All-Star Ninja Snapshot
Title & Company
Executive Assistant to the Vice President and COO, Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority in Grand Rapids, MI
# Years as an Office Ninja
Laura has perfected the mysterious art of getting her three kids to smile for family photos.
Editor’s Note: We’re thrilled to spotlight the tremendous impact admin professionals have on the workforce and global business community. While coronavirus threw us for a loop this year, our 2020 All-Stars rose to the challenge with great collaboration, flexibility, and fun personal photos!
Considering Laura Feigel works as the Executive Assistant to the Vice President and COO at Gerald R. Ford International Airport, we’re tempted to stuff this All-Star profile with aviation puns. (Laura’s career has really taken off! She’s definitely elevated the Ninja role!). Instead, we’ll take a cue from her colleague Casey Ries, Engineering & Planning Director, who gave it to us straight:
“Laura is consistent and persistent. No challenge is too large or too small for Laura, and she sees each through to the end.”
Simply put, Laura has produced exceptional work for 18 years and steadily ascended (we couldn’t resist) from an entry-level admin position to one in which she makes crucial decisions for one of her organization’s most important leaders.
Along the way, she’s improved internal travel processes, coordinated important events, and assisted with construction projects. She’s known for her unshakeable work ethic and compassionate leadership — and enjoys active membership in the Life-Long Learner Club (no membership fee; all welcome).
She’s an All-Star for sure, and we can’t wait for you to meet her. Enjoy our interview with Laura Feigel!
Tell us about the craziest day you’ve ever experienced as an Office Ninja.
At the airport, no day is the same, but there is one thing we can always count on: a multitude of customer inquiries via phone.
One day, our phone system went haywire and the reception desk was overloaded with calls, so my co-EA Margie Witbeck and I had our IT department add our phone lines to the main phone tree. Our phones rang non-stop all day while we tried to complete our regular duties. We probably received 100+ extra calls that day!
Everyone in the office was aware of the situation and gave us flexibility to manage it. If one of us had something pressing, we’d remove ourselves from the call-extravaganza, and re-enter when we could.
It all made for a pretty hectic experience, but Margie and I got a good system down. Tackling it as a team really helped us conquer the day — and even build up our camaraderie!
What is it like partnering with a co-EA?
Margie supports the CEO while I support the COO, and we make a good pair. She and I used to work a lot together on events and meeting planning, so we had an opportunity to establish a collaborative foundation.
An EA partnership allows you to offset each other’s weaknesses and helps you to grow. For instance, I’m very direct and to the point, so sometimes when I email someone, all of the pleasantries have already been expressed (in my head) and I cut straight to the chase. Margie, on the other hand, is a natural when it comes to rapport and that is something she inspires me to improve.
Even if you don’t have the benefit of having a co-EA, you can still seek out that kind of helpful accountability with another EA — whether in your organization or in the admin community.
What’s your favorite part of being an Office Ninja?
I like the responsibility of being dependable. Having worked in this organization for some time, I’ve developed a good understanding of what’s worth stressing about and what isn’t, and I can approach situations calmly. Being the go-to person in the office is a satisfying and fitting position for me and I try to create an environment where people know that they can come to me for just about anything.
“High performing teams essentially run on controlled chaos, and keeping up with it can be challenging for even the most experienced professional. Fortunately, Laura can not only see through this chaos but manages to thrive in it while helping our team deliver at a rate unprecedented for a department our size. Moreover, Laura continues to display a flexible approach to every endeavor and often anticipates needs well in advance of them being asked. Laura is more than an Office Ninja. She’s a warrior, a close confidant, and a part-time therapist. Pretty much the greatest asset a team could ever have!” – Stephen Clark, Business Development Manager
Laura’s coworkers secretly decorated her office for a fun surprise on her 40th birthday.
What do you do when you’re stressed or upset at work?
I listen to music — it calms me and centers me. And now that I’m in my own office, I play my music out loud! I’ll just be singing along to my 80s playlist and typing out emails.
Talking it out with a trusted co-worker is also really helpful. Getting guidance or even just another perspective on a tough situation is a great way to move past it more quickly.
How does your team help you succeed?
They make time to help others in their daily missions. Everyone is very encouraging and supportive — they understand that practicing good collaboration and taking time to teach is well worth the investment.
Laura brings an intelligent perspective to the table and offers common-sense solutions to keep the train on track and rolling in every situation. – Bruce Applebach, Operations Manager
Tell us about your relationship with your boss.
Alex [Peric, Vice President and COO] was a game-changer for my career. Before he came along, I felt like I was sort of stuck in a box. But Alex is an out-of-the-box thinker and he encourages me to break down those walls, too. His dedication and innovative vision challenges me in a way that has revitalized my passion for excelling in the workplace.
He’s also not shy with feedback. And while it isn’t always something I want to hear, he never makes me feel incompetent. He takes the time to teach me and help me build up my stamina to be a well-rounded EA.
Alex and [Business Development Manager] Stephen [Clark] also invite me to sit in on their meetings and calls so that I can expand my knowledge and skill set. In my entire career, this is the first time an exec has allowed me to be involved like this!
Alex truly leads from the front. He continues to pour his limited time and resources toward increasing not only my skills but our team’s, as we collectively respond to unprecedented growth and challenges on the micro and macro levels.
And while many look up to Alex for his steady, knowledge-driven approach, perhaps his most exceptional skill is his ability to share in our team’s successes with frequency and sincerity.
He expects greatness, and his leadership and work ethic make it easy to want to exceed that expectation.
I am incredibly proud to be a part of his team.
Being on the team of one of the fastest-growing airports in the United States is a privilege, but with it comes a responsibility to deliver at an extremely high level. Laura is often thrown into many projects with very little information. She manages not only to get up to speed quickly but leverages her vast knowledge of the airport’s internal workings to deliver when our team needs it most. – Alex Peric, Vice President & Chief Operating Officer
The Business Development Department in its conception. Moe, Laura’s boss Alex, Laura, and Stephen.
Where does your drive come from?
My work ethic was instilled in me as a kid. My parents never called in sick, always gave 100%, and often worked seven days a week. This developed a sense of pride in me and laid the groundwork for my future employment. I knew I would have to work my whole life, so it was important to me to find something I enjoyed.
Organization and detail come very easy to me, and working in an office environment was always appealing. I loved working in the office while in school, being the teacher’s assistant, and doing as many administrative functions as I was allowed. Tasks themselves keep me motivated, because I’m the type of person who can’t leave something on my desk; if it needs my attention, I won’t rest until it’s complete. It also helps tremendously that I love what I do and who I do it for.
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How do you see the admin profession evolving? What do you do to stay ahead of the curve?
In my opinion, it’s the next generation of successful executives like my boss Alex, who really appreciate the Executive Assistant role. That said, I think the future is bright for admin support staff because those executives understand the value our profession provides the organization. In turn, they are willing to invest in our professional development, and unlock leadership opportunities.
Personally, I stay ahead of the curve by partaking in professional development, training on new software, and networking with groups like OfficeNinjas.
Laura’s role and function have grown both out of necessity with airport growth and leadership changes, and due to her initiative and willingness to champion different and larger projects. What began with filing and archiving projects, Laura’s role has transitioned to the coordination of a complex management team with many stakeholders and external parties. – Casey Ries, Engineering and Planning Director
Laura supports her co-EA at a Make-A-Wish Fundraising Event.
What is your greatest professional achievement?
The greatest achievement would be stepping into the Executive Assistant role.
Before Alex named me his EA, I served the majority of my career in the organization as an Administrative Specialist. Alex could’ve hired someone with prior EA experience, but he saw that with my years of experience, I was more than capable of doing the job. This new role came with a great deal of responsibility and trust. And it’s extremely important to me to maintain that quality of rapport with my boss and colleagues.
What are you most proud of outside of work?
My family. Staying engaged with my kids is very important to me and not always an easy task to accomplish, but I’m diligent and, so far, successful. I’m also the Team Manager for my son’s club soccer organization. My duties — keeping everyone informed and on task — mirror my duties at work. Watching my kids partake in something they love brings me great joy.
I also take pride in capturing my family’s silliness in pictures. Every Mother’s Day, we do family pictures. The kids are forced to participate, and my husband and I always find a way to make them laugh for the pictures. Those funny shots leave us with the memories of how much fun we ended up having that day.
The shores of Lake Michigan make for beautiful family pictures.
How do you balance work and personal life?
I make sure to remind myself to live in the moment. Your kids will eventually move out of your house and won’t want to spend time with you like they do now. I try not to take that for granted. Ever. I make family vacations a priority and make sure we spend as much time together as possible.
We make sure to do a “Destination Zoo” each summer. We take the kids on a vacation to a city and zoo we’ve never been to. We document the trip with pictures along the way and make a ton of memories while we’re at it. We love to reminisce together about our travels and the fun we had.
What did your kids think about your All-Star win?
They are 15-, 14-, 12-years-old, and they couldn’t be happier for me! They’re especially proud that I’m the first person in Michigan to win — they wanted to tell all of their friends immediately.
We had a great time together taking my picture for this article. They helped me prepare my letterboard, snapped photos, and, of course, had lots of fun teasing me throughout!
What would you say are the top 3 traits of an OfficeNinjas All-Star?
Efficiency, dependability, and trustworthiness.
What has been integral to your growth as an admin professional over the past 18 years?
I credit my supervisors for giving me the tools and opportunities for growth. They trusted me and gave me the support, encouragement, and room to evolve. They knew what I was capable of and challenged me to accept additional tasks that would enhance my knowledge, experience, and skills.
Event planning, for instance, was not part of my duties when I was hired, but it was something that quickly landed on my plate. Working with risk management is another example. I assist our properties team with what can seem like mundane, tracking tasks. But along the way, I acquire knowledge, elevating my contributions as more of a branch of the project.
Laura has a desire to see our organization improve daily. To that end, she researches (usually on her own time) different products and processes that may assist in that effort and is willing to bring them forth for consideration. – Tim Haizlip, Director of Maintenance
Laura and fellow employees show their airport pride.
Office Ninjas often have tips/tricks of the trade. Any you care to share?
Having a good memory is a fantastic start. But if you don’t, take good notes! Be timely, trustworthy and honest — always.
Speaking of note-taking… if it’s not common for you to be part of your executive’s meetings — ask if you can sit in the background and take notes. Your exclusion isn’t always intentional, and you can often glean valuable context by listening in.
You mentioned being shy. Can you give us an example of a time you had to put yourself out there and how you stepped out of your comfort zone?
I’m very shy in group settings unless I know everyone well. But at an awards gala where I was being honored, I knew I was representing my company and my shyness went to the wayside. I knew I had a job to do. I was motivated by the pride I have in my organization, my boss, and myself. I had no trouble speaking to people about my job or the organization.
Laura receiving the 2019 Best of MichBusiness Office Ninja Award.
When it was time to receive my award, my face reddened and the jitters kicked in. (I could trip on the stairs, the floor, the air! My dress could be tucked into my pantyhose. Do my shoes even match each other?) But the minute the announcer said my name, confidence kicked in and ushered me forward without incident. I was extremely proud to be an honoree but it was equally important to be able to represent my boss and organization proudly.
When a lifelong learner has encouraging colleagues and a supportive boss, anything is possible. Surround yourself with people who give you confidence (and the tools!) to push the boundaries of your role and grow your career.
We commissioned an artist to hand letter and digitize a powerful mantra from today’s All-Star interview.