Every weekday morning for the past 20 years, Donna Thompson has walked into her Lafayette, La., branch office with two things: dedication and commitment.
Branch manager Fred Werner remembers one experience that illustrates her dedication perfectly. Late in December 1999, a businessman client deposited 10 large checks into his account. A few days later, on Dec. 31, he called to withdraw the funds before the year ended and have the money wired to him.
"Our company policy is that funds cannot be withdrawn until the deposited checks have cleared their bank," Werner says. "Our records did not show that they had."
So Thompson spent a good portion of New Year's Eve - the night before the new millennium - calling each of those 10 banks, confirming that the checks had cleared. "At 5:20 p.m. on New Year's Eve, she finally got clearance to wire the funds for our client," Werner says.
While many sales assistants would have gone home, grumbling about this client's lack of planning, Thompson took it as a personal challenge.
Even more impressive, she was back the next morning at 8, checking key accounts for any Y2K problems.
"Calling Donna Thompson a sales assistant is somewhat of a misnomer," Werner says. "For the past 20 years, I have thought of her not as an assistant, but as my partner."
Thompson started working with Werner, a producing manager, in 1980 while they were both with EF Hutton in Lafayette. Thompson joined Legg Mason when Werner made the move in 1989. Today, she supports two teams - including two senior brokers, two junior partners and three sales staffers - generating $2 million in production altogether.
Handling client emergencies is all in a day's work. "I'm just doing what I should be doing," Thompson says. "My parents taught me to always give everything 110%, so nobody can claim you're not doing everything you're capable of."
She says her most important mission throughout the day is to intercept snafus that might distract brokers from their main purpose - serving clients. "I've found that if you go out of your way just a little, the rewards will come back to you tenfold," Thompson says.
With that kind of attitude, it's easy to see why everyone from the seasoned rainmakers to the novice clerks in Legg Mason's office think Thompson is a font of wisdom and moral support.
"I came into this industry with absolutely no experience, and Donna has always been able to simplify and explain even the most complicated procedures to me," says Erica Cabrol, a client service representative with Legg Mason in Lafayette since 1994.
Clients appreciate her attitude, too. "Whenever I call, she drops everything and treats me as if I'm her only client in the world," says J.C. Falls of Milton, La. "What makes her truly special is that this is how she treats everyone!"
When she's not mentoring colleagues, coddling clients or stomping out fires for producers, Thompson volunteers in the community. She organizes the local March of Dimes Walk-a-thon and the Legg Mason "Ragin' Cajun Team Tennis Classic," which raised $20,000 for the University of Louisiana in Lafayette tennis team in 1999.
Thompson tells others considering the role of sales assistant: "If you want a job that never brings the same thing from one day to the next, this is the job for you. I love it."