Exceptional EA is pleased to showcase Real Careers, in which administrators from around the globe generously share a bit of their lives and the benefit of their experience. We’ve made virtual trips to Canada, the Netherlands, South Africa, the USA and UK, and now make our way to the Canadian province of Alberta for a visit with Margo Baptista.
Margo Baptista is University Secretary, Grant MacEwan University. Here’s a look at her world.
Family, Advance Check on Messages, and Out the Door
I’m up at 5:30/6:00. First on the agenda is taking Molly, our Westie out for her morning relief, then it’s off to shower, dress and have breakfast. Check my calendar for the day and update my voicemail messages at work. Kiss my husband and I’m out the door. In the summer, it’s a 20 minute drive. In the fall, winter and spring, it takes about 35-40 minutes.
Musicians or composers are on your playlist for your commute? Josh Turner, Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, The Classics (a local Edmonton group who retired last year). What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? Your Man (Josh Turner), Friends in Low Places (Garth Brooks), Chattahoochee, Don’t Rock the Jukebox and Livin’ on Love (Alan Jackson) – and everything that the Classics played.
At the Office
Morning Routines: I’m not a coffee drinker and I tend to get straight to work, checking email and getting going on any number of tasks.
Primary Responsibilities: Managing the governance processes for the Board and its various committees. Providing governance advice and guidance. Navigating the myriad political issues (big “P” and small “p”) that take place involving administration and the Board. The typical day is filled with meetings, administrative and governance in nature. I also spend a lot of time navigating issues.
How long is your work day? I often arrive between 7:30/8:00 and leave at 5:00/5:30. There are many days when meetings start by 7:30, so I’m there earlier and there are other meetings that start at 5:00, so I’m there longer.
What might be a typical lunch? Where do you eat? I bring my own lunch each day and it typically includes a sandwich, yogurt and fruit. Sometimes, I bring leftovers or a frozen meal that I heat up. Most often I eat at my desk. During the summer, I do try to get outside for fresh air and to enjoy the sunshine.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours? Yes, I’m always on.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Navigating the politics.
Find your passion; work at something that inspires you
What do you most enjoy about your career? Working with my staff and the board members. Providing guidance on governance principles; resolving governance issues.
On Saying “No”
I say “no” when the task or issue simply does not make sense – interestingly, this seems to happen quite a bit, particularly when someone does not think things through. My only tip is to thoroughly think the matter through, don’t hesitate to speak up (often you can help another person or the institution avoid creating an issue by doing so), and be solid in your rationale/argument.
I was born in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador (Newfoundland/Labrador). I’m a blend of both city gal and small community person. I enjoy working in the city and when I cross the imaginary line during my commute home, I’m happy to be in my small community.
How do you like to spend your time outside the office? Running, dancing, gardening, relaxing on my deck, attending music concerts and other special events, playing cards with friends, volunteering, and hopefully, very soon, motorcycling (finished the training course, now I need to practice and then take the tests).
I even enjoy shoveling snow especially in the early morning or late evening when it is so serene outside – however, it can be a bit of a challenge when you are in a hurry to get started on your commute to work. In the summer, I love my garden and my deck – I enjoy nothing better than reading with my dog seated beside me. Throughout the year, I love to run outside. It energizes me and helps clear my mind.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I can’t say that I do this very much. Being enveloped in my husband’s arms at the end of the day is pretty high on my list. I do also enjoy sitting on my deck furniture with my Westie, Molly at my side, listening to the water flow in our outdoor pond, reading a good book and dozing off occasionally.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? My travel bucket list includes South Africa, Greece, and return trips to Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, and Portugal.
Education and Professional Development
Education: Every aspect of my undergraduate studies, my graduate studies and PD (professional development) activities, such as attending and presenting at conferences, has been integral to my career development.
Invest time and energy to learn everything you can about the field
Peer and Professional Associations: I am a member of the Canadian University Boards Association (CUBA), Council of Western Canadian University Board Secretaries (COWCUBS), Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education (CSSHE), and the Association of Governing Boards (AGB). I participate on the governing boards of three of these organizations and contribute regularly through presentations at conferences.
I am a past founding member of the ACCC Professional Board Staff Network (PBSN; now known as the CICan Governance and President’s Office Professionals, or GPOP). I also founded a national network for board members in the college sector and a provincial network for board professionals in Alberta.
Contribute to your profession; don’t stand on the sidelines
Networks provide us the opportunity to share ideas, concerns, information and resources, aspirations and ideals. My network of provincial, national and international colleagues (in both the college and university sectors) has been absolutely invaluable to me. I call upon them for advice and counsel. I ask for assistance with researching a topic. I ask for ways to improve how I am working. We have a wealth of knowledge and experience among us and we have developed a network of trust.
Awards and Recognition
On May 24, 2015 I received the inaugural Award for Distinguished Service from CICan Governance and President’s Office Professionals (GPOP), and was made the first honorary member of the association. I am truly humbled by these honours. In November 2009, I received the Founders’ Award for having best exemplified the qualities of leadership, sustainability and personal development among graduates of the Master of Arts in Leadership 2007-3 cohort, Royal Roads University.
Technology: Reality and Wish List
Preferred form(s) of social media? Facebook
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? Diligent Boardbooks (online portal) is a great tool.
Style and Substance
What is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? This would be a suit – generally one with a skirt. I have a nice shoe collection and like to match my outfit and shoes.
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? I’m a minimalist cosmetics person and carry only lipstick in my purse.
Heels or flats in the office? Heels. Flats are part of my summer wardrobe. For your commute? Heels. I likely should wear flats. Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? Nine West
Preferred scent: I wear perfume (as well as mascara and eye shadow) only when I’m dolling up to go out to a special event – then I wear Modern Muse by Estee Lauder.
What might we find in your desk drawer? File folders sorted according to governance topics, e.g. presidential search and transition (including my graduate thesis), presidential evaluation, board recruitment / orientation / education / evaluation, convocation, CSSHE (Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education) , miscellaneous professional development and governance topics, presentations, and working notes from board and committee meetings.
Travel or travel planning advice? The best laid plans can go awry; be willing to experience the bumps that can happen as they will often bring you the most memorable experiences of your journey and give you the best stories to share.
Inspirational reads? I have a very large collection of governance books from a range of authors, all of whom I find of value. If I had to single out an author, and this is not related to governance particularly, I’d pick Margaret Wheatley, especially her book, Leadership and the New Science.
Role models? I have met several truly incredible colleagues throughout my career. I’ve learned so much from them. I would not be where I am without their wisdom, advice and support.
Mentors? My dad – Not only my biggest fan who loved me unconditionally, but he was always the one I went to when I had tough issues to wrestle. He’s been gone for 15 years but I still have conversations with him in my mind and I carry his picture in my wallet so he is close at heart.
Create your own destiny through a passion for learning
Accomplishments of which you’re particularly proud? Having become a parent at 16, I am particularly proud that I raised my daughter and my son (who was born six years later) pretty well on my own. I learned a lot from both of them. I am also very proud that I built a truly satisfying career and earned my undergraduate and graduate degrees along the way. I feel very blessed to finally be in a loving relationship – my husband came into my life through some very interesting circumstances that neither of us could have predicted.
Goals on the horizon? I plan to retire within the next two to five years and my primary goals are to spend time with my husband, travel together and give back to my community by volunteering.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? I kind of fell into the idea of networks and would have benefited from someone pointing this out to me. However, I think that – at the time – the value of networks was not truly understood in terms of developing the field of governance.
Recognise the value of networks
What is your most effective time management strategy? My calendar. My whole life is in my calendar and I use every tool – appointments, reminder notes, tasks, etc. I also set aside time to focus on items that require deeper thought and research.
What advice might you offer a new mother returning to the workplace? Keep your mind open to all possibilities. Show up, give your best effort, ask lots of questions, and learn a lot.
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Provide lots of information, background and context so the assistant can understand how s/he fits in a situation and how the situation fits into the bigger picture. Even the simplest request or task is often connected to something bigger and meaningful.
Take risks; the best learning experiences may be those that most scare you
For those interested in promotion: Learn everything you can about the field. Be willing to put in the time and energy that is needed to learn and progress. Be flexible. Find ways to continuously improve – e.g., business processes, documents, etc.
Contribute to your profession – don’t stand on the sidelines. Take risks – often the best learning experiences are the ones that scared you the most when they first came to your attention. Listen – be attentive to the person you are with and hear what s/he is saying before offering your own opinion. Find your passion, work at something that inspires and fulfils you. Create your own destiny by developing a passion for learning in all aspects of your life.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the resources Margo referenced may be interested in checking the following links. To explore a range of resources recommended by our readers, click here for Exceptional EA’s Resources Page.
- Association of Governing Boards (AGB)
- Baptista, Margo – graduate research
- Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education (CSSHE)
- CUBA: Canadian University Boards Association
- Council of Western Canadian University Board Secretaries (COWCUBS)
- GPOP – Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan) – Governance and President’s Office Professionals
- Leadership and the New Science – Wheatley, Margaret
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