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Published: Tuesday, 4/24/2001

Despite fewer secretarial duties, executive assistants in demand

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Charlotte Wilcox is the executive assistant to Joe Magliochetti, Dana Corp.'s CEO. Charlotte Wilcox is the executive assistant to Joe Magliochetti, Dana Corp.'s CEO.
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From the daily post office tub of mail addressed to Joe Magliochetti, chairman and chief executive of Dana Corp., Charlotte Wilcox typically selects only 10 to 12 pieces - sometimes fewer - to place on his desk.

Her first question to almost every caller asking for Mr. Magliochetti: “Is there someone else who can help you?” The reply is almost always, “No,” and Ms. Wilcox then offers to take a phone number.

Those who don't find that satisfactory can call back and repeat the process with her.

Even in the age of phone mail, e-mail, and laptops that allow executives to quickly accomplish a multitude of tasks once handled by secretaries, there's still demand for versatile, pleasant assistants to act as exceedingly polite gatekeepers.

So far, local demand continues to outstrip supply for executive assistants, experts say, which might be the biggest cause of celebration for assistants tomorrow on national Administrative Professionals Day, recently renamed from Secretaries Day.

“I think this baloney of you're going to see the end of the executive secretary is bull,” said Polly Pomeranz, a counselor at Imperial Placement Service, Inc., on Central Avenue.

She offered, however, that executive secretaries aren't quite as all-powerful in their offices as they once were.

Many bosses, such as Mr. Magliochetti, do not have anyone screen their e-mail, for instance.

The advent of technological office machines, which has raised the bar for business efficiency, has changed what executives look for in assistants.

Ms. Pomeranz said she remembers more than 30 years ago finding secretaries whose duties were to include handling their boss's personal checkbook and putting together his wife's parties.

Today, executives typically expect their assistants to do some research and make travel arrangements in the time they once would have spent typing. Part of that is because of the Internet, which brings a world of information to their desks.

Said Mr. Magliochetti, “One of the things we look for is a good thinker.”

Dana has seven executive secretaries, although most use other titles. Ms. Wilcox, for instance, is a senior executive assistant.

Most executive secretaries work in several jobs in the same company before assisting anyone whose title begins with chief.

Many have been legal secretaries at some point - law firms are thought to take only people who are precise and efficient and train them to become more so, Ms. Pomeranz said.

At Dana, most have been with the company for at least 20 years.

“They must be capable of handling diverse and oftentimes delicate issues and be a little diplomatic. And I think that comes with experience,” Mr. Magliochetti said.

Indeed, Ms. Wilcox started to tell what promised to be a funny story about life as an executive secretary, but then decided against it.

“Discretion is something you have to have, too,” she said. “I think it's very important.”

So, too, is how executive secretaries look.

Ms. Pomeranz told about placing a woman in the 1970s with very long hair in a secretarial position where she was told: “Well, we'll hire you. But you have to wear that hair up.”

Times have changed, she said, but she quickly added, “Don't let anybody kid you!” as she told about the challenge facing women who seek a secretarial job after taking time out to stay home with their children. Besides not knowing the latest software programs, some are 20 pounds heavier, she said.

Suits and heels are still the norm for executive secretaries at Dana, Ms. Wilcox said. And Mr. Magliochetti said: “Personal appearance and dress is very important. We haven't gone to the casual look. Typically in this office, they're all very well dressed and seem to very nicely maintain their appearance.”

Such extra efforts are not for nothing.

Secretaries to some of Toledo's top executives are paid more than $50,000 a year, said Ms. Pomeranz and Scott Gearig, branch director at Spherion Professional Recruiting.

In contrast, a secretary to lower-level employees or in a smaller business is likely to start at $15,000 to $25,000, Mr. Gearig said.

Not only are companies paying a secretary to the chief to work with sensitive, confidential material, they also want someone who can easily communicate with other top-level people.

“It's not uncommon for a CEO or president to talk to other CEOs or presidents through his secretary,” Mr. Gearig said.

“Some people are intimidated by that.”



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