Can You See Me Now?

Maggie Janssen is the Senior Vice President of Global Communications for one of the largest and most respected non-profit organizations in the world.

Well, not yet.

I found Maggie stationed at a skirted table outside of the Imperial Ballroom.  At the entrance behind her, a diagram has been pinned to the partition beginning a maze of  exhibition panels and displays.  A similar schematic is on the table where Maggie sits.

The ballroom is almost empty and its deflation of energy was palpable.  A handful of people in lanyards milled around, the long day beginning to drape heavily over their shoulders.

Maggie is still smiling.

I introduce myself to Maggie and her supervisor, Elizabeth. They work for Bon Ton, the parent company for a portfolio of department stores, including the local Boston Store.

“What’s going on today?” I ask.

The supervisor, Elizabeth, says, “This is our global vendor fair. We invite suppliers from around the world to present their materials and make bids to produce for our private label.”

“Interesting,” I say, looking from Elizabeth to Maggie.  “Who do I get to talk to about the event?”

Elizabeth, a short bespectacled blonde with a glint in her eyes and sideways smile, points to Maggie. “I’m delegating,” she says with a playful chuckle.

I turn to Maggie and she’s beaming.

“Sure!” she says, clearing the seat beside her.

“So, what’s your role?” I ask.

“I coordinate the planning and logistics for this event.”

“All of it?”

Maggie nods.

“Really?”

Maggie nods again, smiling.

“That’s kind of a big deal,” I say.

Smile.

Maggie’s exact title is International Vendor Fair Event Coordinator – slash- Global Sourcing Specialist.  One day, she tells me, she’d like to be director of events and communications for a non-profit. Just last year, however, she was a new college grad in search of a job.

“I studied PR and business at UW Stevens Point,” she says.  “I started here as a temp a few months after graduation.”

“Not bad for your first gig,” I say.

“Yeah, I got lucky.”

More smiles.

As a temp, Maggie supported last year’s organizers by handling data entry and helping with logistics.  “This is what I want to do,” she says of the experience. She even enrolled in classes at a local community college last fall to earn a certificate in event management.  Maggie’s three-month temp assignment became seven months and, ultimately, a permanent full-time position.

“I was texting everybody as soon as I found out,” she says.  “So excited.”

A facilities manager approaches the table to ask for clarification about the schedule.

“You can go ahead and lock those doors in back,” she says to him. “We won’t need to get in there until eight.”

I ask Maggie whether she’s already started thinking about tweaks for next year.

“I was just making a list,” she says excitedly.  “Like, I want the reception to feel more like a party.  It’s all business around here.”

She notices a hotel staff person fussing with a breakout room door.  “That lock doesn’t work,” Maggie calls out.  “You don’t have to bother with it. Someone’s coming back to fix it already.”

I ask Maggie if any of her family or friends might be surprised to see her in a role like this.

“Not at all,” she says.  ‘

“Let me guess,” I say.  “Captain of your sports team? President of your class?”

Maggie nods with a sheepish grin, “Yeah, I was class president.”

She’s also the oldest of five, three sisters and a brother from a town of about 10,000 people. “It was kind of expected of me to be a leader,” she says. “I’ve always liked pulling people together, making things happen.”

“What’s something else you’re challenging yourself to make happen, outside of work even?”

“Golf,” Maggie says. “My boyfriend is helping me learn.  I’m not too awesome.”

“Not yet,” I say.

Big smile. “Right,” Maggie says.  “Not yet.”

She turns her smile to a trio of women exiting the ballroom, heading toward the elevators.

“Bye ladies,” Maggie sings. “Have a good night.”

“What has been the hardest part about going from temp to official?” I ask.

Her reply was instant: “Making myself known.”

Maggie describes how the layers of management make it difficult for any higher ups to witness her talent. Common with most large companies, rookies rarely gain audience with the top brass.  As the keeper of all the event details this time, Maggie hopes to parlay her logistics intel into a memorable interaction –or two– with her boss’ boss.

For the first time, I glimpse the fierceness and determination in her eyes. Far more than providence or discipline, this young woman is fueled by deliberate and raw ambition. As Maggie spoke, the sudden hard angle of her jaw nudged my imagination forward to the future version of her, with a commanding maturity and series of impressive notches to her resume.

“Has your plan been working?” I ask.

“It’s going well,” Maggie says with a slow smile.  “He’s talking to me. He knows who I am.”

“When this is over, do you start planning for next year right away?”

“Not yet,” she says. “It’ll take a few months for us to process the orders that happen here this week.  As soon as we get back, my temp will start to input–”

“Wait,” I interrupt. “You have a temp?”

Maggie smiles. “Yes.”

Of course. Of course she does.

 

Picture Perfect

When I travel somewhere, site I take endless photographs, but that typical scenic shot—the Grand Canyon, Big Ben, anything in Yellowstone—I don’t even try to capture. I know someone before me has put a lot of time and energy into crystallizing the feeling of the place in perfect lighting, at just the right moment, with all the pieces falling in line with the close of the aperture. I buy their postcard.

The Pfister Hotel at the lunch hour is just such a postcard. I’ve tried to understand the place at all hours of the day, and have to confess, lunch seems to be the time where the convergence of staff prowess, culinary smells and the right pace in the traffic of guests helps crystallize the hotel.

All the businessmen lunch in the café in the window seats. Rather than the near naked morning meetings where they’re baring only shirtsleeves, jackets slung over chairs, they are fully suited and highly engaged in the goings on of their world. The beauty is in the buffer the blinds seem to provide between the business and the street. Freezing, bundled passersby hurry into the frame, but seem a world away.

In the lobby, society women confidently move through and into the hotel—all with the perfect hat (oh, how I love the hats!), many with shopping bags and even laptop cases. The bellmen converge on their station, impeccable in their uniforms, but smiling and chattering to one another awaiting a client in the lull of noon hour check-ins.

There’s a buzz, a motion, but not a hectic quality. It’s a well-oiled machine. The uniforms, the business of it all, the shoppers and those just passing through remind you of its formality and history. But the oversized, over-inflated mylar balloon boldly wishing a long gone celebrant a “Happy Birthday” that bounces against the cherub in the high ceilings of the lobby helps bring the present to mind.

If this wasn’t postcard enough, this glimpse into the routines and grace of the Pfister, married with the whimsy of the lost balloon, the next guest I encountered sealed the image for me. A woman confidently entered the scene with a Boston Store dress bag slung over her shoulder, her hair whooshing as she moved past. Her new dress, purchased for an evening event, instantly makes me smile and suggest she seems like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.

And then it’s all fit for a frame: my postcard is an image of the Hollywood glitz of the Regent Beverly Wilshire and Julia Roberts’ broad grin when she conquers the hotel guests with her charm. Peter, the concierge, is my Barney (Hector Elizondo) as he spots a mother and her daughters—someone he may have helped the night before—and he surveys their liking of the place thus far, their review of his recommendations.

Maybe I watch too much TV, or far too many movies, but when I had a Pretty Woman moment right there in the Pfister, and that woman understood it with me, that’s when I captured the perfect snapshot (and hit the elevator to see if I could catch Richard Gere in the equivalent of the penthouse suite…).