by Stephanie Overby

Administrative Assistants: The People Who Really Run IT

Apr 15, 20063 mins
IT Leadership

Executive assistants have broader skill sets than most professionals. Probably, even you.

They are skilled project managers. They combine negotiating savvy with good customer service. They are entrepreneurial and good at solving problems. And they understand the business.

We’re not talking about your managers. Or your business analysts. They may have some of these skills. But the one person on your team who has aptitude in all these areas—and makes you look good in the process—is your administrative assistant. According to the International Association of Administrative Professionals, executive assistants have broader skill sets than most professionals (probably, even you).

In recognition of Administrative Professionals Day (April 26), we’re honoring two executive assistants, nominated by their CIOs, as the winners of CIO’s Best Administrative Assistant Contest: Lee Ann Fisher, assistant to Edward Chapel, associate VP of IT with Montclair State University; and Jessica Raichl, assistant to CIO Eugene Nizker with Custom House Currency Exchange. Driven by passion for their work and a caring spirit, each keeps the IT department running smoothly. Two other nominees—Carol Nash, assistant to Edward Marx, CIO with University Hospitals Health System; and Darlene Sillick, assistant to Cardinal Health CIO Jody Davids—were selected for honorable mentions by CIO editors.

At Montclair State, Fisher is “redefining what constitutes the admin role here,” says Chapel, who considers her part of his management team. Hyper-conscious of the university’s tight budget, Fisher established new processes for evaluating the IT staff’s travel plans, saving the department $20,000 a year.

Before Nizker hired Raichl three years ago, he required her to submit three writing samples. But her skill at correspondence is just one of the qualities that led Nizker to describe her as the “glue” that holds his department together. “She guards me from problems that I will never know about,” he says, and protects the entire team. A few months ago, the local police called Nizker’s office insisting they needed to ask questions about a member of the IT staff. Concerned about appearances, Raichl told the police they could not come into the office, offering instead to meet them elsewhere. Ultimately, the incident turned out to be a big misunderstanding, and Raichl’s quick thinking and protective instincts prevented gossip and any further problems.

Nash, Marx’s assistant at University Hospitals Health System, received an honorable mention for what her boss says is her “customer-service talent and passion.” She’s an expert at calming angry business users when they’re having a technical problem. Cardinal Health’s Sillick, meanwhile, is being recognized for her compassion and friendship. When Davids’ son died in Iraq last year, Sillick notified contacts who Davids knew personally, arranged travel, hotel and transportation for relatives, and organized the efforts of those who wanted to help. “I could not have gotten through that period without Darlene,” Davids says.