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Are Executive Assistants Worth the Trouble?

Meet five whose bosses couldn't do their jobs without them.

The last thing many business owners want to do is spend money on an executive assistant. But, as these five high-profile founders will tell you, a good EA is worth his or her's weight in gold, fretting over details and schedules their bosses are better off avoiding. As one EA says: "My job is to worry about it." 

1
Gail Abrahamsen assistant to Barbara Corcoran of Barbara Corcoran Inc., New York City.
Gail Abrahamsen assistant to Barbara Corcoran of Barbara Corcoran Inc., New York City.
When Barbara Corcoran wanted to book an actress to play a mermaid at her book-launch party, she knew just whom to call: Gail Abrahamsen. Her assistant, for eight years now, has mastered the art of managing the real estate mogul's wacky life. A typical day? Abrahamsen fields some 300 emails a day and answers every one within 24 hours. She also arranges Corcoran's endless media appearances, from Shark Tank (Corcoran is a shark) to the Today show. And if Corcoran just happens to leave her Chanel suit at JFK airport, Abrahamsen is on it. "There's never a dull moment with Barbara," she says. Of course, Abrahamsen knows all about chaos. A former business owner herself, she ran a children's store franchise called The Elephant's Trunk before working for Corcoran--and thus attacks her duties with the work ethic of an entrepreneur. "Everything funnels through Gail," says Corcoran.
9:44 a.m.
November 15, 2013
New York City
Gail Abrahamsen (left)and Barbara Corcoran just after a Today show appearance--and changing heels for the journey totheir next appointment.
2
Peg Fitzpatrick assistant to Guy Kawasaki of Alltop, San Francisco.
Peg Fitzpatrick assistant to Guy Kawasaki of Alltop, San Francisco.
Guy Kawasaki, the renowned speaker and co-founder of Alltop, the news aggregation site, hired his assistant Peg Fitzpatrick before they ever even met. In fact, they didn't meet in person until months later. Fitzpatrick is a virtual assistant, based in Keene, New Hampshire, one of three on Kawasaki's payroll. He has one to manage his calendar and another to answer his emails, and, last year, after interacting with Fitzpatrick on Twitter, he hired her to manage his social media. "If an entrepreneur has the time to do everything Peg does for me, the entrepreneur cannot possibly be running his or her company properly," Kawasaki says. On Fitzpatrick's watch, Kawasaki's fan base on LinkedIn went from nonexistent to more than 400,000 followers. Twitter fans? Thanks to Fitzpatrick, he has more than one million. "Online, he's like Madonna," says Fitzpatrick. "It's different from a regular person tweeting. For Guy, social media is 24/7. Now, he can forget about stuff, because he knows I'll check on it. My job is to worry about it."
1:54 p.m.
November 20, 2013
Los Angeles
At the L.A. Auto Show's Audi exhibit: Peg Fitzpatrick (center) with Guy Kawasaki, who was helping Audi with its social media.
3
Helen Clarke assistant to Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Group, London.
Helen Clarke assistant to Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Group, London.
If Sir Richard Branson booked his own travel plans, he would probably run out of time to actually travel. In any given year, the world-famous jet setter and his assistant Helen Clarke visit some 50 cities, meaning Clarke, once a Virgin flight attendant, spends the majority of her time travel planning. She's on the road so often, in fact, that she has her own assistant back at the office on Branson's private island in the Caribbean. Her second biggest task is managing the barrage of emails Branson receives. He verbally dictates every response to Clarke, so she's always informed and can be a human hard drive for Branson. "Helen is always one step ahead of me in terms of what I am likely to forget," he says. She's also a vital sounding board for Branson. "He's very good at asking my opinions on things," Clarke says. "At first, I was like, 'Why is he asking me?' Then, I realized he's asking because he genuinely wants my opinion. We can debate."
7:28 p.m.
November 8, 2013
New York City
Helen Clarke with Sir Richard Branson sitting shotgun, as he prefers, on their way to the Endeavor awards in Midtown Manhattan. Next stop? Jamaica.
4
Brandi Cheek assistant to Drew Houston of Dropbox, San Francisco.
Brandi Cheek assistant to Drew Houston of Dropbox, San Francisco.
Drew Houston's Silicon Valley friends used to call him crazy for waiting so long to hire an assistant. "I never imagined all the ways it could be helpful until after the fact," he says. He finally caved three years ago and hired Brandi Cheek, a former legal assistant. Now, she is still teaching Houston how to use an assistant in the first place. "His default is to book his own flights," she says. "I have to remind him I can do that for him." Her most important job, though, is keeping Houston in touch with his staff. Aside from routine duties, like handling Houston's calendar for meetings, Cheek gives him candid feedback on the mood of the company and schedules weekly powwows for him and 10 employees. "He always gets my opinion on messages he relays to the whole company," says Cheek. "He can get so busy; I try to keep him connected to Dropbox."
2:34 p.m.
November 21, 2013
San Francisco
Brandi Cheek (right) and Drew Houston at their usual side-by-side workstations at the Dropbox headquarters.
5
Evening Galvin assistant to John Mackey of Whole Foods, Austin.
Evening Galvin assistant to John Mackey of Whole Foods, Austin.
"She's the best assistant I've worked with in my 35 years of Whole Foods," says John Mackey of Evening Galvin. Mackey has known Galvin since she was a baby--her parents were also in the natural-food business. A few years after Mackey and Galvin went on a group hike on the Appalachian Trail, he hired her as his assistant in 2006. Says Mackey: "I think one of the most important things she does is quickly prioritize my schedule to make sure I am making the best use of my time. She also does an excellent job of shielding me from phone calls and meetings which she knows would waste my time." Galvin spends about 10 percent of her week on Mackey's personal requests and the other 90 percent on Whole Foods business. The two never have face-to-face meetings, though; they only email. That way, Galvin says, work doesn't get in the way of their friendship.
4:39p.m.
November 19, 2013
Austin
John Mackey and Evening Galvin (right) outside the Whole Foods headquarters.




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