Melba Duncan has trained assistants since before I was an EA, so I am very grateful for the opportunity to interview her on the podcast.

melba duncan episode 22

One of the most life-changing articles I’ve ever read was Melba’s piece in a 2011 issue of Harvard Business Review called, The Case for Executive Assistants – which is still shared far and wide by EAs all over the world.

Then, the day I interviewed Melba for the show, she was featured in this Forbes article.

As I went back and edited this episode, I was blown away at how much wisdom Melba had shares during our brief conversation.

We cover a variety of topics including how to be innovative as an assistant, why assistants are crucial to an executive’s success, how executives can get more out of their assistants, what makes an assistant a leader, how to stay healthy and rest in the midst of a demanding role, tips for recruiting assistants, and more.

I trust you will be encouraged and challenged by our chat!


Thank you for the great questions that you posed, and for the opportunity to participate in your impressive program.

The question that I continue to ponder is, “for what are you most grateful?”

The most definitive answer is: Michelle Oosterwal.

Notwithstanding that she is my daughter, for which I am most grateful, I also acknowledge her contribution to The Duncan Group.

Michelle, as Partner, has brought our business to the levels we now experience. Her network is unmatched, as is her communication with the global business world.


Try not to become a man of success. Rather, become a man of value.

– Albert Einstein


Melba Duncan


Melba J. Duncan is the Founder and President of The Duncan Group, Inc., a retained search and consulting firm. Since 1985, the firm has been advising CEOs and other corporate leaders regarding specialized senior management support resources. The firm operates internationally and offers expertise in the following practice areas: recruitment, organizational consulting, coaching and executive-level training for administrative staff, with a focus on C-Suite strategic assistants.

From 1976 to 1985, Ms. Duncan was Assistant to The Hon. Peter G. Peterson, Founder of The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Chairman Emeritus and Co-Founder of The Blackstone Group, former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Lehman Brothers Kuhn Loeb Incorporated, and former Secretary of Commerce to President Richard M. Nixon.

She is the author of How to Succeed in Business as an Executive Assistant and the classic, The New Executive Assistant: Advice for Succeeding as an Executive or Administrative Assistant. She has also authored numerous articles, including the now classic “The Case for Executive Assistants,” featured in the Harvard Business Review (May 2011).

In December 2014, her interview, “What Executive Assistants Know About Managing Up” was published in the Harvard Business Review. She has also authored numerous articles, including the now-classic “The Case for Executive Assistants,” Ms. Duncan’s upcoming book projects are Indispensability, an overview of career survival strategies in the new economy, and The Handbook of Assistants’ Best Practices, both scheduled for release in 2019.

Ms. Duncan is also Founder and CEO of the Duncan Leadership Institute, which offers a targeted curriculum solution for multiple tiers of administrative support staff. Institute faculty is headed by pioneers in executive education, Drs. Tom Ference, Norman Toy, and Joann Baney, Professors at Columbia University. Three educational programs are available: the Premier© Program for Senior-Level, C-Suite Executive Assistants, modeled on executive MBA programs; the Advanced© Role, Courses 1 and 2, offered on-site within the sponsoring corporation, and The New Executive Assistant Career BootCamp©, a rigorous, condensed, interactive and dynamic course, for mid- to upper-level executive assistants.

In March 2013, Ms. Duncan announced the launch of “On Point,” a weekly online radio talk show. The program’s compelling objective is to address workplace complexity and to offer a distinctive voice in defining the evolving role of 21st-century executive assistants, whose career achievements and collaboration skills propel them to the level of strategic business partner and executive life manager.

Ms. Duncan is a highly sought-after public speaker. She travels globally to address diverse audiences with a focus on the professional executive assistant and chief of staff as an acknowledged strategic business partner, with management, leadership and strategic support skills as the foundation for this transformed role.


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