Heather Vogel is a longtime Executive Assistant and currently supports the CEO at Groupon.
Heather and I chat about leading an EA team, maintaining confidentiality in a publicly traded company, what it means to be a strategic partner with your executive, professional development for EAs, and how to resist burnout.
Be sure to listen to our entire conversation because Heather takes over for a few minutes toward the end of the interview and asks me some questions. 🙂
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It turns out that trust is in fact earned in the smallest of moments. It is earned not through heroic deeds, or even highly visible actions, but through paying attention, listening, and gestures of genuine care and connection.
– Brené Brown
CONNECT WITH HEATHER
Heather Vogel has been a strategic partner and assistant for 19+ years. She has worked at a small non-profit, a boutique investment firm, and currently supports the CEO of Groupon.
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Heather Vogel 0:00
Hello, my name is Heather Vogel. Today’s leadership code is from Brene Brown. It turns out that trust is in fact earned in the smallest of moments. It is earned not through heroic deeds or even highly visible actions, but through paying attention, listening and gestures of genuine care and connection.
Podcast Intro 0:22
The Leader Assistant Podcast exists to encourage and challenge assistants to become confident game changing leader assistants. Thanks for listening to Episode 71. Here’s your host, my dad.
Jeremy Burrows 0:40
Hey friends. Thanks for tuning in to The Leader Assistant Podcast. Today I’m very excited to be speaking with the executive assistant to the CEO of Groupon. Her name is Heather Vogel and it’s a very engaging interview. So stay tuned for that in just a second. But first, I wanted to invite you to join our leader assistant membership subscription. It’s $39 a month or $399 for an annual membership. And we have monthly group coaching sessions in training with Al Hussein, Matt Hani and myself, and then some guest trainers periodically. And what we do is we talk about relevant topics to our profession. Things like compensation, side hustles. For EAS, we talk about artificial intelligence, emotional intelligence, how to get respect, yeah, we talk about anything and everything. And the beauty of it is if you’re a member, you to kind of speak into the session content. So if there’s a certain topics that you really want to dive deeper into, you can, you know, share that feedback with us. And we will add it to the agenda for the next session. So monthly group coaching, training webinars, and then you get recorded video access to those sessions if you can’t make them or if you have to skip out early. You can always go back and rewatch, but if you’re joining just now, you get access to all of the prior sessions as well. In the members only library, we just set up a new community forum Member site using a platform called circle. And it’s kind of like a hybrid between an online course platform, Slack and a Facebook group. So we really like it so far. And we’d love for you to join us members dot leader assistant.com is where you can sign up. Again, it’s $39 a month, one monthly coaching call access to myself and Al Hussein Matt Hani ongoing as well as other members in the community, the private membership community. And yeah, we hope you can join us. You can cancel anytime. So if you sign up and do it for a month and realize it’s not for you, then that’s fine. You can cancel it no hard feelings. So members.leaderassistant.com Feel free to reach out if you have any questions. And in the meantime, let’s jump into today’s interview
Hello, welcome to The Leader Assistant Podcast. It’s Jeremy Burrows and today I’m speaking with Heather Vogel. Heather is the EA to the CEO of Groupon. How’s it going, Heather?
Heather Vogel 3:40
It’s good. How are you Jeremy?
Jeremy Burrows 3:42
I am doing well. So let’s kick off with a question about your very first job. What was it? And what skills did you learn in that role that you still use today?
Heather Vogel 3:51
Oh, good this, um, my first job was at a bagel shop in suburban Connecticut called between rounds, which is a very punny name for it. And you have as I was, in high school, I learned so much just about working and doing the work and keeping your head down and being fast about what you needed to do. People in the morning who want bagels and coffee don’t really have a lot of time for small talk. So it taught me right away that how to work in a fast paced environment, which I still use some of those skills today. It also taught me patience, which is a skill I’m always learning. But you know, people are in a rush in the morning and so they always wanted their specific type of bagel and cream cheese and coffee. Right then. So those were two things that I definitely learned working they’re
Jeremy Burrows 4:49
gonna say Yeah, sounds like an executive. I want it right now. So when and why did you become an executive assistant?
Heather Vogel 4:59
Well, yeah, I kind of fell into the work, I went to Syracuse University for a stage management, which is kind of like being an assistant to a director of a play or a musical. And, and then I moved to Chicago and I start an internship at the Goodman Theatre. And I really love the city so much and decided to kind of make a home here. And so I was I was doing shows at night, and I took a temp job at a very, very small, nonprofit foundation. And I started out just packaging up mail and merchandise. And then an opening happened for the foundation administrator, which was like the administrative assistant for the Foundation Board. And I, I decided to take a chance, and I took that job on and I was there for five years, and working full time and then doing theater at night and on the weekends. And eventually, I realized that I wanted to grow and work at a larger company. And, and so I pursued other administrative as distant positions. And now I’m here.
Jeremy Burrows 6:14
So what do you love about the role?
Heather Vogel 6:16
Oh, well, I am. I am a strange, strange creature in a lot of ways. And I think we all are all assistants are, but I really, I get such joy working in the background. And I also really appreciate all the insight into different businesses that I’ve had, being an assistant. So I’m not tied to any sort of company or, you know, any sort of industry. When I worked at a boutique investment firm, I learned about, you know, underwriting bonds for nonprofits and, and worked near a trading floor. And I would say, as a theater major, I never thought it would be that close to people doing that level of math. So that was very exciting. And, you know, I really love collaborating. I love that feeling of being indispensable. And I get all of those things by being an assistant.
Jeremy Burrows 7:21
So what do you think it means to be indispensable?
Heather Vogel 7:24
Oh, goodness, I think it’s, it’s a blessing and a curse. I think so much of what we do, is being the person who has all the answers, and especially working at the level that I do, trying to answer any questions that my CEO might have before he has to kind of manage that. So it’s wonderful. And it also is a curse, because it can be very interruptive throughout the day. And sometimes, I have to stop myself from being that person who’s indispensable and, and kind of give people the resources to answer questions themselves, which is something that I’ve, I’ve discovered, as I’ve moved along this career path.
Jeremy Burrows 8:21
So what’s one of the biggest mistakes you’ve made as an assistant? And what did you learn from it?
Heather Vogel 8:26
Well, Jeremy, I’m glad we have three hours for this podcast. Oh, gosh, I’ve I’ve missed booked travel before. Worst. I think the biggest mistake that I can think of is when my executive became CEO at Groupon, which was in 2015. His calendar became unmanageable very quickly, everybody, as you can imagine my time with him. And I let other people’s priorities push my executives calendar around. And I didn’t have time to check in with him about it, because things were moving so quickly. And he’s, he’s awesome to work with. He will follow his calendar. He doesn’t go rogue that often. But he had to raise the white flag. He was like, I can’t have half hour back to back one on ones with no break to eat lunch like it, it became unmanageable. And it wasn’t doing him a service. And it wasn’t doing any of the people who wanted time with him a service because he didn’t have a moment to catch his breath and really be prepared to have those meetings. Yeah.
Jeremy Burrows 9:45
Yeah, it’s definitely a big, big deal to kind of manage it before it manages them.
Heather Vogel 9:52
Very much. So I’m sure you encounter that all the time. Working with your CEO as well. Other people’s priorities. I always seem to Trump anything that that executive actually has on their plate or needs to have heads downtime on. And it’s hard to try to explain that to, to colleagues who, you know, who’s, you know, house is on fire. And they think, oh, gosh, I need time with a CEO right now. Yeah, you know?
Jeremy Burrows 10:23
Yep. I feel Yeah. So what is a tip that you would give executives, to help them get more out of their assistants?
Heather Vogel 10:33
Again, I’m very glad this podcast is three hours. I have seen and worked with so many executives in different ways. And I think the biggest service that they can do to themselves and to their assistant is to have confidence and to take them in to their confidentiality and have that trust. Especially when there are changes happening at the company or their moves happening within their team. It is so important if they can to give their assistant a heads up, that things are changing, because oftentimes, we as assistants can make any transition, or any big strategy change. We can make that so much easier for the executive that we work with. Because we have our ear to the ground, we can see how communication about that changes going out. You know, and there’s nothing worse than being an assistant and finding out that a change is happening along with the rest of the company. It really I’ve seen it break trust before. And it just doesn’t do the executive or the assistant any sort of service.
Jeremy Burrows 11:53
Yeah, that’s a good point. We don’t definitely don’t like to hear things. After the fact,
Heather Vogel 12:02
the watercooler conversation, we’re like your colleagues, like ooh, I heard blah, blah, blah, you’re like, oh, I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Jeremy Burrows 12:14
So what’s it like working you shared a little bit about what it’s like working for your CEO. But what’s it like working in a large company that pretty much everyone has heard of?
Heather Vogel 12:26
It is, it’s invigorating. It’s really cool. Sometimes I will book travel for my CEO, and the person I’m working with the customer service person, or the representative will use Groupon and will tell us how great it is and how they, you know, found things to do that weekend with their family on Groupon or, you know, found a really great deal on a health, beauty, wellness, you know, item that they wanted to buy. And so that part is very rewarding. It’s also it’s awesome to work at such a large company that still has the agility of a startup. So I have seen colleagues, I’ve seen coworkers make whole career changes at Groupon, because there’s a lot of permeability in what people do. So that’s very exciting. There is always a flip side, we’re a publicly held company. And so you know, we have a quarterly a quarterly calendar, where we report our earnings and that can that really shapes the year for my executive? And there’s also, you know, a high level of confidentiality that I and the rest of my EAA team need to maintain because we’re publicly held. Yeah.
Jeremy Burrows 13:51
So you said you have an EAA team? How well actually first, let me ask you this. Do you still use Groupons?
Heather Vogel 13:57
Oh, my God. Hello. Yes. I just bought a Groupon the other week for this fantastic place in Chicago called the magic Lounge, which they do up close magic and then they have like a whole stage show. And right now Groupon has a deal where you can get I think it was like 30% off a ticket to their show. My husband and I, we go there for birthdays. It is just it’s such a hidden gem in Chicago. It’s super fun.
Jeremy Burrows 14:26
Nice. Well, it’s not hidden anymore. So yeah. Everyone should go. Yeah. So you mentioned the EAA team. Tell us a little bit about your team and you know, how big is it and how long have you been leading that team?
Heather Vogel 14:41
Wow, I don’t know where to begin. I am extremely blessed to work with the people that I work with. And I think it makes all the difference when you have colleagues who you can depend on and collaborate and trust. We have a team of including myself 12 EAS in North America. And then we have colleagues globally that we work with as well. And when I became the assistant to the CEO, and my executive officially became CEO of Groupon, he told me in a one to one, I want you to be dotted line manager for the team. And, you know, I had done that previously at the company I’d worked at before. But this was like a next step, you know. And I helped with the hiring, I help set processes and procedures. We have a whole onboarding process that we do with new EAS. And we have weekly team meetings, we had a summit this year, which was very exciting. And we set goals as a team, we really celebrate each other as well, we celebrate, we go way big on birthdays, work anniversaries, if one of us has a big life event, we always like throw a wedding shower, if somebody gets a new house, it’s it’s just a very collaborative environment. And then we don’t all work the same way. But I try and I feel like the rest of the team really tries to engender a feeling of respect and collegiality. And it’s been wonderful.
Jeremy Burrows 16:26
That’s awesome. So does it also help to have kind of a team of people that know what it’s like, as an assistant, to kind of go shoulder to shoulder with day in and day out?
Heather Vogel 16:43
I think it’s incredibly helpful. We have a really fast paced environment. So we try our best to be proactive, that we have to be very reactive. And so you gotta, and I’m sure it’s true, where you work as well, you kind of make the best plan and then you throw it out the window three minutes in. And so it’s, it’s incredibly helpful to work with a team that understands how stressful that can be, and who have also kind of maneuvered through difficult scheduling or difficult travel, and they have such a source of knowledge. And we all want to help each other. You know, nobody wins if somebody fails. And I haven’t always worked on teams like that. So it’s been an important standard that I’ve tried to sit with the team is is, you know, we’re all in this together.
Jeremy Burrows 17:39
Yeah. Yeah, I love what you said about the proactive and reactive. I talk about this a lot with just kind of describing it in the framework of tensions and how you’re always kind of managing the tension, trying to put your proactive hat on, but then throwing it aside and putting your reactive hat on when you need to, and just kind of a think game changing assistance. Manage that tension? Well.
Heather Vogel 18:08
Not everyone can. And I respect that it’s a hard it’s a hard balance to find. Yeah,
Jeremy Burrows 18:16
totally. So your you’ve talked a little bit about how fast paced and demanding the role is, how do you stay healthy personally, and protect yourself from you know, working all the time? And how do you how do you prevent burnout?
Heather Vogel 18:33
I I am always asking myself this question. Because I think burnout happens when we push ourselves and feel like we’re really killing it. And so it’s a double edged sword. I over the past few years have really and with my CEOs encouragement have really tried to find more of a – I hate it, I hate this phrase, but I’m gonna say it Jeremy, I work life balance. And so I am very, very thoughtful about how I lead my civilian life so that I don’t get consumed by my work life. I meditate every day. I make time in my schedule to do that. So I wake up around 530 Every morning, to have a lot of time before I have to leave the house so that I can meditate and like get my self centered and focused for the day. I also try my very best not to have anything going on on Sundays so that I have that day to kind of refill my cup. And I found myself over the past few years. Really being thoughtful about kind of taking the noise down around by executive and and making things you You know, making sure he’s not in meetings, he doesn’t have to be in and making sure that if he has to travel, he has, you know, the best travel experience he can and, and I took a step back, and I was like, I do all of this thoughtfulness and, you know, streamlining around my executive, why don’t I do that for myself? I’ve obviously good at it. So maybe I should, you know, turn those skills and really tried to take the noise down in my own life as well.
Jeremy Burrows 20:31
Let it? Yeah, why not lead yourself, you’re leading your executive? Well, but why not lead yourself? Well? Awesome. So what do you think it means to be a strategic partner with your executive?
Heather Vogel 20:45
Oh, I think it depends on the executive. But my, my CEO was the first person to use the term strategic partner with me. And it just really, it kind of knocked me back a little. Because I think we so easily boxed ourselves into, you know, meeting scheduler, you know, travel Booker expense, doer, and all of that’s the nuts and bolts of the job. But it was such a vote of confidence from him to use that term with me. And it really opened up our relationship so that I felt comfortable asking questions about bigger strategic items, and, and to really feel like he had my back to be an operator within the executive team. So for me, being a strategic partner means that I do all the nuts and bolts well. And I also have my CEOs confidence to take on larger projects, and to speak on his behalf, and to really ask him questions during our one on ones about what his strategic priorities are.
Jeremy Burrows 21:56
That’s great. So if you could snap your fingers and instantly give all assistance, more of something, what would it be?
Heather Vogel 22:05
Oh, gosh, I would probably say patience, and not just patience with the people we interact with and the internal customers we serve, but patients with ourselves, I feel, again, what makes us good is that we are very good at kind of action items and to do this and pushing ourselves to get everything done. And sometimes I find personally that I am writing my own bum around the office just like you gotta go, gotta go, gotta go. And and I think we benefit from taking a beat. Just taking a breath before firing off that email or, you know, booking that travel, and being a bit more thoughtful about how we do our business.
Jeremy Burrows 22:55
How can an assistant grow existing skills and develop new skills and maybe talk about how you handle professional development for your EA team at Groupon?
Heather Vogel 23:09
I think, for quite a long time in my career, I, I didn’t think about professional development. And it was to my detriment. And when I was asked at my former job to start leading the administrative assistants there, I was like I don’t, I don’t know how to manage people. And they didn’t have really a management program. So I went to my executive that I supported. And I had found a, like one day seminar about just general HR. And I got approval to take that course. And it was extremely helpful. Because I was conducting performance reviews. And I, you know, I was doing a lot of HR related tasks. And so I took that experience when I became dotted line leader of that team that I work with now. And we actually built into our team goals, a professional development goal. And so whenever one of us sees an interesting article or hears of an event in Chicago or in Seattle, where most of the team is based, we pass that information along. And some of us are a bit more introverted than others. And sometimes going to an event can feel a little overwhelming. But it’s much easier to do it as a team than to try to try to do it solo.
Jeremy Burrows 24:44
Yeah, that’s great. Nothing against introverts. I’m an introvert. So
Heather Vogel 24:48
I love an introvert moment. Jeremy. I hear you
Jeremy Burrows 24:52
I know how it is. So if an assistant is not respected in their role, What would you say to them?
Heather Vogel 25:04
I feel like I’ve heard this, I’m sure that you’ve heard this before as well. I feel like people’s perspective about what an assistant does and how they respect them has shifted quite significantly since I began. I don’t know if you found that as well. But I would ask that they, and this is hard. But I would ask that you take your ego out of it, and you take a step back. And then think through the situation or situations that you’ve had that made you feel that way and analyze what actually took place. You know, don’t feel like you need to argue for respect because that I have found that never works. But try to come from a place of understanding of where the person who you felt disrespected us coming from. If it’s a real line crosser, then use your resources, we have a human resource business partner that we work with. And I use her all the time, she’s fantastic. And she offers a different perspective and also can talk to people or executives who you feel are disrespecting you. But oftentimes, I feel like it’s the EA who’s not owning their power and kind of pushing back on that disrespectful statement or action in in a really professional way.
Jeremy Burrows 26:39
Yeah. So I’ve got one one more question. But you said you might have some questions for me. Do you have questions for me?
Heather Vogel 26:47
Oh, I do. I try. I was at the tables of Jared. And how do you? How do you feel being the assistant at an AI firm? Is that really wild? I know that you guys are kind of on the cutting edge?
Jeremy Burrows 27:06
Yeah, great question. And I get that one a lot. Not surprisingly, but I love it I it’s it’s kind of a mix of Exciting, thrilling, scary, and challenging, and really humbling to work with a company that literally the desk across from either building the future. And so what I put it this way, now that I’ve been in it for almost three years now, I’m more excited and more able to embrace artificial intelligence, and really the future of work. Because I see how complicated it is, on the one hand, in the sense of humans are always going to be needed. And on the other hand, I see how there are a lot of things that I do that I can’t, you know, I can’t hand off yet. And even 510, five to 10 years from now I won’t be able to hand off. And so, yeah, I’m just kind of, you know, hang on just second, my son just walked in. What’s up, buddy?
Heather Vogel 28:25
All right, sorry. No worries.
Jeremy Burrows 28:27
So, yeah, I just, I think that on one hand, it’s, it’s gonna take a while to replace us, us being assistants. And on the other hand, we’re never going to be replaced. And so I, I’m really excited to embrace it, I’m really excited to just kind of learn about it and utilize it because I don’t want to spend all day scheduling meetings. I don’t want to spend all day taking notes in board meetings, I don’t want to spend all day sending reminders. You know, I want to spend all day strategizing the future of the business and coming up with product ideas and product improvements and talking to customers and potential clients that have needs and, and problems and helping them find solutions like I want I want to do things that are more creative and engaging and challenging than just scheduling meetings. And I want to I want to have a high level of high level view and management of my executives calendar and of his meeting schedule, but not spent a bunch of time and in the emails back and forth. And you know, like I said, the reminders and all that stuff. So that’s kind of the overall feel, I guess if hopefully that answers your question.
Heather Vogel 29:47
No, that was simultaneously very reassuring. And also, as as a human being. I’m like, huh, I don’t know about AI. I think it’s extremely interesting though. You must work with some really, really, really bright people?
Jeremy Burrows 30:02
Yeah, definitely. And it helps that, you know, we’re doing a tool that’s pretty. Like my, my CEO is very passionate about building something that has practical implications, and actually solves problems. So that it’s, you know, helpful. And so we’re not running a, you know, AI research lab to, you know, figure out how these algorithms, whatever we’re doing some of that stuff, but with the ultimate goal of helping people do their best work, and that’s why I’m excited to be here.
Heather Vogel 30:41
That’s fantastic. Where did you work before then?
Jeremy Burrows 30:46
So I was at a nonprofit church, and I worked for a pastor slash author, slash chaplain to the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team slash vice president of a global nonprofit slash speaker. So yeah, it was it was very startup vibe, when I started. I think we had maybe 12 staff. And then when I left, we had 100, and something staff. Oh, wow. And yeah, it was fun, got to do a little bit of everything, got to hang out with professional athletes. I got to work with nonprofit ministries in the poorest of poor neighborhoods in St. Louis, and work for our work with global organizations that are fighting sex trafficking. And, you know, it’s just, it’s just a very interesting and fun and challenging world to work in. But I do, I will say, I do enjoy the for profit world a little bit more than the nonprofit world.
Heather Vogel 31:49
It’s a very different ballgame. i My first like, assistant job at the nonprofit, there were five of us in the office. And let me tell you, if somebody was having a bad day, it was very noticeable. There was no faking the font got it? And just the resources available to you are completely different.
Jeremy Burrows 32:13
Yeah. Yep. And it’s hard. I think the what I like it for profit world. One of the biggest things I like about it is, you know, we have a mission, and we have a vision, and we want to help people do their best work. But at the end of the day, like, if we don’t sell and have revenue and make make money, then we’re not gonna be able to keep going. And so in with nonprofit, it’s a lot more harder to quantify kind of your, your wins. Sure, you’ve got to raise money to pay the bills and pay your salaries. But like, I don’t know, it’s it just seems a little bit. It’s not saying it’s easy, but seems a little bit more clear, like, all right, you know, at the end of the day, you look at the bottom of that spreadsheet and hope you’re in the green.
Heather Vogel 32:59
Yeah, it’s a very, it’s, it’s, it is it’s hard to like how do you quantify stopping sex traffic? I mean, there are numbers and obviously studies, but it does seem like a huge problem. Yeah, it’s a huge problem.
Jeremy Burrows 33:20
Awesome. Well, if you have any other questions, I’m happy to answer them. Otherwise, I’ll jump into my final question. Oh, no, jump, jump. Awesome. I appreciate being put on the spot. I don’t
Heather Vogel 33:31
like you’re an icon. Or you are an influencer. I was like, Oh, I could just talk to Jeremy. It’s so cool. I’ve been listening to your podcast. Gosh, for a while now. So it’s exciting.
Jeremy Burrows 33:42
Awesome. So if you’ve been listened to for a while, you probably know this question. I was asked most of the time at the end, what makes an assistant a leader.
Heather Vogel 33:54
I mean, I was ready for it, but I was not ready for it. And I think what makes an assistant a leader is your mindset, being thoughtful and doing the work keeping your head down and doing the work and collaborating and sharing knowledge with other assistants or other colleagues and you know, really putting yourself out there even when it’s scary, because you know, what you have to add to the conversation is really worthwhile.
Jeremy Burrows 34:32
Love that answer to finish it off. Thank you so much, Heather, for your time, your wisdom and your love sharing a little bit of your story. Appreciate you and the work you’re doing at Groupon. Sounds like a fun team you’ve got and yeah, good luck with everything at the in Chicago.
Heather Vogel 34:49
Oh my gosh, thank you so much, Jeremy. It’s been an awesome delight to talk to you.
Jeremy Burrows 34:54
Awesome. Is there anywhere that people can find you online or support what you’re up to?
Heather Vogel 35:00
Right now I can be found online at LinkedIn. Just look up my name and you will find me and please connect it would be great to meet other people.
Jeremy Burrows 35:11
Well thanks again Heather and we’ll talk soon.
Heather Vogel 35:14
Thank you Jeremy. Have a good night.
Jeremy Burrows 35:16
Thanks again Heather for a great conversation and thanks for turning the interviewer back towards me and asking me some good questions. That was fun. You can check out the show notes at leaderassistantcom/71 Leaderassistant.com/71 and don’t forget to check out our membership subscription at members.leaderassistant.com We would love to have you join talk to you next time.
Unknown Speaker 35:54
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