Caroline Rice is a c-suite executive assistant with 20+ years of experience successfully managing the administrative needs of top executives across several industries, including Wall Street.
In this episode of The Leader Assistant Podcast, Caroline shares her story of becoming an assistant and talks about what it means to be a business partner to your executive, what makes an assistant a leader, and how the rules of improv can help you be a better executive assistant. Caroline also shares her opinion of The Devil Wears Prada.
Oh, and here’s a screenshot of our Zoom call, which includes Caroline’s furry friend, Sugar the Bear. 🙂
Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer… in the warmest and most positive way!
CONNECT WITH CAROLINE
- Caroline on LinkedIn
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Caroline is a C-suite Executive Assistant with 20+ years of experience successfully managing the administrative needs of top executives across several industries, including Wall Street. Since launching her career in Los Angeles, within the Entertainment Industry, Caroline has a proven work history with each role showcasing her professionalism and resourcefulness.
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Caroline Rice 0:00
My name is Caroline Rice and my leadership quote is keep your friends close and your enemies closer in the best and most perfect of ways. And that came to me from my boss in the 1990s, Mr. Kenny Ortega.
Podcast Intro 0:25
The Leader Assistant Podcast exists to encourage and challenge assistants to become confident game changing leader assistants.
Jeremy Burrows 0:40
With so much on your plate, wouldn’t it be nice if ordering food for the office were easy and reliable. My friends at ezCater our workplace catering pros helping you find food for everything from daily employee meals to staff meetings and special events. With ezCaterer’s network of over 100,000 restaurants nationwide, you’ll have a huge variety of options near you for any group size, dietary need or budget. Your food arrives on time as ordered all supported 24/7 by ezCaterer’s team of experts visit ezcater.com/leaderassistant to find out more. Hey friends, welcome to The Leader Assistant Podcast. It’s your host, Jeremy Burrows and you’re listening to Episode 223. You can check out the show notes at leaderassistant.com/223, leaderassistant.com/223 today I’m very excited to be joined by Caroline Rice, Caroline works at alliancebernstein. And she’s an associate officer slash executive assistant. We’ll get into kind of maybe officially what her title is and all that fun stuff in a minute. But Caroline, thank you so much for joining us. And we’re excited to dive in what part of the world are you in?
Caroline Rice 2:01
Hi, thanks for having me. I am in Nashville, Tennessee, and a very rainy a few minutes ago, potentially severe storms Nashville, but it’s beautiful here rain or shine.
Jeremy Burrows 2:17
Awesome. And you know, I know the listeners can’t see this. But you’re joined by a furry little friend. What would you want to introduce your friend to us?
Caroline Rice 2:29
I’m introducing you to the miraculous rescue named sugar or sugar the bear. It was better for me to hold her. You can see her the lever on the ground to bark at us and beg for some lap attention. So she’s happy to be here. Not happy to be in storms but happy to be here with you right now for sure.
Jeremy Burrows 2:52
Awesome. What are maybe a couple of other personal notes for everyone to learn a little bit more about you. You do you have hobbies? Do you have a favorite book or documentary or restaurant
Speaker 1 3:11
all I have one of all of those things. So I it’s just sugar and I living here for now until I meet the man of my dreams. And we love exploring Nashville together. i There’s a wonderful chefs here one of my favorites actually just got named the number one restaurant in the country. It’s called locust an incredible chef there. And so I’m really into that I love live entertainment. And that’s not just country music here. It could be anything from some of the world renowned winners on RuPaul drag race incredible drag performances. We have the ASCEND theatre where I which I love and I’ve seen like Gil Scott there and all sorts of incredible performers. And then of course right across from our office is Bridgestone Arena, where I’ve, you know, people if you’re a big fan of hockey, the Preds are here. But I love to go see the live music there. So one of my favorite concerts was the Foo Fighters. So I just love to see anything live that involves a lot of people working hard and being awesome. At the craft of performing. Nice.
Jeremy Burrows 4:28
I actually got to see the Foo Fighters in St. Louis. Probably, I don’t know, eight or nine years ago, it was the one where Dave Grohl had, like broken his leg. Yeah, that’s the one. Okay. Yes. So he’s literally with his leg lifted up and he’s pretty awesome.
Caroline Rice 4:46
Yes, yes. And in addition to that time, another time that he was playing with someone else and he brought out Gary Clark Jr. Who’s another one of my favorite performers. And I literally I think I almost say in it and the arena because it was a surprise. And they’re like coming out next our friend from Austin and I was like, Oh my gosh. So I almost fainted. And then I also got to see showing my age here Def Leppard. Wow. And I that really sent me way over the edge there, like when they played pyromania. It was really fun, but it’s a it’s an amazing city to live in. And having all of that at the at the front door of our office makes it very easy to enjoy.
Jeremy Burrows 5:33
Yeah, that’s great. So let’s talk a little bit about your career, then you your bio says you launched your career in LA in the entertainment industry? Is that related to my first question, which was when did you first become an assistant? Yes, that was that in the entertainment industry. And tell us about how you got into this world.
Caroline Rice 5:59
So I am a holder of a bachelor of fine arts degree, I’m a dance major, and performed dance for quite a while until I blew out my knee. And then for the first time, I should say, there’s been more than once it turns out, it’s a repeat occurrence. But in any case, I just wanted to figure out how to stay close to the art of dance. And someone said to me, you should become an assistant. Because then you know, you don’t have to dance as hard. It’s not going to be so hard on your knees. And you can stay really close to dance. And so that’s what I did. And so the first time i i did that officially was for Kenny Ortega, when I learned that very important life lesson from him in the middle of the Olympic Stadium in 1996, as one of his assistants, and then what as the Olympics wound down and we were just about getting finished with the closing ceremony. He said, What are you going to do when you leave Atlanta go back to California from Atlanta? And I said, I don’t know. And he goes, Why don’t you move to LA and be my assistant, then I was like, okay, so cut to me and my mom loading up the car and moving me into an apartment in LA, just probably a few or a few blocks, maybe a mile or two from Kenny’s house. And he had an office in his house. And that was an incredible job. And he really stopped and still does this to this day. He’s a wonderful mentor, as well as a director. But he would stop and say, Hey, I observed you doing this today. Here’s another way to think about that. So that was one of many life lessons that I learned from him. And that’s also where I learned that I’m an organizer, as well as an assistant because he had a closet in his office full of all these incredible art combat artifacts from past jobs. I mean, I was pulling down like full set designs of like Michael Jackson’s dangerous to her and things like that. And like the sets of jobs that didn’t happen and finding old pictures of Cher and the headdress and things like that. It was like, I was like, you can’t just throw this in here. These things are precious, amazing archives. And he’s like, Okay, go ahead, organize it. Now, whether or not that is held to this day, I don’t know. But I did completely redo that entire class. And I was like, Okay, let me add that skill to my list. Like, not only can I answer the telephone and organize the schedule, and run errands and all the things you do as a Junior Assistant. I also learned I was an organizer after that. So that was another skill I found.
Jeremy Burrows 8:47
Nice. And how did you then transition into, I guess, corporate America Incorporated.
Caroline Rice 8:57
The market helped me do that. And I say the market I mean, the one that inverted in 2008. So I stayed in Los Angeles, and I kept assisting I my my work evolved into acting as well. And I would always take jobs as an assistant where they didn’t care if I was running out to go to an audition. And they didn’t care if like I booked a job because jobs booked you work for two or three or four days. And then you’re right back at your side hustle. So it was perfect. So I took that whole notion to New York City in 2006. And when I got there, I started auditioning as usual. But I ran into someone at the audition and she went into this changing room. And she came in in a suit and she came out dressed as a mom, which was the character of the audition. And I said, What just happened in there like you were dressed all fancy, and now you look like you’re on your way to target and she goes oh, all of us, meaning all the actors, all of us in New York. We all have a Um, these temp jobs inside these investment banks, and you go in and there’s a temp pool. So there’s a pool of like, depending on who had a job that day or whatever, but the 10 of us show up at the desk side of the person that’s in charge of all the temps. And then they say, Okay, do you have an audition today, and if you had an audition, you’d like stuff envelopes or something where they weren’t really depending on you to, you know, be physically present all day. And if you didn’t, you’d sit on a desk of like somebody who had a vacation or somebody was on maternity leave or something like that. And then that’s what you did every day, every single day. So but at the same time, I’m learning CRM software’s, I’m learning about equity research, I’m learning about investment banking, and learning about all these different jobs and different titles. And I’m learning how to do travel software’s and expenses software’s. So where it was like, a side hustle, it also came with a great education. And it’s matter of fact, I started out at Morgan Stanley, and back then Morgan Stanley would put you in a room for two weeks, and teach you all the software’s before you were ever allowed to go out onto the floor, because they didn’t know which desk you were gonna get. So they didn’t know what software you needed to know. So they trained you on everything, and then they kicked you out onto the floor after the two weeks. So that’s really how I came to learn about finance. And it’s funny, because after that, at the end of those 10 months, because it had a timer on it, and then you just rolled to the next one, all the actors did it. And they were like, no, we want you to stay You sure you don’t want a job? What if this acting thing doesn’t work out? You know? And I was like, no, no on it. So on I went on to I think I went too late. I was at Lehman Brothers, UBS, they all have these little pools. But then the market crashed. And I think I’m supposed to say the market contracted. But the market, the market for us crashed when you look across the street, and people at UBS are throwing boxes. I mean, leaving Britain wasn’t leaving. Yeah, we’re throwing boxes out the window. That’s crashing. So anyway, so when that’s happening, I’m like, oh, no, like this acting thing, but are really kick off now. Because my side hustle is broken. And, and it turned out that the acting world contracted as well. And things that were if you know, the lingo, national commercials that would run for several cycles turned into things that became regional commercials that only ran for 113 week cycle. So life got tough, really tough. And I was like, I need to also go out and find like a job job now like, this is getting nuts. And so cut to several interviews later, I ended up at Credit Suisse. And they they actually did it on a term of a I think it was a three month, like a three month trial period. And then you could go all the way, you know. And so no one tells me about this person, they just say Here he is, there’s the dad’s gonna get there. And it’s two assistant. That’s why just covered in craziness. So again, I pull on my organizer skills, completely revamp the two desks, reorganize everything he and I get along like a house on fire. And I walk in at the three month mark, and I say so what do you think? And he goes, Yeah, it’s gonna work out. So we negotiate the deal. And then I take the job. And so the day after that everybody came running over and they were like, Oh, my gosh, how did one survives with this person, like, and I was like, you know, because again, you do a lot of listening. If you do a lot of listening, you get a lot of information from your executive about they what they want to be to feel comfortable and feel taken care of. And as long as you can execute on all those things. You know, that’s all I was trying to do. I was like, what do you need? What do you want? Here you go, there, you got it. And I just kept that up continuously, and hopefully still to this day. And so that’s, that’s really how it worked out. And so then I’ve never not had a full time job. Being an executive assistant. But I’ll still get calls to do voiceover work or come dance on a I remember, a friend of mine in Los Angeles was like, Hey, I have to be at rehearsals in Los Angeles. Can you run across the street meaning Bridgestone Arena and rehearse the marching band for the CMAS so you still I was like okay, ended the day like I walk out of my building and walked across the street. And so it’s there’s still some overlap there sometimes, but now I am a full time assistant. But you know, there’s still a lot of times where, what was my primary hustle becomes my side hustle, and I get to enjoy it still.
Jeremy Burrows 14:42
Yeah, what’s maybe your favorite gig, if you will, that that you got in the ER that you’ve had in your career as an actor in entertainment.
Caroline Rice 14:56
There’s been a lot of fun once because what I have learned is Some of the things that I spent the least amount of time on or even at least amount of time prepping for getting ready for whatever that I just went and did for like an hour to turn into shoot like things that I was like you have to be kidding me. I was over there for four hours like the Mr. Brightside music video. You know, like a friend called me it’s like, oh, we just need a couple more people. Can you come over here I literally drove down the street from my house down, Hazleton to Van Nuys Boulevard hung out with him for like four hours and now marching bands play that song and sing it in stadiums. And I was like they were a nothing band. And I was like, What’s Eric Roberts doing here? He’s in that video for like five seconds. It’s just one of those very unusual things and in some other stuff too, like some other another video I did with Madonna that no one ever got to see because it was very it was controversial at the time because the it would had a war theme and we started the Iraq war like right on the day it released it just as a crazy coincidence. So nobody ever really got to see it because it was pulled from the air. But the experience itself was amazing. Like that’s when you really learn like productions with money go really smoothly. It was incredible. It was incredible. Some of the best artists and like just the even the people that were like, clamping our clothes on us and things like that were like Oscar winning keyboard and I was like, What am I doing here? This is so cool. But that was that’s probably another one I can remember to pretty well.
Jeremy Burrows 16:43
That’s cool. Well, thanks for sharing. It’s awesome. So okay, let’s let’s kind of keep keep on the theme of, of Hollywood and entertainment, if you will, for a minute. You know, one of the most famous fictional assistants is Anne Hathaway and the Devil Wears Prada. Yes. How you know when you first saw that movie, and and even today, if you see see the reruns of it on TV? How does that movies portrayal of the assistant role make you feel?
Caroline Rice 17:15
I think her journey is an important journey, especially if you’re an assistant that wants to be a C suite assistant as she was in that in that movie. And I have said back to anyone interviewing me or talking to me, like when I’m seeking a job, that I am the person that does not like that movie, because I agree with Stanley Tucci. If you remember that one specific scene where they’re in the hallway, and he’s like, You know what the problem with you is, you do a job, that you just deign to do, that others would kill to do. But because she didn’t have any respect for the role of the executive, and the industry, of which that sat. She hated her job. Right. And it’s so important for us, especially in the interview process, to be so clear about who we are and what we bring to the role. And make sure that we’re interviewing with someone that needs those skills. And that that person that needs those skills, also knows why you’re there and that you can do that. And that you appreciate who that person is that you appreciate the business that that person is in. Because then everybody’s in agreement. You’re excited to show up every day to support a person who’s a leader in the industry that you deeply respect. So if all of those things aren’t true, you will be unhappy at work if you don’t respect the industry if you don’t respect the person. Because what ends up happening is you feel bad or badly about giving your skills to someone who you don’t even appreciate. You’re like, I’m just why am I doing this? So when you’re not in a real like, connected experience there, you’re not an even exchange of skills and respect back and forth. So when so when he said that I was like he’s so correct. And if you notice, and this is why I love her journey is that then she makes a turn. Then she goes oh my God, let me open my eyes to where I am. This is an amazing industry. It does employ a lot of people spirulina and did change the world and give a million jobs to people. Right. And I want to go to Paris and support this most important time in the industry every year. So that turn to watch that made me happy. But remember the person that wrote that book still left and wrote a book and trash To the whole situation. So I in that respect, I, I always say if you love the job, if she loved her job, there’d be no movie. If she respected her boss, there’d be no movie. So it’s an important, it’s an important thing for me to always share, because I know so many people are nervous or self conscious when they go into an interview. And it’s so important to lead with what you know, you’re bringing to the table, and already have done your research and made a decision that you respect the industry and the person and you’re looking forward to supporting them. And then that’s to me, what makes the difference in how successful the role can be?
Jeremy Burrows 20:45
Yeah, yeah, well said, I think it’s, it’s, you know, there’s, you definitely have to have at least a slight interest in the industry that you’re getting into exactly, we can always you can always become more interested if you’re curious person. But and I know I know, listeners can’t see right now. But like, Caroline can see my attire and know that I’m not a fashion guru. And I’m not interested in the fashion industry. I got a I got a hooded sweatshirt on from 20 years ago that that I’ve kept, and I got a free little pullover vest from the Royals game. So that’s my fashion sense.
Caroline Rice 21:28
It’s very, very chic.
Jeremy Burrows 21:31
So speaking of kind of seeing the Assistant Executive relationship as, as more even what does it mean to be a business partner, to your executive?
Caroline Rice 21:44
It means the world because I have definitely had a lot of roles in my long, long history, where that wasn’t the case. And I call those roles, dark roles, where you’re just sort of sitting outside the office, and somebody’s gonna vote, and hit you in the head with a dart and call Jimmy, boom, put that on the calendar boom. Because 90% of the time, the result of that Dart is 60 steps that that executive did on their own. And then they throw the dart at you to do the part that you don’t want to do that they don’t want to do which is pick up the phone or dial or type something into Outlook, right. But if you’re collaborating, you already know Jimmy, and you already know the schedule, because you were already in on the meeting or in on a discussion with your executive. Well, before he talked to Jimmy, and he said, Hey, here’s what I want to do with Jimmy. And I will say Okay, off from him these five times and tell me which one he picks, right. So the difference becomes you you are constantly like I have a meeting with my executive every week. And that is just my running agenda that I run all week long with that I don’t want to throw darts at him doing all week long. So I run my list. And then when we meet, I say, Okay, let’s run it down. And then when I get to the end of my list, I said, that’s the end of my list, what do you have for me, and then we run through his list. So having that sort of constant collaboration, it makes quick interactions during the week, so much easier. And it also is an engine that helps build trust. So that’s the hardest thing that we have to come around the corner on most people who, you know, come into an industry like mine into the C suite, they already have plenty of plenty of expertise, right. So the only challenge after is to make it around the trust curve to you to sit right in the pocket. So that those weekly meetings really make a difference and making sure that you’re building that relationship. So it’s not just about getting things done, but you have to build a relationship, build a trust, then the partnership comes after that. And then you’re like, hey, six months down the road, I see this thing happening for us. Let’s, let’s sit down, let’s let’s and then you become somebody that helps build things into the pipeline, because you’re building them together. I work for somebody that I don’t sit next to, which has been the most unique challenge of my entire career. And so at the end of last year, I said, I’m coming to you, we’re going to sit down, we’re going to put 20 to 24 up on the board. We’re gonna go through every week and decide where you want to be. And of course, I pre built everything in that I already knew. But then from there, we just build it more and more and more forward. And then I by being in those situations, you get to ask a lot of questions. And you get to learn about a lot of information. So then you’re also sharing your like a brain trust to one another where you can rely on each other for information because you know you You’ve had this big connective discussion, either every week, or in this case for three days straight trying to build 2023. But those kinds of connections are critical. And in those meetings, I asked a lot of questions. I know a lot of people that don’t like to ask questions they’re afraid to, but questions, save our lives. Because we can only operate, doing what we need to do with their information. Like when I go to work, I MD, I do my best to empty myself of my own agenda, or anything I need to get done on that particular day. And I only fill it up with things that matter to my executive. And by doing that, I let my brain space and my skills, organize, calculate, remedy, problem, solve, communicate with only the things that are on his agenda, are in his goals to do. And by doing that, then I can and hopefully do so in a way that represents my own, you know, personality, I still bring myself to work. But But why my purposefulness in those days are always about what they’re about what their goals are, my timelines are their timelines, my deadlines are their deadlines. So that that’s really what drives me to build those partnerships. And I think that connectivity that you have with your executive as a result of those efforts, is what makes you a trusted partner. And in my case, it’s it’s a touch rare because I do report directly to my executive, I have one executive and they report directly to him. So that also helps me connect more with his direct reports, which helps build his pipeline, which gives me information which keeps that pipeline running and churning. So we have those details. So so that and I think, you know, when when the other direct reports and other members of his team do observe how we are together, I think that trust emanates out, and they know they can come to me as a trusted person, you know, a step away from his threshold to get things done as well.
Jeremy Burrows 27:25
Yeah. Well, Carolyn, it’s great. sitting there thinking, Man, you need to write a book or something else. I’m good.
Caroline Rice 27:36
Yeah, me, let’s partner on your next book. Let’s
Jeremy Burrows 27:38
go. Let’s do it. So you mentioned you know, you went with your executive, he sat down and said, Alright, here’s the here’s 2024. Here’s, here’s where you’re going to be. Here’s all that. What, what have you learned? And I hear you have experience with improv? You know, speaking of improvisation, you know, you there’s, you can plan all you want. You can sit down and say, oh, yeah, I want to do this, this and this and this, but she you know, as I know, and as assistants listening No, plans don’t always work out. So what, how has kind of what you’ve done in the, you know, theater improv world helped you be a better assistant?
Caroline Rice 28:30
Well, there are rules to improv, believe it or not, so as spontaneous as it seems. Improv has rules. The number one rule is anything that anybody says to you, regardless of what it is if like, the sky turned purple and candy corn fell out, you have to say yes. And, and move the story along. So you have to fit also finish the phrase. So that’s rule number one. So yes, and and you also cannot ask questions. In an improv, you can only make statements. And finally, every improv has to answer three questions before it’s over. Who are we? Where are we? And why is today so important? So every time I ask for something, every time I ask for something, I say, what is the purpose? Why are you going to Paris? There’s a there’s a summit, who will be there? And when is it? Who are we? Where are we and why is it so important? And then if someone turns to me and goes, Hey, can you make me an iced coffee with green beans? Yes, I can. I’ll be right back with that. Now, I may run around the corner and open my phone and say how do you how do you make a latte with green beans but I never say no. And also, if this is especially helpful if you’re in a situation where you don’t feel like you want to ask a bunch of questions, you can make statements. So you can say, tell me about the trip to Paris. As opposed to why you go to Paris, right? It’s a very big difference, even though you’re asking the same question. And it puts the other person in a position where they have to respond. Because you said, Tell me, not what’s up. Right. And so when you speak in that way, it actually puts people at ease, and the information comes out faster. And it gives you specificity to extract information. It gives you guts, because you you already come from a background where, you know, I’ve stood up in front of people and done this and never been able to say no, or change what what the information was that was coming at me. Because in an improv, so if I said the sky is purple and candy corner falling, and you went, No, it’s green, and it’s tomatoes. In the real world, you judge you judge them, and you wanted to change what the facts were. So, improv helps me never judge. I just gather the facts and deal with them as they are I say yes. To whatever the question is, hey, is there a way to get to Geneva from Paris for an hour before I have to have dinner? Yes, I’ll figure it out. Do I know do I know the flight numbers? No. Do I know where he’s going to know where any of the airports are? Absolutely not. But I will figure it out. Because I have to figure it out. Because if he’s asking he wants to go in, it’s important. So I’m going to figure it out. And so I use those tools, those improv tools to help me answer or extrapolate details. Great. Yeah. Except that, you know, the, the, the only thing is, you know, when I’ve done nobody laughs or claps you’ve missed the applause. But whatever. You call your friends after and say, Guess what I did today? And they go cool. And then we go, cheers. And that’s it.
Jeremy Burrows 32:22
Well, Caroline, thank you so much for being on the show and sharing a little bit of insight and wisdom and some of your story. Just to wrap up. What do you want to tell the assistants of the world, as it relates to being a leader and seeing themselves as leaders. Or another way to put it as what makes an assistant a leader, what’s kind of your final thoughts on the matter in our conversation?
Caroline Rice 32:58
I would say two assistants, what we’ll whether or not it makes you a leader, but it will exude leadership is believe and have confidence and rest comfortably on your gifts. So if you don’t know what they are become aware of them and become proud of them, and know how to use them at a moment’s notice. And that will bring you so much ease. And then when you feel easy, you are easy and capable. My mom had a had a phrase where she said if you put your hand into a fist, right, if you’re anxious or angry, or any of these things, your hands are in a fist. So if you want to get things done, you have to open you have to relax and open your hands. Because open hands can get things done a fist, you can’t pick anything up, everything will fall on the ground. You can’t have any new anything. So take a breath, believe in your gifts and your strengths because they’re there as true as you know them to be. And when you lead with that, and you walk in the door every day knowing I know what I have to do today and I know how to get it done. And you believe that because you believe in your gifts, then you’re leading before before you even sit down at your desk.
Jeremy Burrows 34:28
Love it. Again, well said thank you. Thank you so much, Caroline. Is there anywhere that people can reach out if they want to connect and say hi,
Caroline Rice 34:38
I’m always happy on LinkedIn. I like my LinkedIn inbox and and it’s you know, you’re on LinkedIn. It’s just Caroline a rise exec Assist is on there. And I’m so happy I got to speak to you because what you do with these podcasts I listen to Every episode I’ve learned a nugget from every single person. So if you’ve been on this podcast and you’re listening, thank you, because I’ve learned a nugget from all of you and, and your wonderful resource for us and I’m so grateful.
Jeremy Burrows 35:18
Thanks for the kind words and thanks for recording a commercial for my website. I didn’t even ask you to do that. And you just did so
Caroline Rice 35:26
How about it. It’s all for you.
Jeremy Burrows 35:28
Awesome. I’ll put the I’ll put your LinkedIn link as well in the show notes at leaderassistant.com/223 so people can reach out and say Hi, and thanks again. Best of luck to you and thanks everyone for listening.
Caroline Rice 35:41
Thank you so much Jeremy.
Jeremy Burrows 35:53
Please review on Apple podcasts.
Unknown Speaker 36:03