Irina Totok has over four years of executive assistant experience supporting executives in the c-suite.
In this episode of The Leader Assistant Podcast, Irina talks about travel planning and making the impossible possible. One of my favorite quotes from Irina during our conversation was this – “If something isn’t in the calendar, it isn’t in their life.”
Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.
– Vince Lombardi
CONNECT WITH IRINA
Irina was recently an Executive Assistant for multiple Managing Partners at Proxima Capital Group, an investment company in Moscow, Russia. Her career developed while she was studying at university and she managed both endeavors successfully. She is now a graduate with four years of EA experience with a C-Suite. She recently moved to the US to build her assistant career there.
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Irina Totok 0:00
Hi, I’m Irina Totok And today’s leadership quote is from Vince Lombardi. leaders aren’t born they’re made and they are made just like anything else through hard work.
Podcast Intro 0:17
The Leader Assistant Podcast exists to encourage and challenge assistants to become confident game changing leader assistants.
Jeremy Burrows 0:33
The Leader Assistant Podcast is exclusively brought to you by goody which provides effortless gifting for all occasions. If you’re tired of sending tacky impersonal business gifts, then you should definitely check out goody. my friends at goody offer a collection of hundreds of curated brands like Levain bakery, Thera body, milk bar, and Ember mugs. With goody, if your recipient doesn’t like your gift, they can swap it out for one they do like you can find perfect gifts for any occasion. Whether it’s work, anniversaries, birthdays, new hire onboarding or company swag. It’s free to start gifting and you get a $20 credit when you sign up. Also, be sure to mention The Leader Assistant Podcast when signing up, and goody will add an extra $10 credit to your account. So go to leaderassistant.com/goody to disrupt the inefficiencies in your team’s gifting strategy. Again, that’s leaderassistant.com/goody. Hey, everyone, welcome to The Leader Assistant Podcast. It’s episode 203. And you can check out the show notes at leaderassistant.com/203. That’s your host Jeremy Burrows today. I’m very, very thrilled to speak with Irina Totok. And she is an executive assistant, been executive assistant for a while but we’re gonna get into her story. Irina, thanks for being on the show. How’s it going?
Irina Totok 2:08
Hi. Thanks for having me here.
Jeremy Burrows 2:12
And where are you from?
Irina Totok 2:16
Originally, from Moldova, I was born there. But in my childhood, my parents decided to move to Russia. So I grew up in Moscow. And I had been living there for 12 years, but I recently relocated to the US.
Jeremy Burrows 2:33
Awesome what part of the US?
Irina Totok 2:37
Now I live in New York City, and I will stay here because last year I got married and my husband has traveled over two. But he has another story in his childhood, his parents decided to move to the US and so he grew up in New York City.
Jeremy Burrows 2:56
Awesome. Well, congrats on recently getting married. And do you guys have any hobbies or favorite activities or dogs or cats?
Irina Totok 3:09
I don’t have any pets or children. But I play squash. So if anybody from listeners is from New York and is playing squash, I’ll gladly keep your company. And also I enjoy exploring new travel destinations, even in Google Maps or on YouTube.
Jeremy Burrows 3:29
Nice. Nice. Well, thanks again for being on the show. Let’s let’s jump in. How did you end up becoming an assistant?
Irina Totok 3:39
Yeah, so it’s I think it’s a great story. When I was a first year student, we met with my husband in Moldova, we lived in different countries and our students were you are out of money. So we had to find them for meetings. And I started working as an administrative assistant at one company. It was a co working space and conference hall for different it events. And also I was the leader of the class at my university did all the students stuff. In the evening I worked at night I did my homework. On weekends, I worked again. And after my first year I was really tired of different activities, people and decided to quit a job. Then the second year started, I attended my university classes and it was so boring to have on the university in my life. And I really missed my previous here and started searching for another job. I had some interviews for different companies and choose a chosen investment one. And in the beginning I worked as an evening administrative assist then supporting the whole back office, but only in the evening. And after five months, the executive assistants of three management partners quit and left the company one week later. So the position opened up. And the hiring department started searching for UVA. And during this time, as I suggested to the executives help with some urgent tasks, and they made me an interim EA, then I realized that it was a great opportunity, I did my best to make everything perfect. And of course, I made some mistakes, because I didn’t have experience, but I succeeded in hiding them. And fix them before they were even noticed. And they were surprised by my abilities, and very grateful for all suggestions regarding that treats, meetings, and so on. And at that moment, I realized that I’d like to become an executive assistant, because before this company, I didn’t even know about this position. And I was I always was the person who helped who like challenges who didn’t like routine and was keen on traveling. And even at my university, I chose management and international management. Because I didn’t want to have one specialization, I wanted to study languages, and everything. And the major, like International Management carved all my needs, I think. So at the moment, when I faced this job title, I was like, Wow, this chap is a perfect match for me. And I thought about how to tell my executive that I wanted to leave my job. But I don’t have I didn’t have any relevant experience, especially with the C level suite. I was young, I didn’t have a degree, I had only a strong desire and eagerness to study. And here’s the story, I thought how to tell them that I want them to consider me as a candidate for this position. And I spoke with the previous EA, and we’re thinking about the best way to start a conversate conversation. And one day, my executive was on his way home. I told him like, Bye, have a nice evening. And he stopped and unexpectedly asked me, Would you be able to work full time? I was I was really shocked. And I told her I think like, maybe I should think about it. And in three days, I think we had some conversations with other mentioned partners. And despite all this fact that I didn’t have an experience, I was 20. I didn’t know a lot of things and how the business world works. But I convinced them to give me a chance. And we started our probation period. And I think that at that moment, I jumped over my head because I jumped straight to the top of the company. And I was so excited. But I did it. And it was four years ago. And we worked for four years together. And of course, I had some good and bad taste. But now I think that I have a professional assistant because of this experience. They trusted me more than they had trusted to all other systems before. Because all the time I put them in the first place.
Jeremy Burrows 8:52
Wow, that’s a great story. Thank you for sharing. So when when you did start going full time and officially had the title and in kind of, like you said get bumped to the top of the organization. What was maybe the biggest challenge during the first six months or a year of that new official professional role?
Irina Totok 9:15
Yes, it was really difficult for me, but I I tried to hide everything that I didn’t know. And we decided that first three months, I could ask every question I want and it was budget to ask the question then to make a mistake. So I asked everything, almost everything and I write I wrote down everything. I tried to remember everything. And I think that the the main challenge was to remember all the information you just got.
Jeremy Burrows 9:54
Yeah. Yeah, asking a lot of questions early on is is definitely a good good To practice. So that’s awesome that you jumped in and did that. So tell us a little bit about the travel itineraries. So I’m assuming you’ve handled very heavy travel itineraries in international travel, correct?
Irina Totok 10:16
Yes, yes, it’s true, I have a great experience. And because I had three executives, I prepare trips for all of them and their families. And I got more experienced than the assistant with one executive because, for example, my main executive, he get travels every two months, I think it can be business trips, or personal trips, everything. And I can definitely say that Russia isn’t the country where you can travel, it has a lot of different and very beautiful place like by call or the biggest lake with a freshwater like Kamchatka, the place with volcanoes and kazars, Altai Mountains, Sochi, and Tonga, and so on. But all these places, they have no more than 10, well serviced five star hotels. And if they are there, they are so overpriced that it cost more to go there than to the European countries, but in European countries, you will get better service, better infrastructure and so on. So executives, from pressure, they traveled to different destinations all over the world. And in my resume, you can find such countries like Kenya, Argentina, Mexico, many European countries, even Antarctica, and so on.
Jeremy Burrows 11:57
So that’s a lot of a lot of travel to manage. Did you have a travel agency or a similar type of resource that you would call and it would help you, you know, figure out things? Or did you pretty much do it all, through Google, and you know, all on your own?
Irina Totok 12:18
Most of things I did on my own, we have concierge with whom they work closely, and they can give me some advice. But they don’t know my executives, as as good as I know. So I know all their preferences. I know what they really like what they really want, this time. And I prepare, I tried to prepare everything by my own, using Google using different reviews, different blogs, in the internet, different magazines and articles, and I succeeded in it.
Jeremy Burrows 13:00
Yeah, that’s great. So what’s, how did you organize all that? Did you keep their itinerary? All on their calendar? Did you print it out? Did you have maybe a software that you use or a format that you like to keep or was each executive different?
Irina Totok 13:19
Before every trip, we have a lot of different preparations, so prom choosing hotels and so on, and I make a presentation for every trip for example, I suggest them three or five hotels in their destinations. And I tried to put them in one PDF with the same photos and the same information about every hotel and try to highlight the things that they like in different places. And I use only excel to make an itinerary of course I add everything to them calendar because if something isn’t in their calendar, it’s not in their life. Yes, and also my executives they really like to change everything in the last moment and so I always have like Plan B and Plan C and I’m always online and ready to change their flights, hotels and so on.
Jeremy Burrows 14:29
Awesome so what was maybe one of the craziest things that’s happened you know, whether it’s an airport shut down or a snowstorm delayed a flight for two days or you know you got to the hotel or the air b&b And it was already booked or what’s what’s one of maybe a your favorite kind of crazy challenges of a travel trip that you booked you had to scramble and figure out
Irina Totok 14:59
and Without trust, we didn’t have health insurance a trip, because everything was really great all the times. But I have one story. One day, my executive, he came to the office and he was like, I decided to go to Antarctica or New Year holidays, let’s find all destinations from which we can read there. I’d like to read the the South Pole. And what’s more, I would love to know every country from which I can go there. I was so excited. And I really liked I really liked this. And I explored everything I explored the Argentina and all the places from here, Chile, even South Africa, you can reach the Antarctica, even from Australia or New Zealand. And I spent like two evenings at home. And I was doing it even at night. And I made a presentation. I’m prep booked rooms on different ships. I spoke with different managers from there and ask them for real photos and real videos from the sheep. Because in the internet, I could find only like renders. They weren’t real. And I needed a real one just know how tos. And I gave everything to him. I answered all his questions. I told him which animals they real meat eater. And he decided to take one day to make a decision. And I was like, okay, that’s not a problem. I’m here. If you have any questions, you can write me. And the next day, he came to the office, and he was like, you know, Antarctica is a corny. It’s caused me a lot of people who are there, I don’t want to go there. I want to reach the North Pole. And I was like, Okay, now it’s fall. Okay. But it’s still because it’s tight on the planet. Yes, yes, I like North Pole. Look south of there. And the North Pole is easier than the South Pole, because you have the only way how you can retreat. And it’s like nuclear icebreaker. And you will have past birth, very small room. And this room will be old fashioned, small, with then old furniture and so on. And he will pay $50,000 for this trip in this room. And I told him all this information, I showed him the photos of this room. And he was like, no small is an unusual place. But I don’t want to go there. Thank you next time. And I spent almost one week doing the things that that you’re that you’re storing appropriate in the end. So he decided to stay at home here in Moscow and spend all his New Year holidays here. And it’s my work.
Jeremy Burrows 18:36
Wow. Well, now you now you know, though, if you want to go to the North Pole, or if you want to go to Antarctica, you know, you have all the research for yourself now. So
Irina Totok 18:45
yes, yes. And I need to refresh my knowledge of this information. And it’s not the only story like this. Antarctica isn’t the only country now the only region on this list because it’s a user story when we prepared all the itinerary when premium, I provoked all the hotels, but at the last time when we need only to pay only or to to make a payment. It’s like, I think that I shouldn’t go there. Okay.
Jeremy Burrows 19:19
Yeah, that’s fun. I’ve definitely had experiences like that in my career as an assistant where it’s like, Hey, do this research, get all this stuff together? And then it’s like, oh, we changed her mind. We’re not gonna do that project, or we’re not gonna go on that trip. So props to you for sticking with it and having a good attitude about it.
Irina Totok 19:39
Yes, but I think that he knows that I did this work, and he wouldn’t ask me for our for other achievements. So yeah, but I really like it and I enjoy planning. I enjoy exploring and all the times that I did it. Now I think that I was there. I almost was there because I know everything there. I I saw everything there. I spoke with the people there. So I shouldn’t go there because I already did.
Jeremy Burrows 20:17
Nice nice. Well, I Rena, what’s one thing that you would want the assistants of the world who are listening to, to remember out of the our conversation today, like maybe a quick quick tidbit, maybe a quick travel tip for booking travel, maybe just an inspirational general like, Hey, this is something that helps me on crazy days and challenging days. What’s one thing you want to say to the assistants of the world?
Irina Totok 20:52
I think that you should always follow us on the region, where your executive goals. And you should always, you should always have a plan B and A Plan C, of course. And you should know everything about the place where he is going to go. And I think that’s important. You should be prepared for everything even for the hurricane.
Jeremy Burrows 21:22
Yeah, yeah. What’s, what’s one other sounds like you enjoy the travel side of things. What’s What’s one of your other favorite areas? For you know, in your role as an assistant, maybe it’s counter management, project management emails, what’s what’s maybe one other area that you really enjoy kind of getting your hands dirty and figuring it out?
Irina Totok 21:49
I think that I really like when he comes to me when they come to me. And they say something like, it’s almost impossible to find the thing because we tried to do it for one year. Just try, I’m not sure that you will succeed, but try. And when you find it like in five days, it can be a rare book. It also can be, for example, in all the magazines for for 10 years of one magazine. And classic like this. And I really like when everything goes right. And when when I succeed in the field that they think impossible.
Jeremy Burrows 22:43
Yeah, I love it. We you get to you get to make, then even just question whenever the next time they say, oh, there’s no way that this can happen? Or there’s no way we can find this. It’s like, wait, no, actually, Irina figured it out last time. Let’s, let’s see if she can figure it out again. So that’s awesome. Well, thank you so much for being on the show and sharing a little bit about your story. I’m excited to stay in touch and hear how your career progresses from here. What’s maybe the if you’re open to it, is there a way or a channel? Maybe it’s LinkedIn or whatever, where people can reach out and say hi, and connect, especially those in the New York area.
Irina Totok 23:30
Yes, I think that’s the LinkedIn is the only way you can reach me because I don’t have other blogs. And now I tried to develop it. So I I’m open to new connections, because here it’s blocked and we don’t use it at all. So now I have to start from from scratch. And if you’d like to add me, are they I’ll do it with the pleasure.
Jeremy Burrows 23:55
Awesome. Irina, thank you so much. I’ll put the link to your LinkedIn profile in the show notes at leaderassistant.com/203. For those listening, best of luck to you, and hopefully we can connect at an assistant event in the US sometime and yeah, well. We appreciate you being on the show.
Irina Totok 24:16
Thank you Jeremy. Hopefully, we’ll meet each other in person soon.
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