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'I'm Mainly Everything to Everyone . . . Can You Hold?'


They're managers, technicians, associates, coordinators, executive assistants--a reflection of their growing responsibilities.

They're the glue that keeps it together.

They hear it all.

They know it all.

They guard it all.

And, today, their bosses will salute them in the annual celebration known as Professional Secretaries Day, an idea originated in 1952 with Mary Barrett, president of the National Secretaries Assn., founded a decade earlier.

Today, the group is called Professional Secretaries International--the Assn. for Office Professionals. And the Kansas City, Mo.-based group is working harder than ever to change the public and workplace perception of secretaries.

No longer are the 3.4 million secretaries known merely for "taking a letter" or identified by the "S" word in a job title. Sure, they file, answer phones and occasionally make coffee. But take a closer look. They're also supervising, training, managing--and likely to be more Internet savvy than anyone in the office.

All this and they never get sick.

Here are three worthy of the title of Secretarius Honorarius.

Roland Galvan Aguilar politely puts me on hold.

The seconds tick off in telephone land: 1, 2, 3, he's back.

"Hello, Michael? I'm sorry about that. I don't like to put anyone on hold for more than 20 seconds. It's just not professional," he says.

Wow, this guy is good.

Aguilar, the secretary / receptionist / nerve center for the Harris Shepard Public Relations staff, speaks above the clamor of cabinets being built in the Century City office. The firm, specializing in beauty, health and fitness clients such as OPI nail care products, Jenny Craig International and Valerie Beverly Hills Cosmetics, is expanding. Soon a sixth staffer will join the company.

But another person to manage doesn't faze Aguilar. Balancing acts are part of the job.

He thrives on the pressure-cooker environment, the hubbub that swirls around his desk: six telephone lines ablaze, stacks of files in his face, calendars for four staffers to keep up, travel plans to coordinate, faxes to distribute, Fed Ex packages to track and computer work to bang away.

He's also his staff's right-hand man, the fellow with the file-friendly touch, the gent with the gentle voice that puts everyone at ease, especially when they're hustling to beat multiple deadlines.

Sure, he's a man in a female-dominated secretary world--one of 44,000 men compared with more than 3 million women nationwide--who run offices.

Simply put, he's Guy Friday. And the guy-secretary thing doesn't bother him at all.

"It never comes up. Back in the '80s, maybe, it was a big thing, but now it's not even talked about. It's not a gender issue," he says, stopped by another ringing line. "Can you hold for three seconds, please?"

One. Two. Three. He's back. How does he do that?

"Sorry," he apologizes and explains that days earlier the phones were down--and then up--and then down again for nearly an hour. But Aguilar managed the chaos in his cool, unflappable manner, even calling regular clients--when the phones were up again--to explain the bugaboo.

Says his boss, Harris Shepard: "He adds calmness to what can be a very fast-paced environment. He's the yin to my yang."

"I'm mainly everything to everyone here," says Aguilar, who joined the firm less than a year ago after spending eight years in a marketing and promotions job in the film industry. "Research coordinator, data guy, the front office man--that's me."

He also makes a mean pot of coffee as soon as he arrives promptly at 8:45 every morning. "I get the atmosphere going." Then he checks phone messages--many of them from the East Coast--and returns calls, responds to e-mail, picks up the office mail and distributes it.

A co-worker interrupts. The two discuss a $30 economy airline fare Aguilar has investigated. "Can you hold for a second?" he asks.

One. He's back. What a tease.

"Sorry," he says. "I'll be right with you," he adds, returning to the on-the-spot discussion.

The countdown begins: 1, 2, 3 . . . 17, 18, 19.

"I'm really sorry," he says back on the line. "I bet you were counting."

Yes, I admit.

So was he.


They're Pros, by Any Name

Secretaries today handle much more than ever before--and that is driving the trend toward broader job titles. Even the Professional Secretaries International will consider a name change this summer. Here's what office professionals prefer to be called, according to a PSI survey:

* Administrative assistant: 23%

* Coordinator, technician, associate, supervisor, administrator: 22%

* Secretary: 18%

* Executive secretary: 14%

* Executive assistant: 9%

* Administrative secretary: 9%

* Office manager: 5%

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