A CIO's best friend

In collecting CIOs' nominations for our best administrative assistant contest (in honor of Administrative Professionals Day on April 21), we learned that CIOs rely on their assistants to do a lot more than screen visitors and manage schedules. Our two winners share a crucial quality: They are essential to the success of their CIOs.

Esther Medrano

Assistant to 3Com Corp. CIO Ari Bose; relies on trust and humor to do her job

When Medrano read about this CIO magazine contest, she jokingly told her boss, Bose, "Here's your chance to brag about me."

He did just that, touting his administrative assistant's ability to handle his hectic travel schedule, to manage IT purchase orders and other IT accounting procedures, and to ensure he has relevant information and time to prepare for meetings with senior management. Most important, though, Bose says that "one of Medrano's greatest strengths is in ensuring the confidentiality of information she has access to and treating this in a very professional manner."

It's this mix of trust, professionalism and camaraderie that makes a great administrative assistant and CIO pairing. One that can guard executive-level corporate information, but also joke about entering her for this award. Medrano has been with Bose for five years now, starting when he was director of architecture. Medrano says for her, the key to being a good administrative assistant is trust and communication. She says Bose is her boss, but also her friend.

Margie Brossett

Assistant to Sears, Roebuck and Co. senior VP and CIO Garry Kelly; acts as an IT information hub

How good would it be to get advance word on a possible e-mail interruption or immediate notification about systems problems -- not only what they were but how long before your IT team will have everything running smoothly again?

Those are some of the many things Brossett does that make Kelly say she's the best executive assistant he's ever had. "Margie runs my office efficiently and effectively," Kelly says. "I couldn't get through my day without her."

No wonder. Brossett acts an IT hub, sitting with Kelly on a floor with the company's top management (CEO, CFO and nine other executives) and managing relationships with 21 other administrative aides in IT, with whom she keeps in contact about meeting project deadlines and arranging troubleshooting sessions. She's a fixture at Sears, having started more than 30 years ago in the accounts payable department before joining Kelly in 2001. Brossett says knowing what department -- or specific person -- to contact for help is crucial to her and Kelly's effectiveness.

It also helps, Brossett says, that she and Kelly have a friendly working relationship built on professional respect.

Honorable mentions

CIOs can rely on the best assistants to handle multiple tasks, to lead by their example, and even to manage budgets and IT projects. The honorable mentions in our contest are:

Terry Bouslough, executive assistant to Marguerite Moccia, CIO of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, is a Toastmasters veteran who uses that experience to communicate effectively with people from all walks of life, winning praise from the agency's employees and the public alike. An experienced administrator, Bouslough takes the time to mentor younger staff, an activity that makes her popular among colleagues.

Michelle Cometa, administrative assistant to Diane Barbour, CIO at the Rochester Institute of Technology, started her job about 20 months ago, when Barbour was reviewing her organization. The result? Cometa ended up taking on roles that would otherwise have gone unfilled, like producing a monthly newsletter about the institute's IT department and a series of technology seminars for members of the department. Both programs, Barbour notes, "have been a tremendous success."

Dawn Hill, administrative assistant to Thomas Jarrett, CIO and secretary of the Delaware Department of Technology and Information (DTI), has managed relationships between her office, the governor and the state legislature, earning the respect and trust of policy-makers. "Dawn inspires others in DTI with commitment, enthusiasm, extra effort and dedication. She is much more than just a support staff person to me," notes Jarrett. "She has been my right hand, my mentor, a cheerleader as well as an anchor when needed."

Sandy Sosa, executive assistant and office manager for Michael G. Williams, vice president and CIO at The New York Times Co., is not nicknamed "Ms. Perfection" for nothing. "She makes me look good by saving the company big dollars -- doing by herself what most others would outsource," Williams notes, adding that Sosa handles event planning and travel logistics for hundreds and has created a Lotus Notes program to manage office set-ups for new hires at the newspaper.

Ilan Wang ranks as the best administrative assistant that Dennis S. Callahan, executive vice president and CIO at The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, has seen in a 37-year career during which he's kept as many as four assistants busy. Wang exercises flawless judgment in handling sensitive matters, Callahan notes, adding that she manages his calendar and global travel schedule so that "anyone can reach me when needed, and that I receive mail and important messages wherever I am."

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