Editor’s Note: We're searching for the best and brightest admin professionals and workplace operators in the US. Know an outstanding Ninja? Nominations for the 2020 All-Star Awards are now open!
Today’s OfficeNinjas All-Star Award is presented by ezCater!
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Name: Erica Kelley
Title & Company: Executive Assistant to the CEO and Administrative Support Manager, CustomInk
Location: Fairfax, VA
# Years as an Office Ninja: 18
Fun Fact: Anti-stress ritual includes Clorox wipes
We’ve Got a Double Agent on Our Hands
Erica Kelley, today’s featured OfficeNinjas All-Star, is the Executive Assistant to the CEO of CustomInk and the manager of an administrative support team. A dedicated member of the CustomInk team for 13 years, Erica saw the company grow from a 150-employee startup to a team of over 1,600.
And as CustomInk evolved, Erica’s role did too. In addition to her duties as an EA and manager, she organizes over 20 off-site meetings a year—and she goes above and beyond for every single one. Just recently, she trimmed $175,000 from the company’s travel expenses!
So it’s no wonder co-workers call her a “competent conductor,” an “inspiring leader,” a “boss babe,” and “super woman.” They also managed to pull off a secret nomination—this award was a complete surprise to Erica!
These short excerpts from Erica’s nominations show exactly why she’s All-Star material. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves:
“Most don’t see what goes on behind the scenes. People see an effortless event, meeting, or project completed on time. They see board packets pulled together in a timely manner, and flawless presentations sent out in time for the meeting’s pre-read. What they don’t see is all of the time, sweat, and tears that go into all of Erica’s hard work. They don’t see all 100 small details she has already thought of and accounted for, the early mornings, and hopping back online after she puts her kids to bed to ensure someone else’s tomorrow goes off without a hitch.” – Jen, Administrative Assistant
Beyond efficiency, Erica is also known for her compassion and willingness to step up for her team.
“Erica is the type of person that, no matter how busy she is, will pause to offer an encouraging word or help someone in need. She is a caring and nurturing person who always makes time to listen. She puts others before herself. Erica is also a remarkable advocate for our admin team, and she will go to bat for us when needed. She steps in if our team is short and regularly volunteers to assist at the reception desk. No job is too big or too small for Erica. If there is a need, she is there to assist.” – Vesna, Senior Administrative Assistant
We’re also happy to report that Erica’s talent has not gone unnoticed by the highest levels of management.
“Erica has been with me and CustomInk for about 13 years—since we were both in our 20s and the company was a fraction of its current size—and she’s been an essential and special part of that team. Not only has she kept me organized all these years (which is no easy task) and stepped up to lead the Admin Support Team (by whom she’s loved and respected), she’s also become a confidant and trusted thought partner on people, internal communication, morale, and more. I can always count on Erica to give it to me straight, put her all into work, and act with compassion and integrity.” – Marc, Co-Founder & CEO
Let’s find out what makes this All-Star tick… Read our Q&A with Erica!
OfficeNinjas: What’s your favorite part of being an Office Ninja?
Erica Kelley: I enjoy juggling lots of different priorities, and with all those balls up in the air there’s rarely a dull moment in my day. I have to admit that I enjoy the hustle required to get it all done. The fact that there’s usually a large amount of work that needs to be done in a timely manner brings me to my next favorite thing about my role—collaboration. My position affords me the opportunity to work with so many people across so many departments. Inkers (our name for team members at CustomInk) are special people, and the fact that I get to work alongside them each day is by far one of the best parts of my job.
ON: Tell us about the craziest day you’ve ever experienced as an Office Ninja.
EK: I’ve had plenty of crazy days, but I had a doozy just a few months back. I was out of town doing a site visit for an upcoming leadership meeting, the largest event I support each year. I had several venues lined up back-to-back with an early start planned. While I was in a different city getting ready, my Executive Team was about to board a plane, heading to a pretty important meeting for which I had set up all the logistics. It was a full day with a lot of moving parts. Without going into too much detail, I sent the entire Executive Team to the wrong airport.
It kicked off a chain of events that not only affected my team but outside parties as well, as I had already confirmed the other details. I ended up stepping out of the shower because I heard so many incoming message alerts on my phone. Once I realized my mistake, I had a mini freak-out, then got to work to fix everything. Of course the hotel Wi-Fi wasn’t working, so I had to solve that first. Meanwhile, I was still dripping wet in my towel.
It all ended well, mainly because I work for amazing people who realize that mistakes happen and we are all human. But seriously, of all the times to mess up a flight, it had to be on pretty much the most important day ever. You better believe that won’t happen again.
ON: What’s the one thing that’s always on your desk and why?
EK: Post-its are practically my religion. They’re also why I’m obsessed with Google Keep (you can thank me later). My team often jokes that I should have a ticket system at my desk like they have at deli counters because I get so many interruptions throughout the day. With so many “drive by” requests or comments, Post-its are a perfect place to jot things down quickly. Standard yellow is my preference, but I don’t discriminate.
ON: When did you assume the role of Administrative Support Manager? How do you split your role between ASM and EA?
EK: My team is small but mighty and consists of myself and four other incredible ladies. I became the Admin Manager in July of 2012, and before that I was the only admin. When I first took the role, I only had one direct report. This worked well, as I was learning what it meant to be a good manager and also figuring out how to balance that new responsibility. I’m proud of where the team is today, and that I was able to make a case for additional support.
Now, I oversee the entire Admin Team and often act as the go-between for them and our Senior Leadership Team. I do all the normal manager stuff, while also supporting our CEO and VP of Business Development. Leading a team has allowed me to be able to work on really meaningful projects—such as researching, selecting, and rolling out our travel management program. I wouldn’t have been able to do that well if I didn’t have an incredibly competent team that was ready and willing to keep the CustomInk universe running. It’s a total team effort.
ON: What do you do when you’re stressed or upset at work?
EK: I usually do three things. First, I take a few deep breaths. Next, I take my time re-writing my to-do list on a clean sheet of paper, and then I wipe my entire desk down with a Clorox wipe. As I type this, I feel like it might make me sound crazy. But whatever—it works for me! If it’s a really bad day, then I’ll reach out to fellow team members. I’m fortunate that I work with some of my closest friends, so I’ll usually see if one of them is free to take a walk or grab a cup of coffee. (I’m talking about you, Allyson!)
ON: How does your employer help you succeed and stay motivated?
EK: CustomInk is pretty amazing in this regard. First off, they really support professional development and have an amazing in-house program that sets up leaders for success right out of the gate. It provides the tools needed to grow and excel as a manager. In addition to that, the managers I’ve had throughout my career here really care about me and value my success. They encourage me, trust me, and truly want to see me grow. With that support, it’s hard not to be successful. On top of that, they totally spoil us with incredible benefits, awesome perks, and a casual office where you can wear flip-flops to work. All of this motivates me to be my absolute best. I’ve been able to advance in my career at CustomInk, and I’m driven to keep doing that and make an impact within the organization. Most importantly, I can show my three little girls the value of hard work.
ON: How do you see the admin profession evolving? What do you do to stay ahead of the curve?
EK: I think that the overall perception of an admin is getting a bit of an overhaul. It’s no longer viewed as that stereotypical “Mad Men” secretary type. We do so much more than pure administrative work. We’re the glue that holds it all together, and we are master people readers. You never know how important a good admin is until you end up with a bad one.
Staying ahead of the curve means always being curious about what we do and trying to find new and better ways of doing it. We’re really building and defining the admin community, and OfficeNinjas is a great example of that.
ON: What is your greatest professional achievement so far?
EK: You can’t support someone without trust, so I’ve always prioritized building that first and I really pride myself on it. When I look at my career, this is the achievement I hold dearest. I’m also really proud of the impact I have as a manager.
For example, I had team member who was in the role of receptionist. It was clear she had a passion for writing and a way with words. I did my part nurturing that talent and gave her as many projects as I could that allowed her to showcase writing skills. I tried to put her in front of the right people. She ended up moving to our eCommerce Team and now writes on a full-time basis. While I was sad to see her leave my team, it’s pretty incredible to play a role in helping someone move forward in their career and follow their passion.
ON: What are you most proud of outside of work?
EK: I’m really proud of my family. I’m happiest and most authentically me when I’m hanging out with them doing something simple like going to the playground, taking a hike, or just relaxing at home. I sometimes still can’t believe I’ve been married 10 years and have three kids under the age of seven. When did I become the adult in the room?
ON: How do you balance work and personal life? Any tips you’d like to share with new and future Ninja moms?
EK: I think it helps that I don’t really look at it as a work/life balance. It’s more of a work/life flow. Sometimes work is more demanding, and I have to work late or for a few hours on the weekend. Other times family life takes up extra hours. Those times when life is crazy and the kids are sick, work has to give a little. It’s a give and take, and I’m fortunate that CustomInk respects that ever-changing flow.
I think my biggest tip for working moms is to cut yourself some slack. It’s hard to quiet the inner voice that tells you that you have to be everything to everyone all the time. If you’re doing your best, that really is enough. After having three kids and working full-time, I think life gets fuller in all aspects. Work seems busier for me because I have to leave at a set time, and life is busier because I have three little girls who rely on me. In general, life is just fuller, and I think that’s a really good thing. Wine also helps. A good rosé is my personal recommendation.
ON: What would you say are the top three traits of an OfficeNinjas All-Star?
EK: Without a doubt, the ability to multitask and skillfully juggle the many ad-hoc requests that come at you each day. I also think communication is key, specifically having tact and diplomacy. We’re on the frontlines and often need to be able to read a situation and know what’s appropriate when talking with team members. Lastly, I’d say flexibility—because the only constant in our world of scheduling wizardry and logistics is change.
ON: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
EK: I have to give this one to my mom. I don’t have a quote specifically, but her positive outlook on life has really been one of the strongest assets I’ve had in my career. It translates into a can-do attitude and lets me see a challenge as an opportunity instead of a setback. I’m a big fan of The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale too.
ON: Care to share any Office Ninja tips or tricks of the trade?
EK: Having an organized inbox is crucial. For me, it works as an active to-do list along with my necessary color coding system. It lets me see who I’m waiting for a response from, what’s most urgent, and gives me a handle on what new requests are coming. This method has helped me catch things that would have otherwise fallen through the cracks. As someone who supports several executives, manages a team, and also has to deliver on individual key projects, I find it essential to keep my email tidy.
Erica, we’re so glad you have sneaky co-workers who love you!
As part of her prize package, Erica will receive $1,000 in credit that may be used toward ezCater or Amazon Gift Cards.
To view the complete album from our photo shoot at CustomInk with Erica, click here.
All on-site photography of our featured Ninja and her workplace is courtesy of Oh Snap! Visuals. Oh Snap! is OfficeNinjas’ go-to photographer for headshots and events. They travel nationally, produce stunning photographs, and are a dream to work with!