DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - There is something that almost every power player in Downtown Los Angeles has in common: a top-notch administrative assistant who helps make the business world an easier place for the man or woman in charge.
The tasks that an administrative assistant, or gatekeeper, must handle, are myriad. Not only do they answer phones, but they know who the boss should speak with right away, who gets a quick call back, and who gets dumped into voicemail. Many gatekeepers handle the boss’ schedules. Some do paperwork, make travel plans and help the person in charge prepare for important meetings. Every good administrative assistant is also a trusted sounding board, as well as someone who can keep a secret.
In honor of Administrative Professionals’ Week, which runs Sunday, April 20-Saturday, April 26, Los Angeles Downtown News reached out to six top Central City gatekeepers. If you want to get to the power players in any these offices, these are the people you’ll have to speak with first.
Title: Administrative assistant for the housing development department for Skid Row Housing Trust, which is responsible for creating permanent supportive housing projects, often in Downtown. She works primarily for Dana Trujillo, the housing development director.
Essential Part: Bruce puts together applications for projects, organizes invoices for payments and facilitates reimbursement to vendors. She is also the office notary, so when SRHT officials are going through the purchasing process and any other freshly inked deal that needs to be authorized, “I’m an essential part of that.”
The Road to Skid Row: Bruce has been in the workforce for 40 years. She previously was employed as an administrative professional in aerospace, but she was a casualty of the layoffs stemming from Raytheon’s 1997 acquisition of Hughes Aircraft. She worked as a temp for a while before being hired by SRHT. She has been with the Downtown developer, which is headquartered at Seventh Street and Central Avenue, for 10 years.
Eye-Opening Experience: “Working for Skid Row Housing Trust introduced me to problems I never knew about, problems that people have with housing,” she said. “I may have seen it from a distance, but I didn’t understand the connection of mental illness and drug use and how often people end up homeless because of it. This job opened my eyes to that, and made me have more compassion because of it.”
Advice to the Person Who’ll Succeed You: Bruce suggests that the next person in her chair ask a lot of questions. “If you don’t, you’ll probably do the wrong thing,” she said.
Pet Peeves: Bruce said she doesn’t really have any pet peeves, and that mindset has helped her over the years. “I’m a laid-back type of person. I don’t let things bother me that way,” she said. Bruce said she has seen other people unravel in office settings over the course of her career, but her go-with-the-flow mentality has “kept me sane over the years.”
Hanging it Up: At 65, Bruce decided this will be her last year in the working world. She plans to retire at the end of December. She’s looking forward to relaxing and exercising. She’s particularly excited about a new workout routine: taking a Zumba class with her cousin at the YMCA.
Title: Assistant to Para Los Ninos’ President and CEO Martine Singer
The Road There: For eight years, Terry worked as an assistant to developer Rick Caruso, who also sits on the board of directors for Para Los Ninos. The nonprofit organization, which is headquartered on Sixth Street, works with at-risk youth throughout Downtown and on Skid Row. She joined PLN five years ago.
Making Everything Go: As the assistant to Singer, Terry performs a number of roles such as day-to-day scheduling, setting up meetings and preparing materials and reports. Additionally, she is the liaison to the board of directors, and works with them, often on special projects. She is also very involved in record keeping.
Helping the Boss: Most of the time, Terry can be found helping Singer, who shares a similar enthusiasm for working with the community and providing children additional avenues for success through education. Singer joined PLN two years ago.
“She’s very compassionate and incredibly passionate,” said Terry. “Working with her is really a pleasure for me.”
Providing a Chance: For Terry, the best part of the job is the opportunity to work with the children. PLN provides early education centers, charter schools, after-school programs, youth workforce service programs and more, all designed to engage the community and offer better educational opportunities for those who might not have them.
“Most of our kids live on Skid Row and their families are very, very poor,” she said. “Most of them are Hispanic and don’t speak English or are just learning English. The agency’s goals are for them to get the same opportunities as any middle class child. That speaks very deeply to me.”
Funding Challenges: Like other nonprofits, Terry noted that PLN has a difficult job finding enough financial support to run as many programs as the staff would like.
“Any nonprofit has challenges,” she said. “Obviously we’re very money conscious. We often wish we could offer more and do more. Finding new grants is important, because the more resources there are, the more we can offer.”
Pay it Forward: Terry feels that working at Para Los Ninos is her chance to make an impression on future generations.
“I believe you’re supposed to pay it forward,” she said. “Doing everything I can for these kids is my way of paying it forward.”
Title: Executive assistant to Gensler co-CEO Andy Cohen
Getting There: A native of Minnesota, Kuhlman moved to Los Angeles and spent several years as a television actress in the early 2000s; she joined the global architecture firm Gensler in 2004. She was looking for work during her offseason, as well as the “opportunity to make income while using my brain and education,” she said. So, she accepted a position as an assistant to Cohen, then the managing principal of Gensler’s Southwest region. She has worked with him ever since.
Frenetic Pace: For Kuhlman, there is never a dull moment at Gensler, which has its Downtown Los Angeles offices in City National Plaza in the Financial District. The average day is fast-paced and always busy, she said, and her tasks revolve around managing Cohen’s schedule and mitigating any delays. She sets all his meetings, answers the phone and “frees him up to do only the things Andy can do.”
Flight Time: Many administrative assistants help book travel, but Kuhlman has extra demands: Cohen is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and is licensed in 23 states, so he moves around quite a bit. Kuhlman strives to take care of the logistics so that Cohen doesn’t get bogged down.
The Office Glue: Kuhlman says her favorite aspect of the job is keeping everything together and sharing in Gensler’s success.
“My favorite part is feeling like an integral part of the success of the organization,” she said. “I feel like a part of the success of the company even if no one can see it.”
Squeezing Everything in: Every day, Kuhlman is fighting for more time, and trying to fit everything into Cohen’s constantly evolving schedule.
“If I could do anything in this world, I’d like to create more time,” she said. “There are so many responsibilities and so many things he’s supposed to do. I think of his calendar like a game of Tetris. I’m trying to fit all the pieces before the time runs out.”
Growing With Gensler: Kuhlman has been with Gensler for more than a decade, which gives her a certain appreciation for the architectural firm’s growth. The company moved from Santa Monica to Downtown in 2011, and Kuhlman has had a front row seat to the changes.
“It’s been really fun to grow together,” she said.
Title: Executive administrative assistant to California African American Museum Executive Director Charmaine Jefferson and Deputy Director Woodburn Schofield
A Day in the Life: Meline’s responsibilities are myriad. At the top is keeping the calendars for Jefferson and Schofield. She is in charge of correspondence for Jefferson, time sheets for the office staff, making copies and keeping the copier functional and filled with toner. She also writes the agenda for, attends and transcribes notes from production meetings, communicates with museum board members, handles all incoming and outgoing mail and facilitates special projects and accompanying reports. Oh, and she’s the back-up receptionist (read: she answers phones) when necessary. “I do a lot of things,” she said, laughing.
Happy People: Meline joined CAAM from the California State Compensation Insurance Fund two years ago. There she was a workers compensation payroll auditor, but “people then weren’t as happy to talk to me as they are now. People who call the museum are usually happy to be doing so.”
Inviting Place: “There are so many interesting and fun things going on at the museum. We have a lot of great programs. It’s an inviting and upbeat place,” she said, adding that a high point was meeting Sidney Poitier at a museum gala. Meline particularly enjoys the changing exhibits at the Exposition Park venue, as well as getting to meet many of the artists whose work is on display. “Every day is different. I never know what to expect.”
Advice to an Executive Assistant Newbie: “Be gracious and open to everyone you meet; you never know when you’re going to have to call on that person for something you may need. Take notes on your position: I have my own book I made. There may be a long period of time that has gone by since I’ve run a teleconference. But you have to be prepared for anything in a split second. That’s why I always have my notes.”
Skills to Handle the Job: It all boils down to one word, said Meline: organization. When you have a position with lots of moving parts and many deadlines, Meline stressed that a person has to be exceedingly organized. Plus, with either paper or electronic files, you have to remember your system. “I need to be able to find a file immediately. There’s no time to wonder what I might have called it.”
Title: Executive assistant to Lew Horne, the executive managing director for CBRE’s Greater Los Angeles and Orange County region
Moving West: Brisbin was working as a manager at Interdel Logistics in New York City. Then, Interdel was sold to an Israeli firm. Brisbin began looking for a new job and a friend told her about an opening in the Downtown Los Angeles office of real estate services giant CBRE. Brisbin applied and landed the job last year. Size is one of the biggest differences between the two companies. Interdel’s New York office had a staff of 12 people. In Downtown, Brisbin is one of more than 200 employees.
On Track: Among the day-to-day priorities for Brisbin is keeping Horne headed in the right direction and off to the right meeting. She keeps his schedule, which is constant. More than anything, she makes sure he’s at the right place at the right time.
“He’s so enthusiastic about each individual meeting that he isn’t sometimes aware he’s supposed to be in another one,” Brisbin said. “I make sure his day flows as smoothly as possible. I make sure he’s meeting with the right people. His time is valuable.”
Growth: One of the perks for Brisbin is working Downtown and having a front-seat view to all the residential, restaurant and business growth taking place in the area. CBRE is also part of that — the firm recently moved into new headquarters on Hope Street.
The best part of the job, she said, is the energy. “It’s fast-paced. It’s high stakes. It’s exciting to be here when Downtown is growing so rapidly.”
Time Crunch: The trickiest part of the job, Brisbin said, is something familiar to all administrative assistants: a lack of time. It’s a challenge to squeeze everything in.
“You’re not managing your life,” Brisbin explained. “You’re the gatekeeper to someone else’s, where every block of time is valuable.”
People Business: Brisbin’s position at CBRE marks the first time that she has worked in real estate. However, she has learned from Horne not to think narrowly about what she does and what the firm provides.
“Lew says it all the time: It’s not the commercial real estate business, it’s the people business,” Brisbin said. “It’s about your clients. It’s about managing people. That is spot on.”
Title: Office administrator and executive assistant to Colin Shepherd, CEO of Hines Limited Partnerships
The Path to Hines: Twenty years ago, Madouras was contacted about an opening for an assistant’s position at real estate firm Hines. She got the job and has been there ever since. She has worked with Shepherd the entire time.
On Schedule: Madouras’ work life revolves around keeping Shepherd on track and on time. The CEO is frequently on the road, so she makes all his travel arrangements, manages his schedule, screens phone calls and handles additional correspondences. She also assists Doug Netzler, the managing director.
“They’re two of the sweetest guys in the world,” said Madouras. “I still love working for Colin. He’s just a super great guy — demanding but not in a bad way. A lot of it is communication. When I first started, he said things won’t work unless we communicate. And he’s always been open to listening.”
Hit the Window: When managing Shepherd’s tight schedule, there’s little room for error. Everything must hit an exact window.
“The biggest challenge for me is keeping everyone organized,” Madouras said. “I’m trying to find flights for him if he’s in Moscow one day and needs to be in Los Angeles the next. Getting him to his destination on time and comfortably, too.”
Friendly Faces: For Madouras, the primary perk of working at Hines is rather simple: the office camaraderie. She said she has lunch with her colleagues almost every day in the conference room.
“We just sit and chat and talk and don’t get sick of each other,” she said. “We just enjoy each other’s company. Even the new people, who have still been here for five or six years, all get along really well.”
Family Environment: Madouras describes herself as fortunate to have landed at Hines. She said she enjoys heading to work every day, likes the people and appreciates the environment.
“I don’t think I’ve ever not wanted to go to work in the morning,” she said. “I’ve been lucky. It really is the people. There are administrators who can get more money at a new job, but it’s not about the money. It’s about the people.”
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2014