Once upon a time, behind every successful senior manager or CEO, there used to be a secretary. Without a secretary fussing over them, the best of bosses would collapse. Their performance ratings would drop. Meetings, appointments, conference calls, travel plans, grapevine management, appointments, appraisals, promotions – there was virtually no activity in a company which fell outside the circle of influence of this omniscient and omnipotent tribe. Lesser mortals would invariably strive to always remain in the good books of the members of this species.
Over time, this species appears to have joined the ranks of such endangered ones as those of tigers, rhinos and panthers. The smart ones have managed to get kicked upwards and have assumed operational roles. The not-so-smart ones have gravitated towards the unalloyed bliss of handling some mundane chores. The dull ones have simply been asked to pack their bags and seek greener pastures elsewhere.
If there is any evidence of actionable sustainability for the secretarial species of our corporate world, it comes in the form of writers, illustrators and cartoonists. Writers like P G Wodehouse have envisioned characters in the secretarial mould. The Goofiness Quotient of such characters continues to give millions of fans the hope that the imprints of this tribe on the sands of time never get washed away. Eminent artists like R K Laxman and Mario Miranda have breathed visual life into the members of this species. This has ensured that they continue to remain enshrined in our collective psyche for posterity.
Some Plum Secretaries
In the works of P G Wodehouse, we come across Rupert Baxter, the efficient secretary of Lord Emsworth. When at Blandings Castle, we also run into the suave Rupert Psmith and the conscientious Eve Halliday. When in the company of Lord Marshmoreton, we meet Alice Faraday. Julia Ukridge has a secretary by the name of Dora Mason. Aunt Agatha’s plans to get Bertie Wooster to take up the role of a secretary to the Cabinet Minister, A. B. Filmer, get thwarted by the acts of an angry swan.
Detailed profiles of these characters, as well as their juicy escapades, deserve a closer scrutiny in a future post.
Miss Fonseca: A Weapon of Mass Distraction
To Mario Miranda goes the credit of having etched out a truly memorable character in his works. Who can forget the buxom but woolly-headed Miss Fonseca? Besides being a Weapon of Mass Distraction, her job is full of challenges. She has to make sense out of whatever The Boss mumbles in the course of dictating a letter. She has to re-do letters all the times, because The Boss keeps changing his mind with each draft that she prepares.
Every time she crosses her legs, The Boss gets distracted. There are times when her presence in the office becomes a hindrance to work. The poor soul is expected to manage all kinds of advances, irrespective of the hierarchical level of the predator on prowl. She has to take some inappropriate comments in her stride. She has to handle obnoxious calls from the Income Tax department. She even has to face an irate spouse of The Boss.
Here are a few snippets from the portfolio of Mario Miranda which continue to amuse, entertain and educate all managers.
The perils of having a secretary
Here are two cartoons of the master of the art, R K Laxman. These demonstrate that even The Boss faces challenges in having a secretary around. If he takes one home, he is doomed. If he ends up marrying one, he suffers all the more.
Much like dinosaurs, which got wiped out from the face of our planet, the tribe of secretaries has also got all but banished from the office space. However, it would be wrong to surmise that this species has become completely extinct in the corporate planet most managers inhabit. Advent of technology, changes in managerial styles and flatter hierarchies have merely made secretaries a rare breed. Those who have re-invented their portfolios have attained the next evolutionary stage of either an Executive Assistant or an Officer on Special Duty. Others have simply got ‘promoted’, what with the luxury of having a secretary moving upwards, to the higher echelons of an organization.
Thanks to such literary and artistic geniuses like P G Wodehouse, R K Laxman and Mario Miranda, to name only a few, secretaries shall never get wiped out as a species. Through their sparkling wit and humour, they shall live in our minds forever.
-Mario’s Best Cartoons, Book I, ISBN 978-81-901830-6-2, gifted to yours truly by a thoughtful friend based at Goa in India
-The Management of Management by R K Laxman, ISBN 81-7094-497-X)