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!
Ali’s 2019 OfficeNinjas All-Star Award is presented by Bevi, the all-in-one hydration solution for busy workplaces.
Name: Ali Berger
Title & Company: Executive Assistant, Orases
Location: Frederick, MD
# Years as an Office Ninja: 3 years
Mantra: Leave a little sparkle wherever you go!
Fun Fact: Opened for Make a Wish Foundation creator Frank Shankwitz as the youngest female speaker of an Accelerent DC event.
If Ali Berger has one piece of advice for other Ninjas, it’s this: make the most of every opportunity that comes your way.
“This doesn’t just mean the big things, but the little ones as well. Say yes to an introductory lunch meeting, ask a lot of questions, and really listen to their story,” says the Executive Assistant at Orases in Frederick, MD. “Embrace networking opportunities, plan the event (it might just explode into the organization’s largest fundraiser), take initiative … you never know what doors will open up for you.”
Her incredible drive hasn’t gone unnoticed by her colleagues; thumb through her All-Star nominations and you’ll see countless references to her positive energy and can-do attitude. So inspired are her co-workers, they even threw a party for Ali on the day of her All-Star photoshoot — complete with glitter — to celebrate the extra sparkle she brings to every day!
Approaching her work with enthusiasm and commitment has not only led to an impressive list of accomplishments, but it’s also helped her expand her role to include event planning, running a training program, and speechwriting for the company’s CEO. And she’s only three years into her career.
To work with her is to see excellence in action. Read our Q&A with Ali Berger and get to know this 2019 OfficeNinjas All-Star!
What’s your favorite part of being an Office Ninja?
The people. I have the opportunity to positively impact people through several different facets of Orases: our culture, our community, and our customer service.
Within the team, I see Orases as a whole and have developed meaningful, cool relationships with each team member. I have the pleasure and the opportunity to show up for them each and every day. To be an ear to listen, offer a helping hand, and cheer them on.
This is one of my favorite parts of my role because I truly believe in the people who make up Orases and the work we do. To me, it is a great joy to support them any way I can!
Another part of my job that allows me to engage our communities is through organizing events and volunteering in organizations I believe in. I think valuable relationships develop when you stay true to your word and help others.
Lastly, I am one of the first people that many engage with at Orases. I get the privilege and responsibility to set the tone of a person’s experience with Orases. I do not take that lightly!
At Orases we have grown year after year 20% to 40%. We are an Inc. 5000 company and have been featured in Forbes, Inc., Vistage, and Entrepreneur Magazine. As the CEO, I wish I could take credit for this … but I can’t. I have this other half that people don’t see, and her name is Ali. She makes sure my calendar is always 100% correct, notifies me before I know I have a problem, and fixes things before it’s noise to me. Without her, I would probably be locked up in an asylum. She takes the crazy away. She is the reason we have won so many awards and she keeps the culture at Orases. – Nick
What’s the one thing that’s always on your desk?
My “word of the year.” This year, my word is “sustain.”
I love new challenges and bringing new ideas to life. However, I am notorious for starting new projects and never following through to completion.
So this year I chose to focus on sustaining what is already going on in my life — the commitments, relationships, work, and events. I believe that in order to be fully present and do everything with a standard of excellence, it is important to nourish the places I am currently invested in.
While this can feel like a season of saying “no,” it is actually a year of saying “yes” and choosing to spend time working on some exciting projects with some incredible people.
What do you do when you’re stressed or upset at work?
I take a step back and remove myself from the situation. Sometimes I take a walk around our neighborhood, go outside and read my Bible, grab a coffee, or talk it over with a coworker. Once I’m feeling more at peace, I come back inside with a fresh perspective.
How does your team help you succeed?
My coworkers consistently go above and beyond to help me succeed. Nick, our president, is my #1 fan. He consistently pushes and challenges me to grow and become an even better version of myself. During my time at Orases, I have been blessed with some pretty incredible opportunities, including:
- The opportunity to deliver the opening speech for the creator of Make a Wish Foundation, Frank Shankwitz, at the January 2019 Accelerent DC Breakfast as the youngest female speaker at an Accelerent DC event.
- Initializing the annual techfrederick Games! The concept originated as an Office Olympics, which turned into an eight-company event. We broke even the first year, and by year three the event included 38 teams and raised over $30,000 for techfrederick!
- As techfrederick’s ASPIRE Training Coordinator, our organization has trained over 170 incumbent workers with new skills over the past three years.
- Managing an office remodel and moving into a new building (a total of four moves in two years).
- Throwing CEO Retreats for Vistage members.
Ali is great at motivating us to try different things! Like, I never thought I’d see a bunch of developers, UXers, salespeople, and PMs all doing elaborate karaoke skits on a stage, but Ali dragged us up there, organized the whole thing, and now, as a team, we have those memories forever. – Guy
Where does your drive come from?
My alma mater is Liberty University. Liberty’s mission is to train Champions for Christ. Liberty taught me what it means to be a champion. One characteristic of a champion is doing everything you do with a standard of excellence.
By approaching everything you do with a standard of excellence, you are able to focus on others, make sure their needs are met, that they feel heard and that they know they are valued. I believe this is true not only for my teammates, but for clients, colleagues, friends, and family.
My faith is one of the biggest parts of who I am, and I also believe that approaching everything you do with a standard of excellence is a way to give God the glory!
I am also driven by finding purpose and value in everything I do. When you’re able to see the bigger picture — and the role that the smallest, hardest, or most mundane components play in that bigger picture — you develop a greater understanding of their significance. For me, personally, looking for purpose and value helps me cultivate joy and passion in seasons that are challenging or when I feel defeated or apathetic.
Ali’s official title is “Executive Assistant” to our company president, but she goes above and beyond those duties, wearing many different hats and juggling multiple responsibilities that make us all go, WOW! You could basically call Ali our Office Manager, Event Coordinator, Networking & Marketing Professional, and overall Happiness Manager. – Kristyn
How do you see the admin profession evolving? What do you do to stay ahead of the curve?
We live in a digital world that is continuously evolving and making it easier to use technology to increase efficiency as an admin. There are so many resources and tools that automate processes, including scheduling applications, auto assistants, helpdesks, automated chat — and the list goes on!
I truly believe that as technology continues to evolve and more resources become available to help with the more tedious but important tasks of an admin, the profession will become more people-centric.
Admins have the opportunity to influence and shape the direction of their companies. They are the eyes, ears, hands, and face of a company and have the ability to see the things that leadership may not. Admins are able to listen to employees and understand the real challenges their coworkers face and provide solutions to their challenges. (That’s part of what makes us Ninjas, right?!)
Admins also are frontward facing and have the opportunity to represent their company to the world! While admins may not always be the final decision makers, they often have the most direct access and ability to influence company decision makers. There will never be a system that can replace that!
How do you balance work and personal life?
I am a firm believer that work and personal life should be blended, not balanced.
The culture of work today revolves around functioning at a high speed, and the obligation to extend yourself and go above and beyond to succeed. While I believe there is some truth to that, you should never compromise yourself and your mental, physical, or spiritual well-being for success.
We each have a calling, and when you’re able to find meaning in the work you do, it isn’t just a job, it becomes your life’s work, part of your purpose on this earth. It’s a beautiful thing when your journey aligns with others who support you and when your personal and professional worlds blend.
Many of my coworkers truly feel like family and have also become some of my greatest friends. We’ve laughed together, cried together, supported each other — we see the best in each other through thick and thin. In fact, one coworker recently said this about our people: “Our teammates don’t judge us for the mistakes that we’ve made, but they are the first to step in and help us find a new solution.”
However, I do believe in the balance of doing actual work vs. being present in the moment and showing up for people to let them know they’re valued. Sometimes work can be fast-paced, and it is easy to let it consume your thoughts, even when you’re supposed to be spending time with people you care about. It is so important to make sure that you create time and space to be present.
You’re often called upon to write speeches for your boss. How did that come about?
Orases co-title sponsored a networking breakfast and, as a co-title sponsor, our CEO Nick was allotted five minutes of stage time. We were not given much notice before the first breakfast, and Nick’s schedule was booked, so I took a shot at writing a speech for him.
The communications major in me was excited for the opportunity. I ordered the speaker’s book and started drafting an outline of a speech. Nick’s comment when he read the first draft was, “It’s like you’re in my head or something!”
Since that day, we work together to brainstorm and bounce concepts off of each other. We have incorporated some fun experiences into his speeches, including live reptiles, game shows, and bouncy balls.
What are some of the ways you’ve helped shape the culture at Orases?
I prioritize building relationships. When a team member is having a hard day, I surprise them with a treat from the team to let them know they’re appreciated!
And I champion planning the events at our office, including corporate events, new hire and retirement celebrations, the annual company BBQ, and launch parties.
I initiated a “Fun Committee” at Orases that plans the majority of our culture events, including monthly appreciation celebrations; quarterly passion events (where a coworker shares a skill or hobby they’re passionate about with the team); Orases Gives Back quarterly campaigns; and our Orases Open Ping Pong Competition.
I also manage office moves and our vendors, so I play a key role in creating and maintaining a comfortable, unique work environment for our team. I also stock our kitchen with snacks.
Tell us about some of the events you’ve managed. What are some of your tips for throwing a successful event?
One of my favorite company events was our first holiday party. We rented out a dinner theater and had a company lip sync competition. It was so much fun getting out of our comfort zones together and letting loose! (We did, however, have a no cameras policy.)
The techfrederick Games started in 2016 with an idea to throw an “Office Summer Olympics.” As we started the planning process, we thought it might be cool to include our growing tech community. That first year we had eight teams participate and broke even.
The purpose of the techfrederick Games is to promote community, comradery, and competition among tech companies in Frederick. We go all out with a big lunch, an opening ceremony where teams run out onto the field, and a torch lighting!
Event activities have included human foosball, inflatable Hungry Hippo, trike races, soccer darts, and more. techfrederick has created a scoring app that allows real-time score updates throughout the event. After the Games, winners are announced at our Happy Hour Awards Ceremony.
In only three years we grew to 38 participating teams!
Some event planning tips:
- Create an experience through your event. Thoughtful, cohesive branding can enhance an event and strongly connects a brand with a memorable experience.
- Build hype. Find ways to excite participants leading up to the event. Social media is a great tool for this.
- Walkie Talkies. Seriously the best way to communicate with your event team on event day.
- Be prepared for things to go wrong. Have a detailed event itinerary, set-up and tear-down list, and contact list in case something happens last minute and someone else needs to step in.
- Give credit. Publicly thank your vendors and volunteers.
What are you most proud of outside of work?
The genuine relationships I have built! I moved back to Maryland after living in Virginia for four years and it felt like I was completely starting over. I had a really awesome community in Virginia that supported me through my move. However, I knew I would need to invest in developing a new local community.
In a short time, I’ve developed dear friendships and built several mentor-mentee relationships. I have some fierce friendships with people who have walked through these past four years with me and supported me in all of the wild and crazy things I do. They continue to love me well and inspire me to be the best possible version of myself!
Just for fun, my friend and I decided to open a small Etsy shop called Allaur selling picture frame bulletin boards. We both have full schedules, but we find so much joy in the time we spend together creating. So for us, it isn’t necessarily about the product or the business — it’s about the time spent making memories together, and the cool product is just a bonus!
Your positive, can-do attitude is something that multiple nominators mentioned. How do you manage to stay upbeat even on rough days?
Knowing that my identity, worth, and purpose aren’t defined by the circumstance, but by something Greater.
Also my support system! I’m thankful for a community of friends and family who love me, encourage me, and show up! My friends have helped me decorate for events, shown up with meals, helped me put my office back together after an event, and sent me encouraging messages. They continuously ask how they can support me and sometimes even show up and step in without being asked!
Ali’s attitude is always “can do, my pleasure,” and her smile is there, regardless of the challenge. It has been remarkable to see her grow during her time in this position. Never a “no,” but ever a determination to figure it out, make it fun, and share the recognition for her accomplishments. – Pat
Orases has grown exponentially over the last few years. How do you stay on top of everything?
For starters, I think a key to managing growth and maintaining our culture is being intentional about getting to know team members. I believe this fosters an environment where team members feel comfortable asking for help, making suggestions, and letting you show up for them. It’s important to support each other — not just in our work lives but in our personal lives as well.
So, whether it’s helping with online shopping, sharing recipes, picking up groceries, or showing up to plays, being intentional in our relationships with each other helps maintain a “small business” culture without a “corporate” feel.
From an operations standpoint, as we’ve grown, I’ve had to find ways to create consistent processes. We use a lot of google forms and sheets for maintenance purposes, and I use Manage It for my to-do list. This platform allows me to communicate with my boss, take notes, and update progress. I also love the subscription option on Amazon and have set up subscriptions for our most commonly purchased items.
Can you talk about the importance of knowing how and when to ask for help?
As a Ninja, it’s our job to work behind the scenes to be there for our team and make sure day-to-day operations are seamless. At Orases, I show up every day to support 27 other people, and it is a task I do not take lightly.
I often have to remind myself that it is sometimes impossible to do everything and be everything to everyone, on top of accomplishing all of my responsibilities at a level of excellence.
I used to see asking for help as failing, but I’ve realized that stopping to ask for help actually gives my coworkers the opportunity to share in the same joy I experience when I am able to help them! My coworkers jump at the opportunity to lend a helping hand, and I wouldn’t be able to be half of the admin that I am without their support and willingness to step in.
You heard it directly from an All-Star: it’s okay (and healthy and smart) to ask for help when you need it. Thanks for the reminder, Ali! And thanks for an inspiring look into your purpose-driven world. Ready for a well-deserved spa break?
As part of her All-Star winnings, Ali will receive a self-care spa package courtesy of Bevi, a proud Admin Week 2019 partner!
View the complete photo album from our photo shoot at Orases with Ali!
Today’s All-Star is brought to you by Bevi
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