From The Ground Up! Events | The “Accidental” Project Manager
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The “Accidental” Project Manager

The “Accidental” Project Manager

What started out as a step up the corporate ladder ended up transitioning my executive assistant career to starting my own business. I guess you could call it an “accidental discovery”.

I was hired in the early 90’s as the Executive Assistant to the President of a start-up biotech/pharmaceutical contract manufacturing company called Corning Bio, later renamed Covance. The company was founded by three executives from Texas who had the vision of taking a drug from Phase 1 through the FDA approval process – for other companies. Their main focus were companies that didn’t have the facilities or funds to build a facility to handle this particular process. The majority of the companies were in a start-up phase as well.

I was the fifth employee and first female hired to not only support the CEO but also the COO, CFO, VP of Marketing, and the HR contractor. We leased space in an executive office suite in Research Triangle Park as did a number of other start up companies – from all over the world. It was a very exciting time and a wonderful opportunity to meet some very interesting people.

Because I was the “local” in this consortium of start-ups, office managers from these companies would ask for recommendations regarding office supplies, caterers, printers, etc. Because I have lived and worked in the Triangle since 1979 I had credible recommendations. Suddenly I became known as “the Connection Queen”. Some friends from that era still refer to me as the CQ when they need a recommendation. I’ve been told numerous times by different people that I know everybody there is to know. It’s called networking and I. LOVE. IT !!

During my time at this location and also at our newly constructed (109,000 square foot manufacturing & office) facility, I found myself in more of a project management/office manager role. While supporting these executives with travel arrangements, board meetings, proposals, etc., I was given the added responsibility for negotiating & purchasing all of the furniture, equipment, office supplies, interior decorating, break room/coffee service, assisting in hiring new employees, leasing temporary office space, coordinating the move of employees from two locations into our new facility and finally organizing the Grand Opening Dedication Ceremony. Whew – thinking back on this now makes my head spin! I just did what needed to be done at the time and really enjoyed every bit of it. Bob, our CFO, told me one day that I seemed to really enjoy projects and should think about doing something along those lines someday. Little did I know…

Back to the Grand Opening Dedication Ceremony – Governor Jim Hunt was the keynote speaker along with Chris Keubler, Chairman of the Board, as the guest speaker and Bryan Lawlis, CEO, was Master of Ceremonies. Along with all the other details of putting together an event, I drafted the CEO remarks, scripted the event and instructed the executive team on when to do what or as I say – when to inhale/exhale. My husband calls it “barking orders” I say “well somebody has to do it.”

Over 250 business executives plus employees attended the dedication. Because of my prior experiences, i.e. serving on the immediate staff of a North Carolina Governor, reporting directly to CEO’s & Vice Presidents of other companies, working with these executives was a very comfortable position for me. The event was a great success. I knew then I had found “my calling.”

For me, the only recognition I need is knowing the events I organize are a success. If I can pat myself on the back for a job well-done then I’m happy. With that said, I do appreciate a thank you just like everyone else – it’s good for the soul.

My first client was a Belgium company, Bekaert/Innovative Sputtering Technology. I worked with a young woman by the name of Ruth. We met during our time in the executive office suite and because of that relationship they were invited to the dedication ceremony at Covance. A week later she called to ask if I would help her organize a groundbreaking ceremony for her company. I replied “sure” not realizing that I would actually have to submit a proposal AND present it, not only to her but two of the executives as well. I can’t tell you how nervous I was sitting in that meeting! They hired me for the groundbreaking and later their dedication ceremony. The invitation design we created for their dedication was one of the absolute “coolest” invitations – a box of Belgium chocolates shipped to each invitee (about 300) in a small cooler with dry ice. Needless to say we had an excellent turnout.

At the conclusion of their groundbreaking ceremony, several attendees asked for a business card. I was taken aback as it never occurred to me I was “in business”. The next groundbreaking event was for a Taiwanese firm – Delta Products. Following that event several more people asked for my card. At that point I replied – “the next time you see me I’ll have a card for you” and I did.

My husband, Gary, and I visited a stationary store in Glenwood Village and starting flipping through books of business cards to get an idea of what to call the company. He asked “what exactly is it you want to do with this company?” My reply “well, everything I’ve done for Covance, i.e. purchasing, logistics, meetings, events – basically an office manager for hire” – he replied “so everything from the ground up”. I said “that’s it – From The Ground Up!”.

Next step – we went to a restaurant, ordered a drink and drew the logo on a napkin – I swear we did because we didn’t have a piece of paper. One of the marketing contractors I worked with at Covance professionally designed the logo, stationary & my first (and only) brochure. I was in business! Woo Whoo!!!

Soon after, I began a 30-hour work week at Covance & 20+ hours on my new company. It was brutal at times. My son was 7 & busy. I came home, was a mom, wife & then worked (many late hours) in my new office – our guest bedroom – sitting at Gary’s childhood desk & using the bed as my credenza. I kept this up for many months until I was exhausted. Gary told me to decide which one I wanted to do and go for it. So I went for it in a BIG way and have never looked back.

Now that my company is in it’s 20th year in the event management business I look back on our accomplishments and still pat myself on the back. It’s good for the soul.

Join me for the next 20 – will you…

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