Join me for today’s Real Careers interview with Stacey Brewer of Huntsville, Alabama.
Stacey Brewer, CAP, OM is Executive Coordinator to Neil Lamb, PhD at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. Here’s a look at his world.
Puppy Wake Up Call
I am not a morning person. It takes multiple alarms to get me out of bed, but I’m usually up around 7:00 a.m. Although, my new puppy has been deciding what time I get up based on when he needs to go out. A morning shower gets me fully awake and then I’m out the door.
It’s about a 20-25 minute drive from my home to the office, depending on traffic. Although, my version of heavy traffic is nothing compared to larger cities.
At the Office
Primary Responsibilities: One of the first lessons I learned as an early admin was that my number one responsibility was to ensure my boss looked good at all times. I’ve been fortunate in that the executives I’ve supported over the years haven’t made that task too challenging. There really is no job description that can define that type of responsibility. On any given day, you could find me pulling weeds / picking up litter in front of our building or sitting at my desk coordinating multiple calendars and administrative processes. I will always do what it takes to get the job done (within legal and ethical limits, of course!).
My morning almost always involves at least one cup of cream and sugar with a splash of coffee
Morning Routines: I haven’t had a “typical day” in over five years, although my morning almost always involves at least one cup of cream and sugar with a splash of coffee. As soon as my feet hit the floor, I’m checking my inbox to see what new challenges await that day and then I go from there.
How long is your work day? My “in office” schedule is fairly flexible, depending on what all is going on during a given day. On a typical day, I’m physically in the office about eight hours. However, I usually continue working from home well into the evening. It’s not unusual for me to be sending emails well after midnight. I try to reserve Friday evenings, Saturdays and Sunday mornings as sacred personal time. But come Sunday evening, I’m back at it, preparing for the week ahead.
Given health risks associated with views that sitting is the new smoking, have you or your employer adopted any steps to support good health? My team just moved into the fourth building on our 153-acre campus, which nearly tripled the square footage we have dedicated for providing educational outreach programs. Overseeing this new space has certainly helped me get in my daily steps, in addition to walking back and forth from our building to the administration building. The central corridor of our campus includes a kilometer-long park complete with intertwining sidewalks that form a double-helix and what we believe is the world’s largest representation of DNA. When the weather is nice, our employees regularly take a stroll in the park during their break or hold “walking meetings” throughout the day. Adjustable height desks are also very common across the Institute.
What might be a typical lunch? My office has a policy of people not eating meals at our desks, which literally takes the concept of eating something quick while “working through lunch” completely off the table. We have a phenomenal break room / lounge that comes to life when inhabited by members of our extremely diverse team. Some of our most entertaining and most creative moments have occurred over lunch in the break room. This is probably the single greatest driver in maintaining our collaborative team culture.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Managing interruptions. Unfortunately, I’m easily distracted and working in an open office environment means my focus bounces around as if someone just teed off a new golf ball in a tiled bathroom.
My involvement within IAAP … has been the single most contributing factor to my professional success as an admin
What do you most enjoy about your career? I absolutely love the fact that no two days are ever the same. It keeps it exciting!
On Saying “No”
I have no problem saying “no” to someone if their request goes beyond established boundaries – with the key phrase being, “established boundaries”. You should rarely have to say “no” if you’ve defined reasonable boundaries with your colleagues.
That said, I recognize that I’m in a very service-oriented role and I am a firm believer in doing what it takes to get the job done. My colleagues know they can depend on me to assist when needed. The rare occasions when I will say “no” are when I am working on a project with a looming deadline or when I feel like someone is actively avoiding pulling their own weight.
I was born in Huntsville, Alabama, and have basically lived within a 30-mile radius of Huntsville my entire life. At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? “I was country when country wasn’t cool!”
I’ve lived in both the city and the country, but I’m definitely a country boy at heart. As a child, I spent many weekends and summers with my aunt and uncle where we had a large vegetable garden and raised chickens and goats. (Side note: The first goat I ever had was a Billy goat named Sallie Mae, who I raised on a bottle, but that’s a story for another time.) During my teenage years, we also lived on the side of a mountain and I loved exploring nature.
How long have you been in this career? My first day as an admin was January 3, 2006, so I’m right at thirteen years this month. What was your first such role? I had worked as a teller at a local credit union for about two years and was ready for something new. I began applying internally for any open position for which I was qualified. One of the positions I applied for was an entry-level administrative assistant in the public relations department. When I was called for an interview, I had actually forgotten that I’d applied for the position. To be honest, I’m not even sure I truly knew what an administrative assistant did.
Fortunately, the hiring manager could tell that my strengths were aligned with the position qualifications and I got the job. I was 23 at the time. If that hiring manager had overlooked my potential based on my lack of experience, I could have missed out on an incredibly rewarding career.
Since 2013, the IAAP Foundation has invested more than $1.1 million toward helping admins succeed
How did you learn about the opportunity that led to your current role? I was actually recruited for my current role by my predecessor. She and I had previously served as leaders together in the local IAAP (International Association of Administrative Assistants) chapter. At the time, I was pretty comfortable in my current role and really had not considered leaving. So when she asked me to lunch one day, I just thought we were going to catch up. After she told me that her family was relocating, she said, “I’ve been asked to identify my replacement and you’re it.” It was one of the few times in my life where I was speechless. Still unsure if I was even interested in the opportunity, I had breakfast with my now current executive about a week later and the rest, as they say, is history.
How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I pick up a dozen glazed hot doughnuts from Krispy Kreme and binge watch Golden Girls on Hulu.
Network, network, network
Education and Professional Development
Education: I have an Associate’s Degree in Business Science, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration.
Peer and Professional Associations: I’ve been a member of the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) since 2006. How has your IAAP membership helped you? My involvement within IAAP, in terms of the educational and leadership development opportunities, has been the single most contributing factor to my professional success as an admin.
The knowledge and skills I’ve gained helped me stand out among my peers and heavily influenced my being offered my current position. Also, simply having this vast network of like-minded individuals at your finger tips is an invaluable resource. The executives I’ve supported have always been impressed by my vast IAAP network and my ability to leverage those connections in ways that benefitted them as well.
Do you hold (or have you held) a leadership role in such an organisation? Currently, I am the Board Chair for the IAAP Foundation, which is a U.S. 501c3 organization and the charitable business partner of IAAP. I have also served in multiple leadership roles within IAAP at the local, regional and national levels.
Have you earned any certifications earned through IAAP? I became a Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) in 2008 and hold a specialty certificate in Organizational Management (OM). I am also currently registered for the Meeting and Event Planning specialty certificate course to be held in March 2019.
You should rarely have to say “no” if you’ve defined reasonable boundaries with your colleagues
Have you received any awards or recognition as an admin. professional? I received the Huntsville Metro Administrative Professional of the Year Award through IAAP in 2008. Nominated by my peers, it was an honor to be selected from among such an incredibly talented administrative workforce in the metro area.
Tell us about a career accomplishment or two of which you’re particularly proud. I’m extremely proud of the impact that I’ve made on the profession as a whole through my work with the IAAP Foundation. Since joining the Board in 2013, the IAAP Foundation has invested more than $1.1 million toward helping admins succeed.
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? I’ve just recently gained supervisory responsibilities over an administrative assistant position in our office. While I’ve been in various leadership roles throughout my career, this is the first time I’ve actually had another employee as a direct report. I’m looking forward to enhancing my skills as a leader from this perspective.
AI offers us the opportunity to delegate those basic time-consuming tasks and allows us to focus on adding value in those instances where technology can take us only so far
The Digital Age
What apps do you make use of in your professional life? LinkedIn
Does your organisation make use of a portal for any of its bodies/committees? The IAAP Foundation Board recently began using a web portal to provide centralized and on-demand access to board / committee information. It has taken some time for us to get it fully implemented, but it has immediately begun delivering positive results.
What positive impact(s) do you think AI, Digital Assistants and IOT (the Internet of Things) will have on the admin. professional of 2025? We often laugh at the concept of the assistant needing an assistant, but I think that’s essentially the role this technology can play for admins.
It offers us the opportunity to delegate those basic tasks that can be time-consuming and allows us to focus on adding value in those instances where technology can take us only so far. So much of what we do actually requires complex problem-solving skills where someone has to be physically present in the moment, using human senses to assess all aspects of the situation. Those are the aspects of my role that are exciting to me. As long as we maintain the perspective that technology is our friend, I can only see it benefitting us in the long run.
It’s not unusual to read that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will increasingly impact employment prospects across a range of occupations. What forms of professional development would you recommend to assistants who want to ensure their roles remain relevant and rewarding in this digital age? As I stated above, technology has its limits. To remain relevant, admins have to become masters of using technology to gain efficiency so that we are able to truly shine in the space where technology is limited.
Some of our most entertaining and most creative moments have occurred over lunch in the break room
You’re talking to a counterpart embarking on a job search. Briefly outline the approach you’d recommend. Network, network, network. Landing an administrative position in my area really is all about who you know. Most executives struggle with identifying the ideal admin solely based on reviewing applications and conducting interviews. It’s been my experience that they heavily rely upon referrals from trusted connections to gain reassurance in hiring the right candidate.
Your most effective time management strategy? Prioritization. Sometimes it’s just impossible to get everything done, but I can always accomplish the most important items by prioritizing my to-do list.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? My current executive and I recognized from day one that our partnership would be much stronger if we initially invested the time to specifically develop our working relationship on a much deeper level beyond the standard daily interactions. In addition to our weekly operational meeting, we also scheduled a weekly lunch meeting for the first six months to just really get to know each other. The more quickly the two of you can gain insight into each other’s past experiences and thought processes, the better; it will be well worth the investment in the long run.
To remain relevant, admins have to become masters of using technology to gain efficiency
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Stacey mentioned may be interested in checking the following links.
- IAAP – International Association of Administrative Professionals
- IAAP Foundation
- Twitter – @iaapfoundation
- Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/IAAPfoundation/
- HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology:
- Twitter – @hudsonalpha
- Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/HudsonAlpha/
Exceptional EA showcases Real Careers, in which administrators from around the globe generously share the benefit of their experience. We’ve made virtual trips to 23 countries to date: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mauritius, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda, the United Arab Emirates , the United States of America and Wales.