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In Business You Don’t Get What You Deserve, You Get What You Ask For

There is a book by author Chester L. Karrass called, In Business As in Life, You Don’t Get What You Deserve, You Get What You Negotiate. The title is pretty self-explanatory. I recently came across a very good illustration of exactly how true that principle is, especially for personal assistants. Let me give you a case in point.

This year, I began a new job as a personal assistant to an up-and-coming young actress. Let’s call her Tracey. Tracey is constantly working, her face graces multiple movie magazines and as a result, she is fairly successful and wealthy, although she has not been around for a long time. My background as a personal assistant is almost a dozen years experience assisting various actors and actresses. I also have a lot of experience working on movie sets.

Anyway, Tracey and I hit it off. We began working together, and she would text me or call my cell phone, day or night, whenever or wherever she wanted me to show up. I came before 9am and after 6pm, if she needed me. To accommodate their lifestyles and work schedules, this is the arrangement I’ve had with all the celebrities I’ve worked for.

Tracey is very cool with our arrangement and happy with our dealings. But there are often other people in a celebrity’s life who are hired to make things more organized and manage their affairs better. And sometimes, they also manage to complicate their life—and the lives of personal assistants—as well.

Although Tracey and I have a good working relationship, her life is a little chaotic. She hasn’t ever set up an office space for her assistants. This resulted in her previous assistants having had to work out of their laps, their cars, or tables at Starbucks. Not that her assistant has to have an office at a penthouse in Century City (like her accountant, attorney and publicists have) but it is reasonable to have an official place outside her home to receive deliveries, do paperwork and keep files.

After a couple of weeks improvising my moveable office     I broached the subject with her business manage – at a very exclusive accounting firm in Century City – about taking steps to find a permanent home for the office.  I explained that I would need a computer a cell phone and perhaps even a desk. The conversation went something like this:

“Joey, you say you need a computer.  But I understand that you brought your laptop to the job yesterday.”

Me: “I borrowed my roommate’s laptop to do the research that Tracey asked me to do while I was working out of her house.”

Business Manager:  “I see.  Are you then going to be able to bring in that computer on a regular basis?”

Me:  “No, it’s my roommate’s computer.  She lent it to me since I still don’t have an office yet.”

Business Manager:  “And you can’t get her to lend it to you whenever you work out of Tacey’s house?”

Me:  “No, it’s my roommate’s computer.”

Business Manager:  “I see.  Well.  Maybe we’ll have to look into getting you a cheap PC to use. Oh. I understand that you have your own cell phone.”

Me:  “Yes, I’ve been using it for work.”

Business Manager:  “Well     can you continue using your cell phone?  You can always bill us for the calls you make on it.”

Me:  “No, I’m already keeping track of petty cash and mileage reports.  I still don’t have an office yet and I would rather just have a work cell phone.”

Business Manager:  “Hmmmm…well.  Maybe we can get you a cheap cell phone.  But not a Blackberry.  No.  If we give you a laptop then you don’t need internet capability on a phone. There’s no way you’re getting a Blackberry.  Or an iPhone.”  (This seemed odd to me because I didn’t remember asking for a Blackberry or an iPhone.)

Business Manager:  “Now, do you have a printer at home for your computer?”

Me:  “Yes, I have a printer.”

Business Manager:  “Sooo…if Tracey needs you to print out scripts or scan something or copy something     you can do that from home and bring in the documents the next day right?”

Me:  “Listen, I need a fax/printer to do my job!”

Business Manager: “We’ll see…”

And on and on it went with the business manager/accountant trying to keep from spending money on a proper office and the bare minimum of office equipment in order to save Tracey money.  I was told if I had to make purchases for Tracey I would either have to front my own money for her groceries or whatever she needed and I could submit an expense reimbursement form and get paid back!
From my dealings with Tracey I knew that this was not coming from her.  Many – I’d even go so far as to say  most – celebrities that I have ever dealt with are good about not being financially exploitive of their assistants to the point sometimes of being generous.  I suppose that’s why they have accountants and business managers to prevent them from giving it all away.  Very seldom have I had a celebrity rip me off.  There are times that I bought them a book I knew they’d like for instance and didn’t ask to be reimbursed.  If I thought it was something helpful to them I’ve lent them my personal CDs or DVDs and never had a problem with getting them back.

But there is a difference between offering an employer something and the employer’s business manager demanding I provide my own office equipment.

During the discussion with the business manager     I realized that if I didn’t stand my ground I might somehow end up  paying  Tracey to work for her – if her business manager had his way!  Eventually after protracted negotiations I finally got him to agree to provide me with the basics to set up a proper office.  In his mind a personal assistant was just a glorified go-fer who picked up Tracey’s dry-cleaning and brought her Starbucks.  It never occurred to him that there was more to my job than that and I would need the same office equipment as his office assistant.

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