Sun, 06 Feb 2000

Secretaries are the people behind successful executives

By I. Christianto

Secretaries are vital to the performance of top executives, a fact that could lead to a negative perception, overshadowing their professional roles. More on Page 9.

JAKARTA (JP): A business mover and shaker jokes that his secretary is actually his boss because she is more powerful than he. An assertive woman, she is the one who often gives him "orders" about what must be done to keep up with his daily schedules.

As a matter of fact, without the assistance of a secretary, many executives might have a big headache.

"My secretary is very important. A valuable opportunity could be lost if I forget to attend a business meeting because she was absent. She reminds me of all of my meetings," says Michael Stahayeff, head of corporate finance of PT Jardine Fleming Nusantara.

An executive secretary has a wide range of important responsibilities, from organizing schedules, preparing correspondence to public relations and giving suggestions to the employers. They screen phone calls and protect their boss from unwanted visitors. Sometimes, they also help the boss with their personal matters like arranging air tickets for vacation.

All in one, that is usually the jobs of secretaries. More importantly, many secretarial duties are of a personal, interactive nature and, therefore, not easily automated. Duties such as planning conferences, working with customers or associates, and transmitting instructions demand tact and communication skills.

According to Vinsensia, a manager of a private company who used to be a secretary, many executives depend so much on their secretary that some might joke that they are the boss' second wife.

Unfortunately, not all people are aware of the important role of secretaries. Shining fingernails, sweet perfume and high heel shoes, make-up and tight skirts are the stereotype.

Such an image, which is also portrayed in local media, has upset director of Tarakanita Secretarial Academy, Sister Milburga CB. She says that she is sometimes disappointed to see local television series, displaying secretaries as bitches who disrupted their bosses' personal lives.

"If they have affairs, it will humiliate themselves, the secretarial profession and the institute where they studied," she says.

It can't be denied, however, that most bosses prefer to have a good-looking secretary.

"It's true that physical appearance is one of the unwritten considerations for secretaries, as they are the spearheads of the companies, representing their bosses," she says. "But personality is more important."

Teddy, a human resources manager of a leading life insurance firm, agrees that appearance is not really a main point in recruiting executive secretaries, but they must have nice attitudes.

"The main points are that they be fluent in English, have extensive relations with other companies and top executives, experienced, between 25 and 35 years, and well-educated."

"Being single is preferable as they often must work late. Having children sometimes becomes a problem when they have to work until late."

Teddy's company never does not require that a secretary be female, but so far, no man has ever applied for the position.

In his view, secretaries are responsible for a variety of administrative and clerical duties necessary to run and maintain organizations efficiently. Some of the jobs need a personal, interactive approach.

"This is about patience," commented Tedja, a man who has been working as a secretary since 1954 for a private can manufacturer. "And women are known to be more patient than men, that's why women are suited for the profession of secretary."

He says that some bosses prefer to have female secretaries because they voluntarily prepare coffee, regarding it as the nature of women to serve." They also like to have female secretaries to greet guests and so on, things reflecting tender aspects."


Working with an executive is actually a major opportunity that secretaries can use to become bosses themselves. There is much to learn, from managerial skills to the art of decision making.

Secretaries generally advance to a more responsible secretarial position by promotion. Qualified secretaries who broaden their knowledge of the company's operations and enhance their skills may be promoted to other positions such as senior or executive secretary, supervisor, manager, or seek to become a businessperson. A former Citibank top executive, Enny Hardjanto, who now runs her own businesses, was once a secretary.

Vinsensia, 34, is another example. After working as an executive secretary for a (now ailing) leading business group for nine years, she is now a manager for a flavor maker.

"It was a privilege to be an executive secretary, to work with my boss and sometimes accompany him on business trips abroad," she said.

Graduating from high school, she enrolled in Tarakanita Secretarial College "because I wanted to work and earn my own money."

The average annual salary for senior secretaries today ranges between Rp 30 million and Rp 60 million (some US$4,200 and $8,400), depending on their qualifications, experience, and responsibilities, also the type business and the size of the hiring company or organization.

Christine, 27, who has been a secretary at a security company for four and a half years, believes that being a secretary is not the end of her career.

"I love this job because it's interesting. But I plan to pursue a higher study in business or economy for my future career," she said.

The profession of secretary involves learning the new office automation and organizational restructuring. The major job, however, stays about the same.

"Secretaries will always be needed to support the activities of executives and the operations of the companies," Sr. Milburga said.

Some 5,000 people enroll each year to study at Tarakanita, but only 600 are accepted to undertake the three-year program and 200 others for the one-year program, according to Sr. Milburga.

The privilege to cooperate with and be trusted by top executives and earn a good salary, has attracted many people to work as secretary. This responsibilities of the job allows secretaries to be regarded as important employees in a company. Qualified secretaries also have the chance to improve their career with ambition, ability and effort. Numerous job openings are seen everyday in newspapers, waiting to be filled.