t want to stay but…. our VP of HR truly needed some help as key employees were leaving so I stayed. I was asked to assist in the lay-off of a number of good people. I became the liaison for HR to our employees on the assembly line who did not understand what was happening and I ultimately became part of the team that closed up shop.
It was heartbreaking to watch people leave on a daily basis but I stuck it out to the very day the chains were placed on the door.
What I learned:
- As a good Executive Assistant, I had to learn to manage and adapt to two executives with different temperaments and styles. I had to balance their moods, needs and communications styles every day.
- I had to strive to do more than just the Executive Assistant role in order to continually develop my skills. Embracing tasks that were out of my realm of understanding such as researching and purchasing the phone system or dealing with contracts– things I had never done before. I didn’t say it wasn’t my job – I just dived in!
- I wish I had made it point to learn my two executives’ goals and priorities as well as what the company’s products were and what the bigger vision was for the company. I definitely did not know to do that then and if I had…I might have seen the writing on the wall sooner.
- To try and always remain resilient in times of change, good or bad and look at challenges as yet another opportunity to grow personally. Assisting the VP HR in closing the doors on the company and sadly closing a door on my first Executive Assistant’s role.
Because I was one of the only ones who stayed and assisted our Vice President of HR in the last days of the start-up’s life, building that relationship with him truly paid off. He found me an ‘interim’ role in a company he was consulting for in order to keep me employed until I found something better.
And so…I did
As we walk the path in our career journey, we will be faced with lots of unknowns, challenges and sign posts that we will either pay attention to or we won’t. Either way, as long as we are moving forward we are moving closer to our dreams.