Making the Idea Reality

 Looking back, it was a humble beginning. But to us, it was really big.

I’m talking about spring 2015, when the assistants at Maxim Integrated’s headquarters in San Jose, California, held their first Assistant Conference coordinated by assistants, for assistants. The event featured presentations by Maxim’s executives, as well as a lunch.

We need to step back in history to pinpoint the driving force behind the inspiration that precipitated our first conference.

As we all know, in the early 1950s, the National Secretaries Association’s founding members created National Secretaries Day to promote the administrative profession as a career field that contributes to the economy, company success, and the recruitment of employees to the administrative field. It proactively promoted the profession.

But the day’s authentic intent lost its focus. Instead of being a showcase of our best leadership, strategy, and collaborative skills, we too often settled for a sort of “Assistant-Manager Valentine’s” recognition day. While such recognition is nice, it doesn’t demonstrate administrative professionals’ greatest skill sets.

Taking the Bull by the Horn

I refused to believe this was the best that Maxim Assistants could do or accept. So, in 2015 I proposed that we mark Administrative Assistants Day by going back to its original intention: demonstrating skills that promote the profession.  I suggested we create a conference for assistants and draw on the talent of internal executive speakers for the program.

The focus: take the lead and recognize assistants’ contributions to Maxim Integrated.

The idea took off. Under the leadership of my primary lead, executive assistant Norma Munoz, and the support of a team of volunteer assistants, we began planning our first conference.

Putting Ideas Into Action

We immediately faced a hurdle: We had no money. During a collaboration session, it was decided to go to the head of each business unit and functional department to ask for $300. It was both a sales and persuasion exercise. We raised the money, but one manager said, “This is embarrassing. Assistants shouldn’t have to go around asking for money.”

The team moved forward. Norma went to our cafe manager with an admittedly small budget to wrangle a buffet lunch for 40-plus assistant attendees. Through mutual-benefit negotiations, the manager got on board.

In the meantime, the team approached executives to speak at the conference.  The topic focus was “Sharing Experiences that Shaped Your Professional Life.”

On game day, we did not have the budget for sophisticated A/V, so our speakers used simple slideshow projection and flip charts. We also did not have the funds to record our speakers.

Regardless, what happened during the speakers’ sessions was amazing. We expected to hear professional advice on growing our careers, but we got so much more. That year, and in the ensuing years, the speakers have been our secret sauce. Each revealed how personal triumphs and tragedies shaped them. Their stories included everything from the tough realities of poverty and the negative effects of being risk-averse to a motorcycle accident and being discouraged by educators.

A good example in that first year was one speaker who shared her emotional experience of growing up in inner-city poverty, where she had to fight her way into a high school physics class (no girls allowed) and again in college to join an engineering class. She had to be her own best advocate. She knew she couldn’t give up or she would end up back where she came from. In order to teach and influence assistants, our executives have opened up their lives to us.

For most assistants, hearing and seeing our executives up close and personal was remarkable.  Many had only seen them from afar or as names in email distributions. Our concept and focus were spot on.

We’re going to continue telling the story of how our vision evolved. And for any who have wished for guidance from top executives about administrative leadership, stay tuned for real-world experiences and insights from our speakers.

Being a Leader Who Celebrates Success and Failure

 In 2016, we were thinking bigger (a taste of success can do that). We asked for and received funding from our executive sponsor in HR — the conference had some money. We expanded our audience to include all of Maxim’s global assistants; added two European assistants to the coordination team; secured the services of a professional video team; and changed the name from the Assistant Conference to the “Assistant Excellence Conference” or AEC. The name became our vision statement.

The team thought globally and prepared a “conference in a box” for each global assistant in recognition of their contribution to the company’s success. The conference was professionally videotaped and the event loaded into MaximU for our global assistants to receive training credits.

We changed the focus of the conference from recognition to assistant development. Our chosen topic was “Leadership.” Once again, our speakers delivered more than expected. Let me introduce you to our 2016 executive speakers Ed, Vivek, and Martha.

2016 Speakers (from left to right): Vivek Jain, SVP; Nancy Nordberg, EA (program emcee): Ed Medlin, SVP; Martha Ryan, Director

Ed told of how he had attended 11 schools by ninth grade and how, as a young man, he survived a horrible motorcycle accident. “Pretty much everything was broken,” he said. These and other unpredictable life events shaped him and his career path. “It’s a crooked road,” he said. “Life isn’t a straight path but a series of decision points in which you choose or do not choose an opportunity or challenge.  Will it be ‘yes’ or ‘no?’” He emphasized that the path will change repeatedly as new events and decision points are accepted or rejected.

Vivek stepped to the stage and shared his story of overcoming the fear of failure. “Golf was a new game I took up five years back,” he told us. “I was trying very hard not to fail. However, it tensed me up so much that I started to miss the golf ball altogether. Then, my coach asked me to miss the ball. I said, ‘No problem.’  To my surprise, I started hitting the ball much better. I could not miss it. The key was not to be afraid to fail.”

Both Ed and Vivek shared this piece of advice: Spread bad news quickly. There’s no better way to swiftly reverse course, they said.

Martha related that as a new director, she promised the CFO that her group would, within a specified period of time, go from 21 days to close inventory in five days.  She didn’t deliver. The group took 12 days. Martha advised that failure means taking a step back: What do you know now that you didn’t know when you started? Then fix it. And, she warned, “Don’t work rogue.”  There is no success without a supportive sponsor and a passionate team. It’s also important to contain the scope of your project, she advised. “Don’t try to boil the ocean.”

 Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Our 2017 conference was even more ambitious. With our expanded programming, Norma took on a co-lead, executive assistant Lisa Milanes, to help lead the many facets of the event. We again included two international assistants on the team, this time from Asia. We introduced our “Honorary Assistant Award,”  in which assistants submitted award nominations for those who provide support to the assistant community and exemplify excellent customer service to Maxim’s assistants. For the first time, we invited executives reporting to our CEO to the AEC.

Further, the team discussed branding.  We created a logo that characterized our conference initiatives and our “reach higher” mindset.  Each year, it challenges us to raise the bar.

Ta-da! Our AEC Logo!

Our chosen topic was “Teamwork,” and who better to speak to the subject than our CEO Tunҁ Doluca, who was joined by two talented executives.

Let me introduce our 2017 executive speakers Ed, Tunҁ, and Jen.

2017 AEC Speakers

Ed shared a court case in which he had all the facts nailed down and got the defendant to admit they lied to the jury about a central issue in the case while on the witness stand. Despite this, Ed lost the case. Afterward, he asked members of the jury, “What happened?” The jurors responded that, yes, the witness had lied but the reason she lied was important.  Ed had proven the “what”, but the other attorney had proven the “why.” The other attorney had grabbed the heart. Ed advised AEC attendees, “When you are in a leadership role, establish the “why.” Team members want to understand, “Why should I spend my time doing this?” Grab their heart.

Tunҁ talked about the decision to institute programs around the world to ensure that our assistant community is contributing to making Maxim a better company.  He realized that while development programs and assistant teamwork improves support to managers, its domino effect is an increase in the effectiveness of the whole company.  Tunҁ further spoke to the synergy created when people work as a team and noted, “It’s just a lot more fun than working alone.”  He advised assistants in leadership roles to appreciate the “why.” A diverse team will have more than one “why,” and it is good to understand the various motivators going into a project.

Jen told us about an “I’ve got this!” leadership role she accepted at a charity event. Her role was to supervise the champagne-and-appetizer volunteers who worked the pre-dinner reception. They had a short orientation: what to wear, how to keep tables clean, how to keep the food and wine moving. At the end of the evening, there were 200 broken glasses, and the tables and room were a mess, which resulted in a late-night cleanup. Many volunteers knew attendees, so they spent time socializing rather than taking care of guests. Failure.

She vowed to turn this around and volunteered for the following year’s event.  Knowing what she didn’t know the year before, Jen instituted some changes. She added a robust orientation, which included practicing how to carry glasses on a tray. Each volunteer had an assigned section. They discussed the importance of keeping the champagne flowing, and they reviewed the event brochure. The orientation answered key “why” questions: “Why are we here? Why is this an important event?” Grab the heart. The result?  Only 40 broken glasses, cleanup took 15 minutes, and double the champagne had been served. An effervescent success!

In 2017, we added a diverse panel of three assistant-manager pairs who spoke to the topic of assistant-manager teamwork. Each pair brought a different perspective to the teamwork conversation.

Kathleen and Craig had been together for several years but, in this case, Craig had never worked with an assistant before meeting Kathleen. When hired and told he would have an assistant, he said, “What do I do with an assistant?”  Kathleen to the rescue. In order to establish a strong business partnership, she emphasized “Communication, communication, communication!” and offered a guiding hand. Eventually, they were walking in step.

Norma and Laura had only been working together for about three months—their relationship was still new and growing, and expectations were being sorted out.  Norma’s goal was to continue understanding Laura’s expectations and to nurture their communication in order to achieve a solid business relationship.

Shawna and Bruce had been working together for years and could sometimes finish each other’s sentences. Shawna formed a strategic business partnership with Bruce based on communication, respect, honesty, and humor. Plus, they both have a hearty dislike of drama. Sympatico.

At the close of the program, our CEO, Tunҁ, commented, “This was very well organized.  You had the right concept pulled together for the panel.” That felt pretty nice.

After the panel, one manager sat down with his assistant and said perhaps they should talk about expanding their communication. Several assistants were asked to join their manager’s staff meetings. That’s good stuff.

Unlocking the Power to Empower Yourself and Others

Throughout these past few years, one thing echoed in my head. It was the assertion from the manager who said, “Assistants shouldn’t have to go around asking for money.” By 2018, we had an Assistant Leadership Team. I proposed creating a budget. We asked Ahmed, one of our finance business partners, to be our advisor. Ahmed guided us through the proposal and approval process—the very process that our managers go through every year. At the end of it, our budget asks of $80,000 was approved, along with our own cost center. The budget featured 10 projects and included, of course, the AEC.

With our first assistant budget dollars in hand, our program in 2018 looked more sophisticated. We requested a skilled photographer to take still pictures. We produced our first launch brochure. No more bland, email invitations.

This time, two assistants from Europe joined the team, and we asked, “How do we make the conference more relevant to the global assistant team and to our managers?”

Our chosen hot topic was “Empowerment.”  The team brainstormed the title “Empowering Women, Empower WoMen.” The assistant profession is overwhelmingly female, but we have male assistants in the company such as Simon, our male Assistant in Munich who suggested we capitalize the “M” in women to make both communities feel included.  With one keystroke, the team celebrated the empowerment of both women and men with WoMen.

Once again, our invited speakers shared personal journeys concerning how they achieved personal empowerment, who traveled with them on the journey, and how those journeys impacted who they are today.

Introducing our 2018 executive speakers Kathy, Angela, and Laura.

Empowerment Speakers with Maxim’s CEO: (L to R) Kathy Ta, VP; Angela Roach, Managing Director;
Tunҁ Doluca, CEO; Laura Owen, CHRO.

Kathy shared her “superpower,” which she explained, “Is my ability to take negative comments and turn them into fuel to show ‘them’ that I can do it and that I will prove ‘them’ wrong.” Kathy said she is a proud contrarian; someone who forges ahead when told no. In college, she failed her first math test. She went to her T.A. and asked, “What can I do?” His response? “I’ve seen this before.  Maybe chemical engineering isn’t for you.”

“He lit an “A-bomb” of contrarian energy inside of me,” Kathy said. “I was going to show him.” With that A-bomb moment as her motivator, she passed the next test and went on to work in chemical engineering.  Kathy advised assistants that failures can be pivotal moments in your life. They can empower and shape you for the good, or crush you. It’s your choice.

Angela’s “power source” is the strong women who raised her. She counseled that we should all find our power source, whether that be family, a circle of friends, historical figures, or heroes.  Angela’s power source gave her advice like, “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Surprise people with your strength and will. It’s not, ‘What are you going to do, but how are you going to do it?’ Treat everyone with respect and work hard.” She advised assistants to empower others because in doing so, we empower ourselves.” And, she said, along the way, don’t forget to advocate for yourself.

Early on in her career, Laura was advised, “Don’t be a hot dog – let your work speak for itself.” Bad advice, she explained, it’s just another way of being told to be quiet. Through time, Laura learned she had to be self-promoting in tactful ways. She advised, “Don’t sit in silence. Be your own advocate. Share what you’ve done, where you’ve been, and invite others into that conversation.” For example, “I attended the AEC and decided I want to increase my self-advocacy. I’m going to find a mentor. What did you get out of the Conference?” You’ve then opened a dialogue tactfully and effectively.

Ed Medlin, SVP & General Counsel, announces the “Honorary Assistant Award” winner.

Our powerhouse assistant panel consisted of two visiting global assistants and an assistant from HQ. Meet our “Empowerment” assistant panel Emily, Marlene, and William.

Assistant Panel (L to R), Emily Brubaker, Oregon; Marlene Parni, Sweden; William Segraves, San Jose.

Emily traveled from our office in Oregon to join the panel.  Her initial response to the panel invitation was, “No!” What Emily brought to the panel was the perspective of an individual who challenged herself to do the very thing that frightened her!  She admitted her fear to attendees: “My knees are shaking but I’m here.” Although Emily was nervous, she interacted on the panel with confidence and poise — she even had us laughing. Emily proved to us that doing what you are afraid to do is the best shortcut to confidence and self-empowerment.

Marlene came all the way from our office in Stockholm to join the panel. She brought with her the perspective of an assistant who works as the sole support person in a sales office. We asked, “How do you empower those around you?  Your team, your organization, other assistants?” Marlene said, “I take the time to listen, and I give time to build trust and share knowledge. I believe in a positive work environment. Of course, all of that is easy to say so I believe it’s important to demonstrate the values and behaviors you want to see in others. You have to be the person you want your team to be.”

Our panelist from HQ, William, had another perspective on the question.  “Develop a relationship with people; know them on a more personal level. Learn their strengths and weaknesses. Where are they at in their careers?  When you have that personal connection, you can be of greater influence.” William noted such relationships are mutually beneficial. You can incorporate their talents into your project, and they can employ your strengths when needed.  But, first, you have to know each other. Get up, go out, and introduce yourself.

Our CEO, Tunҁ Doluca, took the microphone during Q&A.

Tunҁ Doluca, Maxim Integrated CEO, during a Q&A.

He asked our speakers and panelists, “What would you recommend assistants do to become more business savvy? What can assistants do to be more involved in the company from the business side?”


  • Be informed. Know what’s happening in the industry.
  • Ask your manager questions like, “Who are our top customers? Why are they the top? What keeps our organization up at night? What are our recent achievements? Failures?” And offer to help.
  • Ask for clarifying information. Say, “I don’t understand,” or ask, “Why is this being done?”
  • Take business courses.

2018 AEC speakers and panelists responding to questions.

Beyond Flip Charts

2018 AEC: Speakers, panelists, and guests.

Our successes would not be possible without the support of our CEO’s Office, our HR executive sponsors, our speakers and panelists, and the persistence, passion, and creativity of our international AEC planning team. The AEC team annually hones their best skills through individual learning curves, collaboration, teamwork, negotiation, strategic planning, organization, budget tracking, and a lot of problem-solving. What a team!

2019 Conference Challenge
Be bold. Raise the bar. Don’t settle. Stretch. Achieve excellence.
The team is ready.

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The Backbone Blog is all about the modern Admin. Created by the Admin Awards, Backbone is all about leveling up and inspiring Admins to do their very best work. It’s also about overcoming outdated stereo-types about the profession and those that serve in it. We work hard to tell the stories of innovators, change agents, thought leaders and pioneers who area making a phenomenal impact to their organizations and profession and inspire others in the process. We believe the best ideas and insights come from Administrative Professionals themselves, so that’s what you’ll find here.