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Name: Debbi Shaffer
Title & Company: Senior Executive Assistant, Jacobs
Location: Arlington, VA
# Years as an Office Ninja: 19
Fun Fact: Met Brad Pitt at a coffee shop!
You know those people who have the best “two truths and lie” stories? They may not always win the game, but their colorful anecdotes and fascinating adventures make your skydiving humblebrag seem a little ho-hum.
Debbi Shaffer, Senior Executive Assistant at Jacobs in Arlington, Virginia is one of those people. She literally bumped into Brad Pitt at a coffee shop in San Diego (TRUTH). She accidentally restrained former French President Nicolas Sarkozy at a company conference (TRUTH). She founded a nonprofit organization that has raised over $100,000 for breast cancer research and awareness (TRUTH).
And she’s a 2016 OfficeNinjas All-Star – TRUTH!
No lie, Debbi is pretty incredible. Here’s what one of her 18 nominators had to say about her:
First, she’s both competent and quick to respond—getting it right the first time, and getting it done swiftly is the name of the game when you’re supporting two senior executives as she does, and she does it as well as anyone who’s worked for me over a forty-year career.
Second, once you’ve asked Debbi to take on an initial task, she anticipates the next time by storing the process she followed, the preferences I expressed, the necessary contact details, and other follow-up information where it’s easily retrieved—there’s virtually no reinventing the wheel where Debbi’s concerned.
Third, and perhaps most outstanding, she makes time for others in our workplace community—she’s there with advice, assistance, and a genuine customer-friendly personality and temperament for her co-workers, clients, visitors from other offices, and vendors/suppliers. Everyone gets the same friendly, professional treatment from Debbi. She’s a credit to our company, and certainly worthy of the title “OfficeNinjas All-Star”!
We were dying to find out more about Debbi’s career, see where she makes magic happen, and also get the low-down on her incredible stories. Read our interview with this remarkable Ninja!
OfficeNinjas: How long have you worked as an Office Ninja?
Debbi Shaffer: I’ve been an Executive Assistant for 19 years. I stumbled upon my career by sheer luck. I moved to San Diego in 1997 and agreed to be a receptionist at the office of a family friend while I looked for a job. Within a month, the Vice President asked me if I would like to support him. I did so for the next ten years, at two companies and from two different coasts.
But you could say I’ve been in training for this job for this since I was a small child. My dad was a corporate executive and I loved to go to the office with him on the weekends to “play secretary.” That was back in the day of the IBM Selectric typewriters. My dad’s poor assistant came in most Monday mornings to a jammed typewriter that was out of ribbon.
ON: Tell us about the craziest day you ever experienced as an Office Ninja.
DS: That would have to be the day I restrained former French President Nicolas Sarkozy from entering a meeting I was facilitating. The company I worked for was hosting meetings in the ballroom of one of DC’s historic hotels. President Sarkozy was attending meetings at the same hotel. He must have gotten the rooms mixed up and was headed into my meeting room.
He had no secret service with him, and I didn’t recognize him from the back, so I grabbed his arm to prevent him from entering our meeting room. When he turned around I instantly recognized him and was mortified. I apologized profusely and escorted him to the room he was supposed to be in, but I wanted to die from embarrassment.
ON: What’s your favorite part of being an Office Ninja?
DS: My favorite aspects are that no two days are alike and that I’m consistently challenged by my team. Whether it’s pulling off a meeting in three weeks that normally takes three months to plan, or securing a last-minute dinner reservation at the newest DC hotspot, my team trusts me with the “impossible” tasks.
ON: Where does your drive come from? What keeps you motivated?
DS: I get my motivation from helping others, feeling appreciated, checking off items on my to-do list, learning new things, and problem solving. Obviously I picked the perfect career. I’m very fortunate that my team not only appreciates all I do, but expresses and demonstrates their gratitude regularly. The perfect day is when I’ve accomplished everything that was on my list for that particular day.
ON: What is your greatest professional achievement?
DS: My greatest professional achievement is the successful completion of three volumes of Celtic Pink Ribbon, a compilation CD I produced to promote awareness and raise funds for breast cancer research.
In 2010 I needed to raise $2,300 to participate in a local breast cancer walk. I approached one of the bands I knew with the idea of putting together the CD as a fundraising tool, and they supported the idea. I had hoped to get 10 bands and raise $2,500. Volume I included 26 bands and was so successful, I was the top individual fundraiser in the event. Volumes II & III were equally successful.
To date, the CDs have raised well over $100,000 and have led to a Celtic Pink Ribbon golf tournament and Celtic Pink Ribbon Presents concert series. Volume IV will be released in 2017.
ON: How does your employer help you succeed?
DS: My current employer is very supportive of my professional development. I’ve rarely had a request denied for a course or seminar. That said, I always prepare a justification for the expense and a plan of action to share the knowledge I acquire with my co-workers. I’m a local champion for my company’s women’s development network and consistently share helpful tips and tricks with my counterparts and on our company’s intraweb.
ON: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
DS: The best career advice I’ve ever received was from my father. He said, “If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well.” We all have tasks we don’t enjoy, but if you are going to do it, you might as well do it well.
ON: Office Ninjas often have tips/tricks of the trade. Any you care to share?
DS: One of the best tips a former executive taught me is that it’s the small things that often make the biggest impact. I keep a database of details I learn about my team and my network. I’ve learned that remembering a birthday, sending a link to an event you think someone might enjoy, or picking up a favorite type of hard-to-find candy means as much as planning a flawless travel itinerary.
ON: Can you tell us the story of how you embarrassed yourself in front of Brad Pitt?
DS: It was when I lived San Diego. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were rumored to be in town. My morning routine included at stop at my favorite coffee shop. As I arrived, a man held the door for me. I looked up to thank him and realized it was Brad Pitt.
Now, I’m not a big fan, but I had honestly never seen a better looking man in person. He was more handsome in person than in any movie I’d seen. Instead of simply saying thank you, I channeled the 12-year old fangirl inside me, giggled, and said, “You’re Brad Pitt!!!” DUH!!! He was a block away before I realized how idiotic I sounded. I felt a little better about myself when the barista suddenly couldn’t remember how to make a latte.
ON: Tell us about Audacious Divas, your nonprofit organization.
DS: I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 28, but I didn’t share that fact with people for a very long time. In 2007, I lost someone very dear to me to breast cancer. The loss kicked off a strong desire in me to do SOMETHING.
That year I started asking my best friend to walk with me in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure, a 60-mile walk that takes place over three days. In 2010 she finally agreed. We named our team the Audacious Divas. That year we discovered we were pretty good at fundraising.
We incorporated in 2013 and were granted our 501(c)(3) status by the IRS in 2014. The Audacious Divas have hosted golf tournaments, gala events, raffles, cookouts, and concerts. We’ve also produced calendars and CDs to promote breast cancer awareness and secure funds to find a cure. We’ve even had a song written especially for us by Trevor Tanner and performed by Rathkeltair on Celtic Pink Ribbon Volume III. I’m extremely proud of the Audacious Divas and all we’ve accomplished.
We’re proud to have you as a 2016 OfficeNinjas All-Star, Debbi!
As part of her prize package, Debbi received $1,000 in airline travel from Delta Air Lines, our amazing OfficeNinjas Admin Week sponsor! Happy travels, Debbi. We hope you take the vacation of your dreams!
You could win airfare from Delta too! Head on over to today’s Flash Raffle and enter by 11:59PM PST for a chance to win!
Today’s All-Star is presented by:
Join us in congratulating Debbi Shaffer, 2016 OfficeNinjas All-Star!