10 crazy things done for execs, in the name of travel

Posted on
Aug 18, 2010
Yes, sir! And may I say, you can go fuck yourself as well!

"Yes, sir! And may I say, you can go fuck yourself as well!"

I just finished reading The Devil Wears Prada. I wasn’t all that impressed, by either the book itself or the supposedly heinous things that Andy, the protagonist, had to do to keep her high-powered boss, Miranda, happy. Most of the time, I simply furrowed my brow and wondered what all the fuss was about. Because while most execs are a bit nicer about it, the requests made of Andy were not, to my ears, unreasonable at all. The insane (and insanely specific) requests, the attention to detail, the frenzy to get it all done, even the temper tantrums, were not new to me in any way.

Because, dear readers, in a previous life? I was an executive assistant. And man, do I have stories. Reading Prada got me thinking of some of the things that I (or the senior assistants under whom I worked, if there were any) had to do in the name of executive travel.

But first, a brief disclaimer: some of you know where I worked in the past, and I’d appreciate you kindly keeping it out of the comments, if you do know the execs or companies associated with this craziness. Also, none of this happened while at Cranium. I feel like I should note that specifically, because the execs at Cranium were some of the most self-sufficient, grounded people I’ve ever met.

I assume it’s because most of them were parents.

And not all of it happened to me (but if you ever want to talk in person to find out what exactly did …)

But anyway, on to ten crazy things that I (or some other admin in my social circle) have experienced in the name of executive travel.

  1. Purchasing day-of first-class tickets to Europe. Occasionally, an exec would frantically call in an admin, and tell them he needed to be in Europe … by tomorrow. This would require booking some absurdly expensive tickets (sometimes while the exec was already en-route to the airport). The highest I’d ever witnessed? $18,000 for one ticket. Which, at the time, was about half my annual salary.
  2. Changing incredibly expensive tickets last minute. One tech-company exec would often call on the way to the airport to catch his last-minute flight (which his admins were still in the process of booking), with a change in plans. Seattle to London, but then a stop-over in NYC on the way back. This happened so often, his admins would occasionally wait to book his ticket until the third or fourth call. Or one admin would start to book the ticket by phone, and the other would talk to the exec, relaying changes to the first admin in real-time. By the time he made it to the airport, a ticket had barely been booked, minutes before.
  3. Overnight shipping becomes your friend. Naturally, a VP of Marketing/Sales/Importantness for a multi-million dollar company, while running out the door to catch a flight on which they don’t yet have a ticket, might forget something. Or everything. We spent thousands on shipping necessary or hard-to-find items (phone chargers, laptops, relevant documents) to hotels, hopefully arriving before the VP landed. Unfortunately, sometimes they’d change travel plans after we had shipped items, resulting in an absolute nightmare.
  4. You will learn to make the most elaborate itineraries, ever. One part of Prada cracked me up: specifically, where Andy is describing the folder she and the senior admin create for Miranda’s upcoming trips. She notes that phone numbers must be written with periods, not dashes (Uh, yeah – duh. It makes it waaaaay easier to read), and that every single phone number, contact number, and detail of the trip is planned out and listed on an ever-updated document. Let’s just say it hit waaaay too close to home, and again, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.
  5. You learn how to duck, thanks to your cat-like reflexes and elevated heart-rate. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
  6. You locate lost items across the Atlantic with an expertise that would make most investigative detectives proud. After said scatterbrained exec has rushed out the door to god-knows-where, then rushed back (after roughly half a dozen ticket changes) they will inevitably have forgotten something critical at a hotel on the way. If the item could be replaced (i.e., clothing or small electronics), a new one would simply be purchased. Otherwise, a series of phone calls would go out, trying to determine where along the trip said documents/laptop/heirloom watch were lost, and how to get them back, immediately.
  7. You learn to think in two time zones. When execs were traveling overseas, you’d have to schedules meetings and set up reminders for them that would appear at the appropriate local time on their calendars. This would mean that your calendar would, for a while, look insane (meetings starting at 8pm or 5am your time). You’d often have to call and remind them of said meetings, regardless of what time it was for you.
  8. You will inconvenience others. This was the hardest part of the job that I had to get used to (and never really did). I remember frantically apologizing to a photographer who we had called in, and kept waiting for four hours. FOUR HOURS. Of course, he was paid for the time, and in the end, we started sharing ghost stories as I helped him set up his shoot. Of course, that was nothing compared to the admin who had to call a prominent chef at 2am, because her boss had called her from Europe minutes before and demanded the chef be flown out to cook them dinner.
  9. You respond to a name that is not your own. This is one part that the author of Prada got absolutely right. To this day, I still jump when I hear a particular senior admin’s name, because I was called it so often. I am sure that the execs in question never actually noticed we were two people. Or if they did, it didn’t matter, because they had no idea what my name was.
  10. Expense reports? I am a master at them. Doing expense reports in one currency is grueling enough, but when an exec has three different currencies (all Asian, and therefore illegible to me), things get crazy. To make matters more insane? On one particular trip (involving three Asian and several European currencies), he had charged some personal expenses with his wife. I had to decipher which were expensable business charges, and which were not. This involved me faxing the receipts to individuals who spoke Chinese, Japanese, and/or Korean (some were thankfully employees of the company, so it didn’t require too much explaining) and calling the exec’s wife to see if any of the restaurant names/entrees ordered sounded familiar. Of those which were familiar to her, I only expensed one-half (the exec’s portion).

    Like I said, I’m a master.

Maybe this list is why I didn’t think Prada was all that special. Was Miranda mean? Yes. That was the only differentiator between her (and most) execs. Otherwise, her crazy requests were nothing out-of-the-ordinary.

And here’s the clincher in all of this: reading that book almost made me nostalgic for my admin days. Insane, I know. But there was this kind of sisterhood between me and my senior admin, and amongst all admins at our company, really. Life was crazy, but we were in it together. When I left that job rather suddenly to go to Cranium, I burned a few bridges in the process. That might be my biggest regret about that job: I ran out of there, leaving my senior admin, the woman who had been my advocate and mentor, alone to do the work of two people. After she fought for me, and stuck her neck out on my behalf.

Hmm. Maybe that’s why the protagonist from Prada was so whiney. If she’d had a senior admin like I did, it would have been an entirely different experience. And perhaps one not worth complaining about at all.

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