How to E-Bid for State Contracts

Why Back Pain Hurts Employers’ Wallets

New Women’s Group Launches Teleconferences

Gadgetry Goes Simple

Olympia Dukakis’ Assistant Talks

Corrections or additions?

These articles by Karen Hodges Miller, Jack Florek, and Bart Jackson were prepared for the April 5, 2006 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Survival Guide

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How to E-Bid for State Contracts

Paper is less important in our lives every year. More and more things can be handled electronically, through the Internet. The state of New Jersey is updating its bidding process to join that electronic revolution. Within the next year all purchasing bids will be accepted electronically by the state, rather than through the traditional sealed envelope practice.

To help companies do business with the state government and with municipalities, the Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce hosts a free seminar, "New E-Bidding for State Contracts: Step by Step," on Thursday, April 6, at 9 a.m. its new office at 1A Quakerbridge Plaza Drive, Suite 2, Mercerville. Register at (www.mercerchamber.org).

Jack Naiman, director of the division of purchasing and property, New Jersey Department of the Treasury, leads the seminar. Now, Naiman explains, businesses have the option of submitting bids either electronically or on paper. "We want to give everyone six to twelve months to become comfortable with the process," he says. "Some industries are ready to go electronically, other still need to make the transition." The electronic process is scheduled for full implementation by July 1, 2007.

The electronic bidding process duplicates traditional sealed envelope bidding, Naiman says. In sealed envelope bidding, bids are delivered to the state and placed into a locked box. All bids are opened at the same time, on a specified day and hour.

The new process uses Adobe Reader software to enable bidders to deliver their bids to an "electronic sealed box." As in traditional bidding, the bids will be kept secure in an "electronic locked box" until they are downloaded – opened electronically – at a specified time.

While the E-bid process follows the same rules as the traditional process, several Web-based features will provide new benefits and flexibility to businesses, says Naiman.

Change your mind with ease. The electronic process allows businesses greater flexibility in selecting RFP (Request for Proposal) notifications. In the past, companies needed to write a letter requesting the areas in which they wanted to receive bid notifications. If they wanted to change categories or add additional categories they needed to write another letter stating the changes to be made. Now this process can be handled through the Internet.

Stay up to date. In the past, notifications pertaining to advertised RFPs were made sent mail. These notifications will now be provided by E-mail, increasing efficiency and decreasing the time it takes for a company to receive notification. In fact, new contractors are no longer being added to the traditional bidders’ mailing list, and must register for E-mail notification. Companies listed on the old list must still register and select commodity codes to receive the new E-mail notifications. Reminders of bid opening dates will also be sent to businesses via E-mail.

Save time and money. The electronic process reduces duplication of effort, says Naiman. Because basic information about the business can be saved on the computer, it need not be re-entered each time a new bid is made. The bidder also no longer has to insure that the correct number of copies have been made for each person on the purchasing committee, because copies will be automatically sent to the committee by E-mail. The process is also inexpensive for companies, he adds, because it uses Adobe software that can be downloaded at no cost from the Internet.

Get faster delivery. Because bids are delivered by E-mail the new process will reduce rejections caused by bids not being delivered on time. "People no longer have to worry about getting caught in traffic and being late to deliver a bid," Naiman says.

Cut out errors. The new process will also help businesses reduce rejections because of errors in their bids. "The software tracks the process and reminds you of your status," says Naiman. "If you have to stop in the middle and come back to the bid it will remember where you stopped." The software will not allow the user to move on and send the bid until all of the sections are filled out.

Who needs to be aware of the new electronic bidding process? Anyone who wants to do business with the state, says Naiman. The state government is the largest purchaser in the state, with more than 700 contracts on-going at any given time. "We purchase services and products for the operation of the state internally as well as for the delivery of services to the public," he says. Everything from stationery to food to consulting services, pharmaceuticals, information and communication services, fleet services, and much more.

Local governments also "piggyback" onto many state contracts, Naiman says. All of the information a company needs to bid on government contracts is available on the state’s website, www.state.nj.us/treasury/purchase. All bids are advertised on the website, and the step-by-step process to register and receive a PIN number can also be handled there.

In addition, contractors can do a state contract search, check for current and anticipated bidding opportunities, and read a list of frequently asked questions about the E-bid process. The list of questions includes a wide variety of information, from how to obtain or change a PIN number, to how to choose the proper commodity code for your business, and an explanation of some of the features of the E-bid process.

It’s early days, but it appears that E-bidding is a win-win. The state, and therefore, at least theoretically, all of its citizens, save money formerly spent on postage and the manpower needed to stuff and open envelopes. Businesses also save on postage, but, more importantly, have one less thing to keep track of thanks to E-bidding’s automatic notifications.

-Karen Hodges Miller

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Why Back Pain Hurts Employers’ Wallets

When most people think of back injuries on the job, they imagine construction workers straining themselves while lifting pieces of heavy equipment, auto-mechanics hoisting new engines into a pickup trucks, or sanitation workers hoisting thousands of cans of garbage. But it is not just manual laborers who hurt their backs on the job. Not at all. One of the worst things for the human back is prolonged sitting – the only activity in which many office workers participate day after day.

"Whether you are sitting at a computer, making a bed, or taking an interview over the phone, there is always ergonomics involved in the way you sit, stand, and move," says Dr. Michael Makowsky, medical director of the Corporate Health Center in Trenton. "Your posture doing anything affects your back-health."

Makowsky hosts a free breakfast seminar, "Ouch, My Employees’ Aching Back," on Thursday, April 6, at 7:30 a.m. at the Trenton Country Club. The seminar presents a background of back injuries, ways of dealing with pain management, the application of physical therapy, technical advances in the treatment of back injuries, and the tools and techniques used to manage back related pain. For more information or to register, call 609-278-5493.

Also presenting will be Dr. Adam Sackstein, director of the Pain Management Center; Dr. John Tydings and Dr. Haim Blecher, both specialists in disk replacements at Central Jersey Spine Associates; and Richard Stoneking, a physical therapist.

Every year, according to Bureau of Labor statistics, more than a million employees suffer back-related injuries on the job. These injuries account for roughly one out of every five injuries in the workplace and cost employers billions of dollars, both for the treatment of the injuries, as well as for the compensation of indemnity claims.

"The costs are certainly huge to employers as well as the employees who suffer the injuries and sometimes have to live with back pain for the rest of their lives," says Makowsky. "But many employers don’t realize that there are precautions that can be taken that can significantly reduce the chances of their workers injuring themselves."

Founded in 1994, the Corporate Health Center, located on Brunswick Drive in Trenton, is a service of Capital Health Center and is a facility that deals solely with work-related injuries and illnesses. "From one-third to half of all the work-related injuries we see are related to the back, meaning the neck, the mid-back, and the lower back," says Makowsky, who stresses a preemptive approach to reducing back injuries. "In order to reduce that number, it is important for employers to investigate how various jobs are being performed by their employees."

Makowsky, who has served as director of the Corporate Health Center for the past 10 years, presents seminars on a yearly basis to help meet the needs of area employers. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he earned his bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo and his medical degree from Indiana University, Purdue Medical Center in Indianapolis.

For employers looking for ways to decrease the chances of their employees suffering unexpected back-related injuries, Makowsky recommends the following precautions:

Watch how employees perform tasks. Whether in a factory, office, or a hospital, employers should be sensitive to ways to reduce back injuries. "At the hospital our nurses typically do a lot of lifting of patients up into bed, or out of bed and into a wheelchair, or on a stretcher," says Makowsky. Their supervisors need to observe their technique. Are they letting their knees do the heavy lifting? Are they using lifts and similar mechanic aids correctly? Are they calling for a second person when they can’t safely handle a transfer themselves?

Investigate and take action. The best way to prevent job injuries is to take a common sense approach to the problem. Remember that although these solutions may cost a little more at the outset, they will potentially save big money in the long run. "What we are doing at the hospital to reduce back injuries is relying on a number of commercial mechanical devices, as well as to use lift teams that specialize in moving people."

Educate. There are ways of educating people on proper stretching and strengthening of their backs. The employer can look at ways of doing things differently, by, for example, investigating whether there are ways to do a job without repeatedly bending over. "You can teach people how to bend properly, at the knees as opposed to bending the back," says Makowsky. "You can also be sure workers are close enough to the person or object he or she is trying to lift. This can significantly reduce back strain."

Teach safe sitting. While you might think that an employee who works eight hours a day nestled into a chair in front of a computer screen is safe from back problems, that is not the case. "These workers can have real problems if the computer is set too high or their seat is not high enough," says Makowsky. "Anything you do, especially if it is done often enough and long enough, can cause back problems."

Beware of weekend warriors. Sometimes it is almost impossible to distinguish whether a back injury occurred during a backyard football game on Sunday afternoon or in stacking boxes in the stock room on Monday morning. Since the employer will have a hard time determining – let alone proving – that the employee is not being truthful, he might do better to invest in education about good body mechanics, techniques that can be used in play as well as in work to prevent back injuries.

While back injuries are an ongoing concern for employers and employees, it is something that can be reasonably avoided with common sense and pre-planning. The payoff will be greater productivity and fewer costs for the employer, and a workforce free of chronic back pain. Says Makowsky: "We want to keep people healthy, or if they are injured, help the employee get back to work as soon as possible, without pain." – Jack Florek

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New Women’s Group Launches Teleconferences

Kathy Fyler and Sue Urda have been successful entrepreneurs for over 15 years. Their last venture, a successful start-up company that manufactured neon signs, got them listed in Inc. magazine’s "500 fastest Privately Held Companies" in 2002. But something was missing, says Fyler, "At the end of the day we were just making beer signs."

Their quest for "something more" led them to a new idea, a networking group where women could meet each other, share their problems and their successes, build relationships, and do business.

So when their neon sign business "had trouble and went away" in 2002, the pair looked at it as an opportunity to come up with a new business concept, one that would allow them to start a business that would offer themselves and other women that "something more."

Powerful You!, a women’s networking organization, began in December, 2004, as a full-time business for Urda and Fyler, and as a unique networking opportunity for their members. Powerful You! is headquartered in Wayne, New Jersey. Currently there are 10 chapters and over 100 members located in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Alabama, and Florida. Fyler and Urda are working with potential facilitators and hope to open other chapters in at least four more states in the next few months.

"The Mission of Powerful You! is to create, facilitate, and provide venues for meetings to take place for the benefit of all women," says Fyler. Members pay an annual $125 fee along with a one-time $25 application fee to join. Along with the monthly meetings and networking events, the organization’s website (www.PowerfulYou.com), offers members a chance to post classified job advertising and list their businesses on an "optimized" website. When traveling, members can also attend meetings at chapters in other locations at member prices.

There are few requirements to join Powerful You!, the most important: you must be a woman. "Women build relationships differently in an all-woman setting, rather than when there are men," says Fyler. "The dynamics are different. Our meetings are designed to help those relationships happen."

Each meeting, no matter where it is located, follows the same format. A monthly theme is chosen and "everything in the meeting is tied into that theme." In March, for example, to honor St. Patrick’s Day, the theme was luck. In a twist on the typical business meeting, as each member gives her "30 second commercial," she is asked to relate to the theme of the month.Powerful You! is not a "direct referral" organization, instead, members are urged to build relationships with other members, which may or may not lead to directly to doing business together. Each meeting ends with "gratitude sharing," where the members have a chance to discuss the good things that have happened in the past month. "A lot of our members work alone. They don’t have the opportunity to celebrate the good things with someone," says Fyler. "As we build our network across the country we envision people getting together to share gratitude across the country every day."

The women’s dream of networking across the country is taking shape in a new venture, teleconferences, which began last month. The next conference takes place on Thursday, April 6, at noon. Camille Smith of Work In Progress Coaching will lead the teleconference in a discussion on "The Nine Myths (and Truths) About Potential." The conference is free and open to women. Registration is limited to 30 people and can be made online at www.PowerfulYou.com. When registering, participants will receive a call-in number and PIN.

Smith’s coaching business is located in Aptos, California, near Santa Cruz, although her clients are based in many locations and can reach her through her website, www.wipcoaching.com.

Believing in the "myths" we have been taught about our potential can often hold us back and keep us from accomplishing everything we want to accomplish, Smith says. She not only focuses on those myths, but also holds them up to "a litmus test, a personal reality check" to help people see the truth about their potential.

What are you born with? The first myth, and the most important, says Smith, is the belief that each person is only born with a certain, fixed amount of potential, which does not change over time. "This is just not true," she says. "People’s potential is always changing and can always grow. There is no such thing as `That is all you get.’"

Can potential be used up? A related myth, she says, is that a person can literally "use up" potential, run out, and have no more. The truth, she says, is that "there is no fixed quantity for potential. Instead, what can change is the "amount of potential we keep accessing."

Do we always need more potential? A third myth, says Smith, is that successful people have tapped their full potential, and do not need to tap more. That is just not true in her view. "When successful people master something they look forward to the next challenge," she says. "Mastering one challenge is not the end of road."

Can potential be learned? Another myth, says Smith, is that "people with potential share a unique set of knowable characteristics. If we can learn those traits and adopt them for ourselves, we can increase our own performance." Libraries and bookstores are filled with self-help and inspirational books all geared to this myth, says Smith, but it is just not true. Potential is not a learned trait.

But don’t run out and burn your own shelf of self-help books. They do have value, she says. Learning about other people is always valuable as long as we don’t attempt to make ourselves into a copy of the other person. "If you think `I have to be just like this person’ without getting to the source of why that person is that way," you will gain no insight, says Smith.

In fact, she adds, simply copying another person’s behavior can be disastrous. "You may try to copy someone who is assertive, but if that is not who you are, other people may see what you are doing as bullying. You need to figure out who you are and what you are committed to. Make your actions consistent with who you are."

Does past behavior show future potential? "People often think that potential can be revealed by what people have accomplished in the past," says Smith. "Potential is future based. Probability is past-based. Our probability of success is different from our potential for future success."

"When we repeat something, we have a good idea of the results. That’s not all bad, it is just not accessing our potential," says Smith. "Accessing potential means accomplishing something that past behavior says is not probable."

Does using our potential always mean success? Another myth, says Smith, is living up to our potential means we will definitely be successful. In other words, if we fail in something, it means that we have not accessed that potential. This is just not true, she says. "Accessing potential is not a guarantee that things will turn out the way we want them to. We may end of saying, `Oops, I’m sorry it turned out that way,’ but we will have still learned from the experience."

Smith has learned about potential by accessing her own and stretching herself into many new jobs and possibilities.

"I’ve always been an educator in the purest sense of the word," she says. "By that I mean bringing something out in others, not dumping something into their heads." She began her career as a high school English teacher in Ohio, then, after several years, left traditional teaching for an opportunity to go into the business world. Since that time she has written electrical curriculum for the Navy, worked as a trainer and coach in the corporate world, and joined the world of high tech start-ups. In 2002 she received her "pink diploma" from a Silicon Valley company along with thousands of others. "I was cut loose in an afternoon with no warning," she says. "It was a full stop and a chance to figure out what I wanted to do next."

She "hung out her shingle" and developed her own coaching business. She calls her business "Work in Progress" because, she says, "I am always revising it." Along with her coaching business she is an adjunct professor of business at Santa Clara University in California and a founding member of the Global Women’s Leadership Network.

As a coach, she wants to help people understand "what holds them back and how to move forward, to look at the conversation we are living inside of and choose different courses. To look at what is shaping our view of the world and start to shift that view. "It’s not Pollyanna," says Smith. "It is about taking ownership of your power for action."

– Karen Hodges Miller

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Gadgetry Goes Simple

He went toe-to-toe with Microsoft and didn’t budge. He was so effective in proving his OS II platform superior to Microsoft Windows that, he says, a desperate Bill Gates personally made furtive phone calls to IBM’s top management and tried to get him fired. Already an IBM folk hero, this lowly marketer had suggested to CEO Roy Akers that he could best win the company’s praise by retiring. He is David Whittle, polite rebel and computer guru since 1979, whose stubborn insistence on simple quality is read by thousands in "Smart Computing" magazine.

Both veteran geeks and novices can find what’s very, very hot – and what’s so yesterday – during his free talk, "Whittle’s Picks for the Digital Home," on Monday, April 10, at 7 p.m. at the Mercer County Library in Lawrence. The meeting is sponsored by the Princeton PC Users’ Group. Visit www.ppcug-nj.org to register or for more information.

Claiming roots in Orem, Utah and Granada Hills, California, Whittle is the son of an accountant. In 1969 his father’s desk sported the latest in technology – a $2,000 digital calculator. In l975, just before finishing a two and a half year, post-high-school sabbatical in Japan, Whittle picked up an equally powerful digital calculator for $25 and slipped it into his pocket. (Japanese retailers, using it themselves, had found it almost as fast as the Japanese abacus, the speedy, elegant soroban.)

Following in his father’s footsteps, Whittle graduated from Brigham Young University with an accounting degree in l979 and went to work for PricewaterhouseCoopers. One day he wandered across the hall and discovered a little outfit that was making computers they called "Apples." A gentleman by the name of Steve Wozniak introduced himself as the firm’s chief engineer and within minutes had Whittle hooked. He ran out to buy an Apple, but a persuasive salesman convinced him to buy an Atari 800 system instead, and Whittle has been a PC man ever since.

This passion led Whittle to become controller of Zeda Computers, and then, after gaining an MBA from his alma mater, Brigham Young, he opened a computer store in l981.

Whittle recalls the day that two little barefoot Vietnamese children entered the store. He tolerantly watched them play with the toys. "After an hour, they slapped down $800 on the counter, took the system and left," he recounts. "I learned marketing lesson number one that day," he says. It is never a good idea to pre-judge a customer by any external indicator, including age, clothing – or lack of same. This was especially true in the red hot world of computer retailing in the years that the machines were brand new. The store proved so successful that Whittle could not keep goods on the shelves or take time for himself. He sold it in l984, and for the next 12 years went to work for IBM, becoming as he puts it "an OS II evangelist."

In l997, as the Internet was exploding, Whittle wrote "Cyberspace: The Human Dimension" (W.H. Freeman, New York), which predicted the positive and negative impacts of this burgeoning communications tool with uncanny accuracy. Just one year before, Whittle had founded his own WebWorking Services Corporation, which has helped such clients such as Intel and Alpha Software bring innovations to market. He continues to run this firm (www.webworkingservices.com) from Springville, Utah.

"What we really need is things that make life better, not more complex," says Whittle in defining his top picks criterion. "Software that aims at providing everything for everybody must inherently be overly complex," he says, citing the case of his beloved iPod.

When the third generation iPod came out last fall, he feared that his old iPod might be underfeatured. But the new iPod, capable of displaying album covers in full color, storing thousands of photos, and showing full-length movies on its tiny screen, is, in his opinion, just too full of bells and whistles that obscure his primary use of the tool. "The old iPod looks, feels, and works right," he says, "and does what I want without all the clutter of the extras." Here are some other tech products that also pack a lot of productivity without a lot of unnecessary clutter:

AutoProducer 5. Gather up your pictures, videos, recorded music, and narratives, and the new autoProducer 5 by Muvee (www.muvee.com) will transform them into a seamless, professional movie or slide show that you can burn onto CD or DVD. "This is probably the only piece of software that engenders PC envy in Mac users," says Whittle.

Autoproducer 5 actually paces the show to the music, understanding both beat and scene transitions. It will move from scene to scene very nicely on its own, while incorporating any suggestion you make. Editing is a piece of cake. Simply play your show, and as it runs, click on the thumbs up icon for elements you want to keep, or click on the thumbs down icon to delete.

Whittle has removed the similar 3-D Album, produced by Micro Research, from his top-picks list, saying that Muvee’s latest just outdoes it. Among its superior features, AutoProducer 5 boasts different editing styles. You can put your wedding album or rafting adventure in the program’s standard pro-medium style or take a swifter pace with pro-fast style. There is even an old-style, complete with sepia tones, camera lens lint, and Keystone-cops jerkiness added in.

Stores and catalogs set Autoproducer 5’s price from $59 to $99. But as one former Hollywood movie producer told Whittle, "I would have paid literally $1 million for this 15 years ago."

Invisus Security. At last, a no-bother, one-purchase system that makes your computer invisible to the bad guys. For a $15 monthly subscription, Invisus Direct (www.myinvisusdirect.com) provides the best of breed guards against viruses, spyware, and pests, while providing top firewall and update management.

"The problem is that the Microsoft monopoly is deliberately blind to security," says Whittle. "After all, insecure systems require more replacing." The result is that the individual buyer, resentful of having to purchase security as a separate feature, does so on the cheap. He gets free spyware searchers that check every 24 hours for cookies, allowing the invaders a whole day’s window to complete operations that take only seconds.

The primary reason Whittle calls himself Invisus’s biggest fan is that it applies the best of breed to each aspect of security. Its firewalls are bi-directional, thus preventing disease being passed around from more than just incoming sources. Unlike Norton, whose systems slow your machine by constantly scanning and checking every activity, Invisus deletes only active processes. It allows cookies, viruses, and vermin to harmlessly sit on the machine until immediately before they might be activated by opening, then it instantly squashes them.

Secondly, Whittle loves Invisus’s ultimate support network, which is truly no-hassle for even the most novice user. Free and 24/7, the phone support technicians will not only talk you through your problems, they can also remotely take control of your machine and install, repair, and make you happy.

As an extra bonus, Invisus offer subscribers $25,000 identity theft insurance. The package cost is $15 monthly for the first computer, $9.99 for each additional one, and if you sell the product to five friends, you get yours free. In fact, if you want to invest a couple of hundred, you can set yourself up as a dealer, receiving 20 percent of each new subscription you bring in.

Iseemedia. The Imagesaver 5XE from Iseemedia (www.iseemedia.com) makes good its boast of delivering any image, in any format, any size, to any device, anywhere. Whittle sees it as the simplest, fastest picture and print blender and publisher. But his favorite new software is Iseemedia’s Photovista, which, in his opinion, outdoes Adobe, and literally makes folks "Ooh" and "Aah." A free trial is available on the Iseemedia website.

Point your camera in any direction and continuously click overlapping photos as you turn in a 360 degree circle. Within three seconds, Photovista blends all your varied exposures into a single, seamless panoramic photo. An astounding tool/toy.

Whittle says that the public is well past the awe that the computer once engendered and thus less accepting of "necessary" complexities. "People want tools for jobs," he says. "If I want a shovel, I’ll buy only a very good shovel, not a fair grade shovel that offers hoe, rake, and cigaret lighter attachments."

– Bart Jackson

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Olympia Dukakis’ Assistant Talks

Ever wonder what it would be like to be the personal assistant to a wealthy celebrity? Well don’t let images of Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes tugging at Mr. Pitt’s socks dissuade you. Yes there are some unpleasant tasks, but if you don’t mind doing the kinds of things secretaries do every day – like fielding phone calls from angry clients, ordering computer software, or calling a cab for your boss’ wife – then perhaps the semi-glamorous job of being a celeb’s personal assistant, which may include typing up term papers for the famous-one’s rug rats or calling the local precinct to arrange for a police escort because your famous employer is stuck in traffic, may be right up your alley.

But, of course, not all secretaries can trade in their mundane job for the glitzy life of catering to the illustrious rich. But there is certainly something to be learned from those who do, starting with self-respect. "Secretaries have an image problem, there’s no doubt about that," says Sue Sohmer, president of the Hunterdon County chapter of the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). "We are all professionals, but we aren’t often taken that way."

Her chapter is one of the sponsors of "How to be the Ultimate Assistant" on Tuesday, April 11, at 6 p.m. at the Doubletree Hotel in Somerset. The speaker is Bonnie Low-Kamen, personal assistant to celebrity couple Olympia Dukakis ("Moonstruck") and Louis Zorich ("Mad About You"). Cost: $25. Call 908-947-1100 or E-mail to Lpsak@lifecell.com to register or for more information.

"The point is that administrative assistants all have a lot in common," says Sohmer. "It is the kind of profession in which you have to be a jack-of-all-trades. Whether our employers are famous or not, we all deal with similar issues like salary, benefits, working conditions, and thinking on our feet."

Born and raised in Maplewood, Sohmer has been an administrative assistant for nearly 40 years. She has worked at such high-profile companies as Chanel, where she has been for the past 15 years, and RCA. She has two daughters, one a former IT worker and the other a beautician, as well as four grandchildren.

"Secretaries are commonly the go-to people in a company because we know all about everything, including the software," says Sohmer. "Everyone asks our opinion before doing almost anything in the office."

Despite the fact that they are crucial to a business’ success and usually the first face a potential client sees when dealing with the company, secretaries are notoriously under-paid and under-appreciated. "Our organization is there to let administrative assistants know that they are not alone," says Sohmer. Each chapter holds regular meetings that offer the members the opportunity for networking. There are also frequent seminars to help improve skills like planning, public speaking, teamwork, and organizational development. The organization also has a certification program that offers tests that can result in earning 40 college credits.

Headquartered in Kansas City, the IAAP was originally founded over 60 years ago as the National Secretaries Association. It currently has over 40,000 members and 600 chapters worldwide. In addition to monthly meetings, there are also quarterly division meetings and an annual international convention that attracts over 2,000 attendees. This year’s convention will be held in August in Lake Tahoe. (For information on membership, visit www.IAAP-HQ.org.)

A celebrity assistant for nearly 20 years, Low-Kamen was born and raised in New Jersey and has a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers. In 1994 she self-published a how-to book entitled "Be the Ultimate Assistant: A Celebrity Assistant’s Secrets to Sucess." Chock full of true stories, the book presents the sometimes confounding life of a celebrity assistant along with practical lessons on how all administrative assistants can strive for excellence every day.

Low-Kamen is also a co-founder of New York Celebrity Assistants (NYCA), a members-only organization that provides its associates the opportunity for networking as well as support group. It also offers message boards that can answer a panicky celebrity assistant’s queries about how to get a Labrador retriever into Egypt in eight hours or insights into how to find a good nursing home for the famous boss’ mother.

Apart from the ability to be versatile and smart, celebrity assistants have another trait in common with their less glamorous brethren: They are usually underpaid. It is common knowledge that many of those big-names stepping from their limousines onto the red carpet are infamously tight-fisted employers, acting as if mere proximity to greatness is more than enough compensation.

But the celebrity assistant, as well as for Sohmer and the armies of her fellows who work for less high profile bosses in the not-so-swanky world of work-a-day America, both compensation and recognition often seem inadequate.

"We don’t get the respect we deserve," says Sohmer. "We are smart people. We all have brains. We have the ability to think outside the box and get things done. We have a big impact on how things operate and our bosses are starting to realize now that this is an advantage." – Jack Florek


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