Friday, November 20, 2009

bill's girls

My professional journey began upon high school graduation where I secured my first full time job at Union Tank Car Company on Clark and Jackson in the loop. Within 2 years I was promoted 4 times and when I realized I reached my top level at this firm, I went to an executive recruiter who helped me find my next gig. I was hired on August 8, 1977 to work for Sandy Hill at Smith, Bucklin & Associates, Inc. on Michigan and Wacker. Sandy was the firm's up and coming go getter and in the 6 months I worked for him I learned a tremendous amount of how an association management firm works. Dorry Hodges and I were a great team and the founder noticed it as well. Since I had the required shorthand skills I was promoted to the administrative assistant of William E. Smith and what a journey this was.
We witnessed this remarkable visionary increase his employee base from 75 to 750 in the 23 years I worked for him. SBA became the largest association management firm in the world with additional offices in Washington, DC, California and its European presence in Geneva. My duty was to prepare, transcribe, revise, revise, revise, copy, collate and distribute the masterpieces he created. Anything that made his world smoother was my role as assistant.
His personal world was full of history and he had no shortage of tales to share. In addition to running the whole show, Bill faithfully maintained his one account, the Popcorn Institute. While most account executives held their board of directors and annual meetings in exotic places all over the world, we went to Florida every winter, the Hyatt O'Hare every spring and Iowa every fall. He and his beloved brother, Mark, literally built their beautiful home in Fennville, Michigan that we had the pleasure of visiting. He was an advocate for natural preservation and invested in a thousand acres of land and his pets were a goat named Pepe and horses Tanya and Kitty. He remained a bachelor until 57 until he met the love of his life, Marita, a much younger gorgeous Swedish gal. Marita and Bill lived on Oak and Michigan and he was a pioneer in founding the Chicago Tourism Council. He loved Chicago and spent many hours promoting his town quite successfully with the likes of Mayor Harold Washington, Christopher Kennedy, Jerry Roper and numerous hotel and business owners in the area.
The most impressive task I had was preparing his annual speech to all the executives of our firm. It was always inspirational and touched our hearts in a profound way. He always gave credit to the fine men and women in this room. I was so proud to work for this man.
I was at a crossroads as I considered starting a family for I just got promoted to accounts manager within the firm and knew my future would rise if I continued on that path. I wanted the whole shebang and chose my family, but later would be able to enjoy the best of both worlds by working part time - job sharing our duties for Messrs. Smith and Christensen, the company chief financial officer.
Genny Bertalmio and I split the workweek as a team and these boys got more productivity from the two of us than 3 people working full time. We never called in sick and loved working in this manner, while both of us raised our 3 children. This was not common and not acceptable in the 80s. Women worked full time or not. What a testament to Mr. Smith's vision. Today facilities offer day care within their company.
Due to the experience I gained working for these beautiful people, I was inspired to begin my own business, which will be told another time. Genny and I were Bill's girls and she is still working there. We adored this man and were proud to be part of his success. He passed at 90 years old a few years ago and they held an amazing memorial shortly thereafter. Bill Smith's legacy remains strong and one of the firm's partners, Henry Givray, is now chairman, and I am confident Mr. Smith is smiling at the great job he is doing. I spent half my life at this company and will treasure the memories forever. I was fortunate to enjoy my career and embraced each new day. These are indeed, blessings. xo