Executive Assistants in Venture Capital: “The Phone Never Rings”

Anyone familiar with the venture industry knows that even in 2012, when life is easier than ever thanks largely to venture-backed technologies, many VCs still cling to their executive assistants to keep things running apace.

What has changed, in big and small and even funny ways, is the role of their executive assistants.

For one thing, in this digital age, their lives are a lot quieter, say those in the know. One such authority is Lisa Cristwell, who has worked as an executive assistant at the healthcare investment firm Psilos Group in Corte Madera, Calif., for the last 12 years and as an executive secretary for roughly 25 years altogether.

While many people consider a ringing phone a nuisance, Cristwell recalls when it was such a faux pas not to answer one that a previous boss, in the ‘90s, “insisted that I take a huge, portable phone with me everywhere, including into the bathroom, to ensure that I took each of his calls. It really would ring a hundred times a day, too,” she says with a laugh. Not today, says Cristwell, noting that “those who go to the effort to follow-up on the phone [versus email] are few and far between” and that some days, when the managing director who Cristwell supports is out of the office, the “phone might not ring all day.”

Being an executive assistant in 2012 also requires far less busywork. “I don’t know how I survived before Google; it was just so much harder,” says Leslie Loven, who has worked as an executive assistant at CMEA Capital in San Francisco for the last four-and-a-half years and as an executive assistant for the past 25.

Cristwell meanwhile recalls having to spend an inordinate amount of time photocopying PPMs, then, gulp, hand-delivering them. Amazingly, she recalls one instance of jumping on a plane to visit Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia, and running headlong into a “roomful of people just like me, delivering their giant binders.” (Today, of course, the same PPMs are visited via a secure platform or else turned into PDFs and emailed.)

Still, if the job requires less time with lumbering fax machines and copiers, new technologies have found a way to keep assistants as busy – and accessible – as ever.

Consider Lauren Centoni, an executive assistant at Menlo Ventures on Sand Hill Road. She says that the “majority of my day is scheduling various meetings and doing any sort of research or projects that [the managing directors] have at the moment, which keeps me on the computer most of the day.” But as someone who both graduated from college less than four years ago and is a new mother, Centoni is also sometimes asked to play with apps that the firm is contemplating funding (an aspect of her job she says she enjoys, incidentally).

Loven is in even deeper when it comes to her new relationship with technology. She carries her phone to bed, in case she’s needed. She also hoists her iPhone, laptop, and MiFi (her wireless router) wherever she’s needed, including down to the gym of CMEA so that when her boss is working out, “we can search things, and I can set up things on his calendar.”

More, because her boss has “a tablet, an iPad, a desktop in [two] offices and two homes, a Blackberry, an iPhone, and a MiFi,” it’s the “case that once a week, something will inevitably go wrong and someone has to troubleshoot.”  Often that person is Loven.

“We all grew up with IT people being responsible for managing these networks, but these days, you kind of have to be an IT person, too,” Loven says cheerfully.

Of course, not everything has changed in the life of the venture firm executive assistant.  Getting schmoozed is as much a part of the role as it’s ever been, for example.

“I can’t tell you how many CEOs of companies who pitch us want to connect [with me] afterward on LinkedIn,” says Loven. “They see executive assistants as the link [to the boss]. [If] they keep that relationship going on the social media side, when they come back six months from now hoping to set up a meeting, they feel like they have a connection with us somehow.”

Loven also admits that even with the various technologies at her fingertips, she still can’t always find her boss as fast as she’d like.

“I don’t have GPS on him yet,” she says, “but I may put a bracelet on him soon.”