Don't Be a Dick or a Sam

Think you are a dream boss? Ask your sales assistant.

Financial advisors Dick Thomas* and Sam Spitz* look great on paper. Dick has earned a $50 million book of high-profile clients who like to trade, he consistently earns the top-producer award from his firm and he drives a Porsche. He's a handsome man, 6'1" with a lean swimmer's build that he acquired through training, competing in and winning triathlons and he has a Ferragamo tie collection that makes the rookie brokers green with envy. Sam is a little more conservative; he's been in the business 20-plus years, has most of his clients in long-term investments and, with a book of $90 million, is also a top producer in his branch. He prefers Johnny Walker Black to the treadmill, and fondly remembers the good old days when sales assistants were called secretaries.

What do these two guys have in common, well, besides the size of their paychecks? They've each plowed through seven sales assistants in two years. And each assistant that has weathered their storms for more than a few days sits at her desk, pulling at her hair and planning her escape.

What kind of torture are we talking about? The absolute worst is the broker who takes pleasure in minor, yet not-so-subtle and totally unnecessary ridicule. For instance, on one of her first days at work, Dick asked his assistant if she worked out at a gym. When she responded that she didn't, he urged her to start doing so, warning that “no one likes a fat assistant.” Three doors down, Sam's new assistant asked him to clarify some instructions. He slowed his speech to a crawl, and repeated himself several times in mock baby speak. Day after day, this kind of abuse really adds up.

You may think that you are every sales assistant's dream boss, in fact, you might think that she should relish the privilege of working for you. You're a top dog at the firm — making big bucks, serving really wealthy clients. Plus, she gets a decent bonus and a couple of weeks' vacation. She just has to do simple tasks and follow your orders. After all, things need to get done — and quick.

But here's what she might say to that: Watch your step and keep your ego in check. For starters, sales assistants have many bosses to please. Even if your assistant works exclusively with you, though many don't, remember that she also has the operations manager, the branch office manager, your clients and, perhaps, even a compliance officer to please. Don't be surprised if your assistant always appears to be swamped.

In fact, a little thank you every so often can't hurt. Your SA most likely executes about 50 percent more work than you think she does — little things that you don't even notice. For example, she corrects trades that were executed in the wrong type, proofreads and corrects letters you send out and goes out of her way to make sure your clients are happy when they hang up the phone. She also fills out account paperwork before it's mailed so that all your client has to do is sign. These are the invisible things that make an office run like clockwork.

And then there's this common SA pet peeve: It may sound petty or small, but one of the things that can drive an SA to distraction is when the broker says she works “for” him rather than “with” him. This master-slave attitude may filter into your other interactions with her, too. For instance, rather than discussing the team's goals with the SA and how she can help the team achieve them, maybe you simply read her a laundry list of things you want her to get done each day. Not only is this approach annoying, it's inefficient. If she knows what you are working toward, she will have a clearer idea of what your priorities are and how to help you best.

Brokers like Dick and Sam don't really care how fulfilled their assistants are; fat paychecks are all that matter to them. But, in the end, they lose out by not having a committed team member who will watch out for their best interests and help keep them out of regulatory hot water. A fantastic assistant is hard to come by, so take note when you've got a good egg, and spend a little effort treating her right and keeping her happy.

* names have been changed

Jennifer Bennett worked as a sales assistant for seven years, primarily at Smith Barney, but has since transitioned to the kooky and entertaining world of advertising. This is her first piece published in a major magazine. Her blog for administrative professionals, Adventures in Admin, can be found at www.jennbenn.com.

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