All-Star Ninja Snapshot
Title & Company
Office Manager and Executive Assistant to the President at Walker Sands in Chicago, IL
# Years as an Office Ninja
She’s that self-described “Pinterest Mom.” We’re talking handmade Valentines and Instagram-worthy birthday parties and DIY face masks.
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!
Trish Kalchbrenner probably didn’t expect to receive formative career advice while working her after-school job at Zippy’s, a fast-casual restaurant in Hawaii. But something one of her older coworkers said made a lasting impression on her teenage brain: “There is always something to do.”
At the time, it meant folding to-go boxes or wiping tables when business was slow. But, as her professional life evolved, it took on greater meaning that helped form the Ninja she is today.
Simply put, Trish makes excellent use of her time. How else could she fulfill the roles of Office Manager and Executive Assistant to the President? And manage three major construction projects in five years? And play an instrumental role in revamping her company’s parental leave policy? All while raising two children?
Trish modestly credits calendar reminders and alarms for keeping her on track, but we know there’s a special blend of skill, experience, and perseverance behind Trish’s ever-growing list of accomplishments.
If you’re wondering just how she does it all (you know you are!), check out our interview with Trish Kalchbrenner, 2020 OfficeNinjas All-Star!
Adding a special touch to every event! Tricia helps out at Walker Sands’ rebrand kickoff party in 2019 (and those sparkler candles were a bit scary).
How do you balance being an office manager and an executive assistant?
Some days I’ll be 60% office manager and 40% executive assistant. Other days I’ll be 80% office manager and only 20% executive assistant. It’s all about prioritizing, multitasking, and rolling with the punches.
Even on the craziest of days around the office, I still keep an eye on the company president’s calendar. His emails are automatically starred, and G-Chat requests go to the top of the to-do list.
Speaking of crazy days, tell us about a day on the job that you’ll never forget.
I have two scenarios that come to mind:
In the winter of 2018, I was managing an expansion construction project for the office and doing a major home renovation, which involved self-installing an Ikea kitchen, all while being 30+ weeks pregnant. Those six weeks were hectic, messy, and trying — but the results for all situations were so incredible!
Another time, we had a quarterly meeting scheduled, but upper management wasn’t quite ready with their slides. Our CEO and COO had recently gone to the Chicago Magic Lounge and decided to hire several magicians to do tricks around our desks, followed by a full show instead of our quarterly meeting. It was really the best day ever at the office!
What’s your favorite part of being an Office Ninja?
The people. More specifically, seeing “my people” succeed. My motto is, “My co-workers are my clients,” and I get that proud mama feeling every time they close a deal, impress their client, run a successful training session for colleagues, or get on a “Best Places to Work” list.
There never seems to be an issue too big for Trish to handle, whether it’s corralling executives, clients and investors, to handling our multitude of vendors, credit card transactions, and communication systems. She’s always on it. – Scott Rousse, Accounting Coordinator
Tricia’s company president really wanted to do an escape room with the team, but then fell sick on reservation day. They brought home a win in his honor.
What’s the one thing that’s always on your desk?
A Pinch Provisions Minimergency Kit! I go into my black glittery Kit all the time for personal care essentials.
I’ve utilized the Kit’s sewing materials to fix a shirt button right before a client meeting, and used clear nail polish when someone snagged their tights on the train. Folks spritz the Kit’s hairspray before taking headshots, and the nail file is asked for almost weekly.
These Kits also make great gifts, and I love that they are a local Chicago-area company.
What do you do when you’re stressed or upset at work?
Take a walk around the office! We have the entire floor, so you can pretty much do a circle around the office.
Our office has 360-degree views: Lake Michigan and the lakefront on the east; Soldier Field, Indiana, and Michigan on the south; Ceres above the Chicago Board of Trade and “Sears” Tower, plus killer sunset scenes to the west; and the Chase building and Trump Tower to the north.
I stop and talk to friends from different departments, fill up my tumbler from a different water dispenser, and check out new snack offerings in the kitchen.
Sometimes it’s difficult to get work done with these office views — but other times daydreaming out the window is a great little escape from the computer screen.
How does your team help you succeed?
The leadership team here values my opinion and has let me carve my own path. My job description has changed dramatically from when I was first hired, as the company has evolved and new members have joined the team. Our company’s core values are “learn, support, do,” and that’s something we all take to heart here. A lot of them have nominated me for the OfficeNinjas All-Star Award, which clearly falls under “support.”
During your time at your company, you have overseen the company growing from a team of 35 to 125. What factors contribute to maintaining culture during major growth periods?
I like to focus on keeping company traditions — trivia night, annual Chicago Cubs game, summer scavenger hunt — while adding in new ones as our employee population changes. New traditions include Bring-Your-Kids-to-WS day and World Cup game viewing parties.
Tricia knows *everyone’s* name. It may seem like a small thing, but it moves mountains in terms of building cohesive relationships across the agency. People feel seen by Tricia. Walker Sands has been steadily growing over the past few years, and we have a steady stream of interns and new hires joining our agency. Tricia goes out of her way to make them feel included and welcomed. – Amanda Blumeyer, Senior Account Manager
Tricia put up the top flyer and her creative and silly co-workers added the bottom one.
Where does your drive come from? What keeps you motivated?
I have Asian parents — ha! That sounds stereotypical, but I did grow up having to get the best grades, do all the extracurricular activities (like student government and sports), and work a part-time job. And it was great — I had the best childhood!
The drive to work hard and do my best has been instilled in me since college. I’ve been an employee of the month (or year) for almost every job that I’ve had, and getting those accolades keeps me going. Now, I have the added motivation to be a good example for my kids.
How do you see the admin profession evolving? What do you do to stay ahead of the curve?
There are several well-known companies who now describe their administrative staff as “business partners,” and that description really embodies how much this field has changed and where it is going. We are now seen as one of the most crucial parts of keeping a company running and a sounding board for the executives that we support.
I strive to be an expert in the areas that I touch. I’m not only the main contact for the building office and security desk, but I also know the exact square footage of our office, when our building was built (1981), and that it is LEED Gold Certified. I’m one of the administrators for our G-Suite office, so I’ve completed several tutorials through Google Cloud and Coursera. I also am one of the few folks who interacts with everyone and knows their name, along with the unique quirks of each department/team.
What is your greatest professional achievement?
The physical office space! I’ve managed three expansion build-outs over the past five years, doubling the footprint of our original floor plan to 22,000 square feet. I’m proud of the spaces we have thoughtfully added to make Walker Sands not only more sustainable, but also more productive, comfortable, and inclusive.
Some of these spaces include an additional mother’s room, casual collaborative seating areas, a creative studio, more phone/quiet rooms, and a larger kitchen cafeteria with high-tech AV for all-company events.
She is a powerhouse when it comes to the ins and outs of office expansion. She has led the expansion of our office three times since joining the team five years ago, working directly with the architects and contractors as they design the perfect space for our growing team and breaking down walls to make room. – Rachel Cullitan, Account Director
Subscribe to OfficeNinjas
Get researched and relevant professional development content curated and delivered to you each Thursday. And, it’s 100% free.
What’s one thing you wish you knew that would have made the renovation process easier?
Now I know how to read plans and construction documents. It would have been helpful to have a quick tutorial before our first project started.
What are you most proud of outside of work?
My family: my husband, who is the hardest-working person I know, and my two rambunctious kids! I’m also a “Pinterest Mom” — I love sewing and crafting, and enjoy putting those skills to use for birthday parties or class Valentines, or custom WS kids shirts, or a computer monitor pinata when our IT guy got married.
Tricia says that being a working mom is the hardest and most rewarding job there is. But she wouldn’t trade that, or these cuties, for anything else in the world!
How do you balance work and personal life?
I’m pretty sure this is a trick question. As a working mom, it’s more of a work and home life “juggle,” not a balance. Sometimes a work ball will get thrown in and you have to drop a personal one that you’ll pick up at a later time. There are things that take precedence and won’t ever get dropped, like my son’s school performances or my daughter’s check-ups, along with important work events like a senior leader retreat or all-company meeting.
Tell us about spearheading your organization’s new family leave program.
Almost four years ago, my colleague and I were pregnant together and realized that the policy in place was outdated. We did our research, put together a deck with stats and infographics, and, with the support of our newly hired HR manager, did a presentation for the agency leaders.
We focused on the benefits for both sides involved and proposed a new version. Our company measures success as “Great Work – Happy Employees – Happy Clients – Happy Business,” and our suggestions would improve those “employee” and, subsequently, “business” aspects.
We now offer multiple mother’s rooms and a parents’ group, and the family leave policy was completely revised a couple of years later by my colleague (who has since become a partner and VP) when we were both pregnant again. We have also doubled the number of parents in our office (by hiring or new babies), and we like to think that it was because of this opportunity.
Trish was one of our first working moms and has forged a place for new moms (and dads) at WS to feel like they have the support of each other and the office. She’s advocated for more mother’s rooms and worked toward helping secure longer maternal and paternal leave policies. She’s a dedicated working mom who seamlessly balances two sweet babies and the needs of employees across three offices. – Adee Feiner, Digital Content Lead
What would you say are the top 3 traits of an OfficeNinjas All-Star?
Empathy: I have the trust and respect from my co-workers because I can empathize with their problems even though their jobs/situations are totally different.
Communication: You can be doing some amazing things for your office and staff, but if you can’t tell them exactly what you are doing, then it will be all for nothing.
Tenacity: I focus on having a great work ethic and getting things done no matter what.
Tricia and the Corporate Team celebrate winning the annual company costume contest. They performed a Hamilton-inspired ‘Ten Walker Sands Commandments’ skit complete with wigs and props.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
My high school job was at a fast-casual restaurant (Zippy’s for anyone from Hawaii nei), and the older employees would tell me that there is always something to do. So even if we were just chatting during a slow period, we would still be folding to-go boxes, wiping tables, etc. I’ve carried that all throughout my life. Aside from having my daily to-do list, there is always a list of other projects to handle during my downtime.
How has your background in customer service and hospitality impacted you as an admin?
Aside from being able to keep a smile through any situation, that experience really prepares you for the worst of the worst. You learn to be quick-thinking and innovative in some crazy circumstances. I have enough stories to write a tell-all book! But you get through it, you learn, and you move on with a new trick/tip in your pocket.
Tricia takes a seat at the new bleacher section in Walker Sands’ kitchen cafeteria/event space, which was part of their most recent expansion construction project.
Office Ninjas often have tips/tricks of the trade. Any you care to share?
I set reminders/alarms for almost everything! On my work and personal Google Calendars, on the Reminder app on my phone, and on my Trello board for travel requests and operations. I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t set a reminder, I’ll probably end up not completing the task. And yes, I did set a reminder to finish these interview questions on time!
How have you successfully planned company-wide team meetings, outings, and other events to include remote team members?
Currently, everyone in our company is working from home in response to the coronavirus.
Previously, we had a few regular remote employees, and allowed everyone in the office to WFH about once a week, so we had the tools and processes in place. But our current situation is unique, and we’re not used to being apart for so long, so we’ve been doing a few things to stay connected.
I am the point person between the city, our building management, security, and our office staff, so constant communication has been key these last weeks. I also worked in the hotel industry when 9/11 happened and that experience has really come in handy.
Our company president sends out a greeting email every morning that’s part company update, and part something productive, like WFH tips or inspiration. Our (corporate) team created a group G-Chat to check in with one another and share uplifting/funny things throughout the day. And I do a 1:1 with my administrative assistant at the beginning of each week, though we constantly G-Chat each other since we’re no longer sitting nearby.
Several of our teams started doing ‘Spirit Week’ (e.g. Pink Wednesday and Floral Friday, and it ended up expanded to the entire company! This week, we’re hosting a WFH Bingo (for a prize!), creative Zoom backgrounds competition, and a parents hangout.
Thanks, Trish, for reminding us that time is a Ninja’s most precious resource! How will you use yours to create a workplace that you love?
We commissioned an artist to hand letter and digitize a powerful mantra from today’s All-Star interview.