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.
Today I’m interviewing fellow Canadian Donna, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at last month’s APC Conference in Toronto.
Donna Venditti is Executive Assistant to Mark Basciano, the President of Mountainview Companies. Here’s a look at her world.
Time for LouLou
Our dog is up daily at 6:45. I let LouLou out and feed her. I put the kettle on for tea, shower and get ready. I prep the dinner, and am out the door by 8:15. I work literally six minutes from the office. I drive in winter, but they just built a better sidewalk so I’m looking forward to the nice weather. Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? I love dance music, Cardi B, Beyoncé, Salsa, and anything fast and fun.
At the Office
Primary Responsibilities: I assist the company’s President and Controller. Morning Routines: I turn on the computer, tackle emails I didn’t address over the weekend and print Mark’s calendar. I touch base with Mark on needs for the day, and eventually make tea (breakfast is normally fruit at my desk or in the kitchen) … and then let the crazy begin.
How long is your work day? My hours are 8:30 to 5:00, but I answer calls 24/7 as I monitor all our model home security and deal with any issues that come up for Mark on the weekends or evenings. He is respectful of my family and their time and rewards me handsomely for any inconveniences. Many nights I work past 5:00, but I also have the luxury of leaving for appointments when needed or taking the odd long lunch. I pride myself on not taking advantage.
Given health risks associated with views that sitting is the new smoking, have you or your employer adopted any steps to support good health? I have a stand-up desk option and a very expensive chair, but Mountainview is all about providing their employees with what’s needed to make our office space ergonomically correct and comfortable. We encourage physical fitness and have many activities you can join in after work.
What might be a typical lunch? I would say that most days I go home to let the dog out and give myself a chance to breathe fresh air. I used to habitually work through lunch, but I realize it’s not good for my physical or mental health.
What might we find in your desk drawer? I am almost scared to answer … LOL. My boss gives me the gears because, besides the usual office supplies, I have a bottle 0f (thankfully, still sealed) rum and a (pretend) whip … it’s a long story.
Are you involved in any employee groups/teams independent of your role? We organize Salsa classes and we do an exercise class together. We are always organizing concerts and excursions; we are a very social office.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Keeping Mark on time and not losing my patience with staff
Read! Take courses that are relevant to your business.
What do you most enjoy about your career? The challenge of getting an item, or a meeting, or solving an issue that Mark says is impossible or can’t achieve on his own. I love proving myself daily.
On Saying “No”
I used to be a yes person until I hit a wall one day and Mark pointed out that I was his assistant and no one else’s; he told me I needed to start saying no more. I have been doing it ever since.
I now realize that it has been some of my mistakes that have helped me to learn and achieve my goal(s)
I was born in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. I now live in Thorbold, Ontario, right outside Niagara Falls. At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? I would say I’m a combination, but I would lean towards city!
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? Golf, dancing, swimming, reading, hockey games, walking my dog and loving life
How long have you been an admin. professional? I have been with the company for 15 years, and an assistant for 10 years. Remembering back, I had a determination to be uber organized. How did you learn about the opportunity that led to your current role? Sadly, my friend and colleague Anna (Mark’s first assistant) got cancer and I filled in for her during her chemo treatment. I shaved her head when the time came; we were close. It was a very emotional time for both myself and Mark. I made him go see Anna at the hospital; it wasn’t easy for him to see her like that. She passed away the next day. That night, I promised her I would take care of Mark and we have been a team ever since. Anne was pearls and sweetness and I am the complete opposite – a bit tougher, outspoken and a straight shooter – but it works!
How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I married an Italian; we love to cook and eat! I golf; hitting the ball is like therapy.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? An all-inclusive anywhere hot, with my backside in a chair and a drink in my hand!
I often share books with my boss; it helps to be on the same track
Professional development, education and Donna’s career
I have attended the Administrative Professionals Conference of Canada for the past six years, and taken many courses to add to my skill set.
Do you belong to any peer / professional organisations? APC of Canada, and Mark and I will participate in a roundtable presentation at the Executive Leadership Support (ELS) Forum in Mississauga this Spring. How has participation in such networks or associations helped you? The contacts I have made with women in the same position have been amazing.
Do you hold a leadership role in such an organisation? I also serve on APC’s Advisory Board and am a member of the Women in Construction board for Niagara. What are the primary means of communication for network members? Email
I would love to be a guest speaker at APC and I want to write a book
Describe any positive benefits your networking has had on your career, or for your employer. I believe that finding a network of people in the same career has given me the opportunity to reach out to such people when I have had issues or needed advice at work. Also, it puts my company name on the map, especially with the Women in Construction group.
Have you received or been nominated for any performance awards? Funny enough, we started “The Mounties”. I won the “Helping Hands” award because I literally touch every department in the company. I am rewarded often by hearing my boss and his colleagues sing my praises; that is all I need.
Inspirational reads? I often share books with my boss; it helps to be on the same track. We have eclectic tastes.
Recruitment is often competency-based. Which of the competencies you bring to the role are most relevant to success in your current position? My organizational skills would be my greatest asset, and I am fiercely loyal.
Role models or mentors? I would say my work ethic came from my mother, but I have a co-worker Nicole, our Sales Manager. Although she is younger, I respect Nicole’s work ethic and advice.
My goal at the end of the day is to be respected in my role at Mountainview
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. Serving on the APC Advisory Board and the Women in Construction Board
What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? I sometimes have to have the 24-hour rule or the take a break before you speak rule. It helps calm me, and I speak with less emotion when I am calmer. It helps when situations are out of control or uncomfortable.
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? I am learning a new computer system for our phones. I deal with our entire system through my computer.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I would love to be a guest speaker at APC and I want to write a book.
Participate! Be a team player. Take a course with a co-worker.
The Digital Age, and Evolution of the Assistant’s Role
Do you publish to, and/or monitor social media as part of your professional responsibilities? I follow a few on LinkedIn, but don’t use it a lot. Describe any impacts social media has had on the role you hold within your organisation. I can’t say social media has had much of an impact on my role, except for the fact that staff follow mine because they think it’s funny. What are your preferred forms of social media? Instagram and Twitter
Do you maintain, monitor and/or publish to a website as part of your professional responsibilities? No.
What apps do you make use of in your professional life? Mostly airline apps; I use Google daily. Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? A buzzer that would keep my boss on time
Have you used technology to digitize processes or materials in your workplace? I would say that we have with email and scheduling, but we are still a very “written” company.
Do you have an employer-provided smartphone? Yes! Tell us about both the positive and adverse impacts that 24:7 availability via smartphones, etc. has had on your quality of life. In the beginning it was bad, through no fault but my own. I felt that, because I was paid by the company, I was expected to answer the phone 24/7. My boss and I have since set some boundaries.
Does your organisation make use of a portal for any of its bodies/committees? My boss was the Chair of the Warranty Corporation, so he used a portal for their meetings. We don’t use an intranet or portal internally.
Digital Innovation and Disruption
Let’s talk about the pace of change in your environment. I find we are fast and furious. Sometimes the slower paced get lost but, because of the volume of our work presently, we do not always have the luxury of time for training.
How do you see your workplace evolving with respect to Digital Assistant and Artificial Intelligence (AI)? Mark is huge on people; this won’t happen.
Your experience and thoughts on cyber security/data security practices? Our company is huge on security, and we have many things in place to avoid security breaches.
AI, Digital Assistants and the IOT: Their Impacts on this Career
It’s not unusual to read that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will increasingly impact employment prospects. What forms of professional development would you recommend to assistants who want to ensure their roles remain relevant and rewarding in this digital age? In my eyes, the human touch will never be replaced. I pride myself on trying to “read my boss’ mind”; nothing digital will replace that.
The digital age helps tremendously with computer technology and our phones, etc. It makes connections instantaneous, but it can also hurt because people are expecting instantaneous answers. Read! Take courses that are relevant to your business.
What positive impacts do you think AI, Digital Assistants and the Internet of Things (IOT) will have on the career assistant of 2025? Accessibility, communication, flexibility and time
What apps or programs do you and/or your principal/executive find useful for travelling and for tracking expenses? I wouldn’t say we use apps for either, but I do have the apps for all the airlines and I use the usual itravel and Expedia, etc. I use a local travel agent.
You’re talking to a counterpart embarking on a job search. What approach would you recommend? First thing, have a professional, up to date resume. Network, participate in a conference, talk to people in the same position and get your name out there. I am always on the lookout for potential staff.
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. Dress for the job. Pay attention to detail; no scuffed heels or chipped nails! Listen; don’t do all the talking. Don’t fidget. Try not to oversell yourself. Look relaxed and smile.
Tell us about your experience with goal setting. I think that, at the beginning of my career, my goal was to not make mistakes. I now realize that it has been some of my mistakes that have helped me to learn over the years, and achieve my goal of building knowledge. My goal at the end of the day is to be respected in my role at Mountainview.
On job interviews: Listen; don’t do all the talking
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? To take things less to heart
What are a couple of suggestions you’d offer that new assistant on the block, in terms of how to build effective business relationships within the office? Participate! Join in some social events (you don’t have to attend everything). Be a team player. Take a course with a co-worker.
Your most effective time management strategy? Prioritize in order of importance and deadlines.
Advice for a new parent working to the workplace? Take a breath, make time for yourself, let some things (like clean floors) slide. Take help from grandparents and friends.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Boundaries is a big one; when you are expected to take calls, work after hours, etc. Learn about things they love, and things they hate – their pet peeves. Learn how they like their messages; my boss is very specific on that.
I am rewarded often by hearing my boss and his colleagues sing my praises; that is all I need
For those interested in promotion: Take courses; make yourself invaluable by learning something no one else knows. Go the extra mile, and don’t thing that a job is beneath you – I make my boss’ tea or coffee daily and make sure he drinks water; it’s our thing.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Donna mentioned may be interested in checking the following links.
- Administrative Professionals Conference (APC) – also on Twitter and Instagram
- Executive Leadership Support (ELS) Forum
- Women in Construction Niagara